Images embody cultural meanings or symbolisms in their very nature, color, text and other elements. These meanings are drawn, created or extended from a wide sociocultural context. Advertising communications seek to inform, persuade and identify their products with symbols that would give their products or brands approval in the eyes of the consumers. In order to achieve this, advertising must establish a dialogue and create a relationship with a consumer, which in turn means that they must draw on numerous ways of creating meaning or modes of communications. Create meaning/relationships draws is heavily influenced by culture. This paper argues that the Fiat Panda photo advert succeeds is leveraging the growing global guilty conscience for man’s role in the destruction of the environment to create a real or imaginary sense of satisfaction among consumers that they are doing something about the environment. The paper draws on theoretical models on creation and evolution of cultural meanings to unpack the motivation and success of the Fiat Panda advert. This advert by the Paris-based Marcel advertising agency and owned by Eric Jannon. It depicts a panda behind the when of a Fiat Panda car inside an accident testing facility, where the car appears to have smashed into a barrier of ice. The photograph was shot by Ebo Fraterman and Roman Schwienbacherm with Frederic Temic and Anne De Maupeou serving as chief creative directors. The work was supervised by Olivier François, Arnaud Belloni and Maurizio Spagnulo.
According to Gray & McGuigan (1993), advertising establishes connections between certain consumer constituencies and certain products, and once these connections are established, they subsequently form a means of exchange that can be leveraged by the advertiser to monetize their products. However, in order to establish such relationships, advertisers must tap into meanings that are already established by the consumers’ culture and other factors. The Fiat Panda advert for instance, taps into the growing awareness of consumers of climate change and the fact that the use of fossil fuels remains one of the biggest contributions to the problem. There is a consensus among scientists that climate change is a reality. Scientific evidence indicates that the planet’s average temperatures have risen by an average of 1.4°F over the last century, which has potentially debilitating consequences.
According to Gray & McGuigan (1993), any connections created with the consumers serve as a currency of exchange. Even most interestingly, objects are meant to assume meanings from interactions with people, before they then replace the natural forms of communication. Objects such as flowers, chocolates, and jewelry have assumed cultural meanings are in turn used to communicate in the usual way that language (embedded in culture) may. Advertising extends the human experience and forms structures or rules that are then used to manipulate the consumer to buy into the products. This is perhaps best exhibited in the Fiat Panda advert, which borrows from the consequences of climate change to create a currency of exchange. The evidence of these consequences is already becoming clear in many parts of the world, or has in fact been socialized as being symbolized by certain things. Other than increasing rainfall and flooding or droughts, the planet’s oceans are reported to be warming and rising. Increase average temperatures have seen glaciers increasing melt, which in turn threatens the habitats and life cycles of some animals such as polar bears and pandas.
Pandas in particular and native to China (the Far East) are threatened by rapid industrialization/urbanization that has seen considerable encroachments onto their habitats. Threatened with extinction, they have become symbols of the potential difficulties that man’s effect on the planet can be. In the Fiat Panda advert, advertisers draw on this symbolism. The panda appears to have crashed the car against what seems to be spattering ice, but the impact on the pristine ice, the car and the panda appears to be minimal. The choice of a panda is also meant to identify the vehicle’s brand (Fiat Panda) with environmental friendliness, so that by approving of the brand, consumers should have a sense of satisfaction for helping protect or stand for the environment.
This stems from the fact that advertises create new symbolisms and use the connections that they have created with the consumer, to encourage consumers to identify with what they consume. This is no different from the false assumptions that individuals who wear Gucci, Rolex watches and Armani suits are classy. Gray & McGuigan (1993) argues that class differences remain fundamental differences in human society, which is why manufacturers use products as a way of creating class. This is a result of ideological convictions that draws its meanings from society and perpetuates any such meanings. “Ideology does exist in an apparatus and its practice”. It emerges from social, economic and other institutions (including marriage, patriarchy, educational systems and religion), which shape society’s perception of the world around. Antonio Gramsci highlights the immense contribution of the historical context in shaping both culture and ideology, by creating and destroying meanings. In the Fiat Panda advert, the marketers want to draw on the guilt that human beings are beginning to have over their role in the destruction of the environment over centuries of industrialization and motorization.
This guilt is also compounded by the fact that some people feel responsible to preserve the planet for the future generations (for religious, social, personal and other reasons), and in their desperation, they are happy to do anything that may help to achieve this purpose. Educational systems (scientific research) and the United Nations have easily been key players of other Ideological State Apparatuses, in creating awareness of the extent and reality of global warming. The evidence derived this way has then filtered through to the ordinary consumers, whose response is once again shaped by ISAs (De Mooij, 2005; United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2014). The Fiat Panda is a material product that motorists needs, which according to Gray & McGuigan (1993), has been made to represent non-material needs (like the responsibility to ensure future generations have a clean environment), effectively creating a false meaning.
The message in this advert is that the Fiat Panda is designed to have a benign impact on the environment. This message comes against the background of the fact that the world’s reliance on fossil fuels is a key driver behind climate change. Once advertisers create the impression that the Fiat Panda appears to be doing something positive about climate change, it then tries to draw environmentally conscious customers to buy into the product. Consumers are heavily influenced by cultural patterns that create systems of meaning over time, which advertisers simply tap into. The systems of meaning created (such as pandas symbolizing environmental friendliness or sustainability) serve as currencies for advertisers, because these systems reflect the manner in which people think, feel, relate to the environment, live or find satisfaction (De Mooij, 2005; Lecture Notes).
De Mooij, M. (2005). Global marketing and advertising: Understading culturalparadoxes. Thousands Oaks: SAGE Publications,Inc .
Gray, A., & McGuigan, J. (1993). Studying Culture: An Introductory Reader. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2014). Climate Change: Basic Information. Retrieved Oct 2, 2014, from http://epa.gov/climatechange/basics/