Yes, okay, I admit: I thought I could intrigue you into reading this post by dangling a new concept—self-reflexivity. Or, maybe you’ve heard of it?
In cinema, the term “self-reflexivity” refers to an action that calls attention to the work as being a cinematic construct. It’s when a scene in a movie strays from maintaining the “illusion” of continuity and willingly admits (so to speak) that you are, in fact, watching a movie. Breaking character, the film seems to say “I know that you know I’m a movie.” (If you’re at all a 30 Rock fan, you may have seen the episode where Jerry Seinfeld abruptly broke script, stared right into the camera, and shot out a quick slew of promotional words for his then-upcoming Bee Movie.)
A common and, most likely, missed example of self-reflexivity would be Kraft macaroni and cheese television commercials. Typically, Kraft’s ad spots feature youngsters sitting down for a meal while narrating to viewers about their parents, siblings, or downright adoration of macaroni. What makes it self-reflexive is that the rest of the family seems unaware that their son or daughter is facing an opposite direction and bad mouthing their old cooking habits. It’s two worlds, the viewers’ and the family’s on the commercial, that are “connected” via the ill-pronounced words of an over-enthusiastic kid.
Especially when it comes to advertising, I take the term a bit further to encompass anytime an advertisement makes a conscious effort to not seem like an advertisement. For example, take the recent Powerade commercial, which pokes fun at major competitor Gatorade’s recent advertising campaigns. I’d consider this self-reflexive, as the commercial purposefully turns back on itself; compelling viewers to reexamine the sports drink industry. It’s genius, because it creates an experience where no one can take Gatorade’s products seriously anymore.
More than that, the commercial masks the retrospectively egregious strategy the commercial employs. Let’s face it, Powerade—in one humorous swoop—makes Gatorade commercials relatively obsolete; however, we are quick to forget this catty tactic. Why? Taken as a whole, the advertisement seems to say “Hey, the sports drink industry is pretty exaggerated at times, and we know you know that. Either way, we’d like you to know Powerade still exists.” Oh, and Gatorade is our scapegoat!
Self-reflexivity has always existed in advertisements, even long before it started being utilized in a comedic way. For example, take life insurance or Acne medication commercials. Sure, they might have a celebrity spokesperson or some other “appeal,” but, when it’s all said and done, the format of the advertisement is what the product is; what the product can do; what people say about the product; and how to get your hands on some. In a sense, these ads are self-reflexive because they don’t even try to perpetuate any illusion or artificial scenario. They are advertisements. It is clear they are advertisements. And, they are okay that you know it.
Okay, so here’s my crazy thought…
What if companies take self-reflexivity as an advertising concept and apply it to other marketing strategies. “Look, this is a direct mailer. We understand that sometimes these things can be a pain the neck for you, and we know you probably consider it junk mail. Just hear us out. We launched this new product and we thought you might want to know about it.” No gimmicks, no QR codes, no unnecessary images. Just a self-reflexive statement and the pertinent information.
Obviously, you wouldn’t need to be so literal, but stripping promotional campaigns of the glitz and glam—all that stuff your bosses know will generate leads—offers very real advantages:
- Potential leads will be less disputatious and more susceptible to your message when you level with them.
- The directness of the campaign (if done right) will be more memorable for future action
- Having this concision will make the message easier to get through
Clearer messages, less inherent resistance, and more memorable content? What else do you need?
Comment your thoughts or experiences regarding the successes (or failures, if you must) of self-reflexivity.