The Original Ad
Description of the Original Ad
The original ad is for Toms Shoes. In 2015, they released a campaign asking people to Instagram photos of their feet. In return, Toms would graciously donate shoes to in-need children. While conceptually, the campaign seems like a great idea, there are a lot of issues with what it says about Western consumers.
In his video “The Ethics of Consumption”, economist Slavoj Zizek (2011) argues that a strategy used by corporations is to package a semantic quality into their products to increase consumption. He calls this principle “cultural capitalism” and claims that “in the very consumerist act, you buy your redemption from being a consumer.” For example, in buying Tom’s shoes one does not feel that they are simply a consumer of shoes, but instead that they are mitigating the effects of poverty in the Global South (Zizek, 2011).
I would argue that this ad explicates the semantic selling-points of consumption in 3 aspects it sells: peer respect, empathy and social justice.
Peer respect is being sold in the inclusion of social media. One sees the woman with the iPhone snapping a picture of her feet for Instagram and learns that they too can showcase their altruism online for their friends to see. The inclusion of social media in this ad is packed with Western privilege because ironically, one is supposedly helping people in the Global South, who would not have access to this technology in the first place.
Empathy is being sold in placing “one day without shoes” in the division of the Western (left) and Global South (right) scene. The placement of this statement in the centre of the ‘two worlds’ implies that a white person going shoeless for a day is equivalent to the experience of being shoeless due to poverty. It is as if going shoeless is a literal bridge between the West and Global South because white people now understand what it is like to live in poverty.
Social justice is being sold in the statement “take a pic=give shoes.” The simplicity of this statement is the pinnacle of what Zizek (2011) means by “buying redemption from being a consumer.” One can simply Instagram their photo and think, ‘well I’ve done my part to save the world’ and never need to examine world issues any further.
The Jammed Ad
Description of the Jammed Ad
My aim in jamming this ad was to maintain its messages of cultural capitalism by exaggerating the three semantic selling-points of peer respect, empathy and social justice. As such, I made three changes.
First, I targeted the gaining of peer respect by adding a Snapchat-like caption to the woman’s phone. It reads, “saving some poor kids today, #withoutshoes.” The aim in adding a caption was to exaggerate the focus of the photo on the audience: the photographer’s peers. When a person adds “#withoutshoes” photo to Instagram, it is more about showing others how great you are than helping actual children, so adding a caption and especially one that highlights the altruistic act of “saving” stresses the selling-point of gaining peer respect.
Second, I moved “one day without shoes” to the Western (left) side of the ad to more accurately represent the state of reality and lack of true empathy that can be elicited by removing one’s shoes for a day. People living in poverty cannot choose to go “one day without shoes” and then magically decide to put some on the next day. Only people with privilege can ‘try out’ poverty for a day and then revert to their normal lives. As such, I removed this statement from the centre of the ad which implied equal experience and placed this privilege on the Western side.
Finally, under the statement “take a pic=give shoes,” I added “help children, stop poverty, [and] achieve social justice” to highlight the fact that simply taking a picture without shoes is a cop-out from making further change. The ease of taking a picture and automatically helping children presupposes the need to further support people living in poverty; it is a shortcut to doing good. As such, I added these statements as an exaggeration of the Western thought process in partaking in this campaign: ‘if I post this picture, I will do my part to achieve social justice; my work here is done.’
Toms #Withoutshoes Campaign [Advertisement]. (2015, May 4). Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2015/05/04/toms-using-instagram-to-try-and-give-away-a-million-shoes/26892739/
Zizek, S. (2011). The Ethics of Consumption [Video file]. Retrieved February 11, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRvRm19UKdA