The best advertising attempts to evoke an emotion in the viewer or listener and then link that emotion to the product or service for sale. Budweiser has a series of ads meant to make you feel patriotic that it runs on July 4. McDonald’s ads for its coffee drinks are meant to make the viewer feel cool and hip. A current Viagra ad with cowboy music and a rugged looking guy in a pickup truck wants to make men feel in control and experienced. Many food ads are based on making people feel love towards their children or families. The current Best Buy “Game On, Santa” Christmas ad series wants people to feel victorious in a competition.
What then can we make of Target’s TV ads for this Christmas shopping session? The ads are bright and chipper, but the only emotion they can possible evoke is the relief felt after performing an onerous task. And that’s not what a retail business wants its shoppers thinking at Christmas.
The Target ad unrolls as a series of people completing actions associated with preparing for Christmas: stamping letters, packing gifts, adjusting a decorated tree. There must be six or seven people in total, representing all ages and races, all completing the very last step of some action related to Christmas. And all say the same word, triumphantly but with a serious, not a gleeful tone, “Done.” The result is that the sound track for almost the entire spot is the repetition, in different voices, of the word “done.” “Done, done, done, done, done, done, done.”
I understand that Target is trying to communicate that its stores have everything needed to complete every Christmas holiday task, but it comes off as a tedious checklist, or maybe the tail end of a conversation between a mother and her disinterested teenage son: Did you do your homework? Done. Did you make your bed? Done. Did you fix your brother’s computer? Done. Did you call your Aunt? Done, done, done, done, done!
Target has turned all of Christmas into a chore. The ad doesn’t mention that Target helps you buy the gifts that say I love you. There are no reminders that Christmas is a time to get spiritual. Nor is Target saying it will help you keep up with the neighbor’s lighting display. No, Target helps you get your chores done.
It’s another version of this year’s post-modern approach to the holidays. The ad is not about buying something to celebrate the holiday or express the emotions you feel on the holiday to others. The ad is about helping you get through your chores. Since your chores all have to do with buying something, the Target ad becomes an ad about shopping for the sake of shopping as opposed to shopping for a reason.
The Target ads display an important characteristic of post-modern art. The subject of post-modern art is often the process of making art.
In the same way that post-modern art focuses on art itself, the themes of this year’s advertising and news media Christmas season seem to focus on shopping as an end to itself, and not as a means to celebrate the holiday. The media treated Black Friday Weekend as a holiday dedicated to shopping, forgetting to mention that the shopping is in preparation for a holiday that’s a month away. The Best Buy ad turns shopping into a competition. Finally, the Target ad turns shopping into a chore. In all cases, the idea of Christmas–even in its debased current version as an occasion for massive gift-giving–becomes peripheral to the main concern of shopping until dropping.