I have recently become quite fascinated with a Nivea advertising campaign that I first encountered in England and France and just hit on again in the States. Below is a photo of the first billboard that I encountered at a train station in the English Midlands.
Have your say on Facebook about what exactly? It struck me that not only is this a rather clumsy attempt to get in on the act with social network market everything, it is also, more interestingly, an attempt to engage the access economy model at the somatic level – between bodies. In the ‘age of access’ (after the Jeremy Rifkin book of that name) one rarely ever buys anything outright. Rather, one buys access – think cell/mobile phone plan, car care plan, internet service. This means that consumers are always tethered to the market, with small incremental payments everywhere for everything. Social networking extends this model to friendship – or at least tries to monetize social relationships through advertising – and indirectly it is also played out via other gateway technologies such as cell phones and internet service providers. This Nivea campaign is an attempt to embed itself within these same social relationships, to make itself necessary. But how does a material product begin to approach anything like the social necessity of Facebook, for example, to make us closer than ever before? It addresses the relationship between body and self.
“The conscious and calculated management, maintenance, modification, and manipulation of our somatic existence throughout the course of our lives and through all vicissitudes has become … the hesitant potential basis of a new ontology. In this sense, our bodies have become ourselves, become central to our expectations, hopes, our individual and collective identities …” Nikolas Rose, The Politics of Life Itself, p105
Nivea, with its 100 year old wisdom will continue to nourish the surfaces of our bodies, our skin, our interface with the world and with each other. It will provide us with the material solidity that we feel is dissolving around us, and at the same time it will be the conduit to new experiences and forms of participation. It is not between us in the informational ether, it is at the interstice between my body and yours, my life and your life, when I reach out to touch you I touch Nivea first. Hmm that felt good. Get on Facebook and tell the world about it.
But its not sexy, its product lighting clinical – like ads for tampons and toilet paper. You are a product. Your baby is a product. Life is a product. Maintain your product – keep clean, stay touchable.
Another thing that I thought was interesting about this campaign is the placement of the advertisements. In England and France I only ever saw them at train stations. In Paris they were at the entrances to Le Metro, where you enter the zone of transit which is at once the portal between different locations and sets of social relations, and a space in which you are in close proximity to many strangers.
In the States the only advertisement I have seen was covering the anti-theft ‘beepers’ at the entrance to a store. On one side was the ‘two people close’ motif, on the other was Rhianna. If you are virtuous in your use you might even get close to someone famous. Your body is your access pass to fame and fortune. Keep the door open, get closer – buy Nivea.