A World in a Drink

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Part 4 of 4 in the series The Virtual Worlds of TV Commercials

Drinks are unique products. Within an instant of being consumed, they become an integral part of our bodies, and are capable of altering our perception of both our own selves and our environment. It should not come as a surprise, therefore, that TV commercials for drinks often attempt to convey the experience the advertised drink provides using some kind of highly inventive virtual world. As the following videos demonstrate, this can be achieved in a whole range of different ways.

The first example is the now famous Coca-Cola commercial which proposes an unusual explanation for the unique taste of this drink. The taste we experience, according to it, is the result of a special treatment which each bottle receives whenever we purchase it. Thus, the vending machine – an otherwise mundane element of our urban environment – is presented here as a channel to a vast enchanted world dedicated to our drinking experience:

The second example advertises the Nespresso coffee capsules, following similar lines to that of the previous video (and possibly influenced by it). This time, however, instead of presenting the delivery of the drink, this commercial rather focuses on its production process: It proposes that its advertised coffee capsules of different tastes come from a magical world which harmoniously blends nature and industry in order to produce them. We may never be able to visit this world ourselves, but the taste of its products – as is hinted at – can give us the experience of somehow having done so:

The third example takes us to alcoholic drinks, starting with Guinness beer. The ‘other world’ which is suggested to us here is not that of the production of the drink or its delivery, but a world that lives and breathes right there within our immediate reach. This lively, dynamic, and exciting world, as this commercial proposes, is precisely what we are invited to incorporate in ourselves whenever we consume this drink:

The next example brings us to Smirnoff vodka, but instead of an outlandish world, the commercial proposes that this drink can transport us to places and situations taken straight from the movies. Using the bottle itself as a lens trough which to view the world, it becomes a portal to a sequence of action and adventure scenes which the drink can both deliver us to and save us from their dangers:

The final example brings us to Heineken beer, and unlike the previous examples, the world that it suggests taking us to is not some separate, magical or fictional world, but rather the very same physical world in which we live – but with a twist. Furthermore, it proposes that the effect of the advertised beer on our perception is so strong that just the desire and search for it is enough to transform the way we experience our normal environment:

Whichever your preferred drink or alternative world may be – cheers!

Improbable Urban Events

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Part 3 of 4 in the series The Virtual Worlds of TV Commercials

Can improbable and unexpected events take place in an otherwise ordinary city? Some TV commercials make their point by proposing precisely that. Following the previous post’s discussion of unlikely urban interventions, this post will instead focus on TV commercials which present unusual events that are set in regular urban environments. Such highly improbable events are presented either as the desired result of using the advertised product, or conversely, as a demonstration of the kind of problems that the product can help its customers deal with.

The first example presents a series of strange occurrences in a traditional Italian town. To the astonishment of its inhabitants, angels suddenly start falling from the sky, and they are in search of something. The beauty of the setting and its solemn traditions serve as a fitting counterpoint to the events presented in it and to the role of the advertised product in making them happen:

The second example presents a contemporary high-rise urban environment as it becomes filled with imaginary creatures and other objects that are made out of cut-out paper drawings. This mix of imagination and reality is metaphorically suggested to be precisely what its advertised brand can provide you with if you choose to use it too:

The following TV commercial uses an urban environment to present the kind of trouble that its advertised service can help its clients with. Financial problems, which are often represented through the use of statistical diagrams, here take the form of physical hazards that one can stumble upon anywhere in the city, in a whole range of unexpected ways:

The final example shows a city in which the improbable events presented in it are common to all of its inhabitants. The city may look otherwise normal to us, but the kinds of extreme events that take place in it are such that we would otherwise only see in movies – yet here they seem to be a normal way of life for everyone. In such a setting, then, the advertised product is presented as a successful solution for handling even such a demanding lifestyle as this one:

What is common to all the above examples is that despite the peculiarity of their various events, they all take place in otherwise regular urban environments. As TV commercials, the value of their advertised products is thus demonstrated through an optimized match of two contrasts: An improbable outlandish event, presented on the backdrop of its own corresponding stable environment.

Unlikely Urban Interventions

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Part 2 of 4 in the series The Virtual Worlds of TV Commercials

What kind of urban experiences can TV commercials present beyond what we may normally come across? This series of posts on the architecture and spaces of TV commercials began with cases where wholly new worlds are created, and now continues with ones that involve rather regular urban environments – but with a twist. In such cases, a TV commercial presents an urban environment which is either reinterpreted or readjusted in an uncommon way, while suggesting that the advertised product is the magic factor that made it all possible.

The first example is somewhat related to the previous post’s discussion on car commercials, but this time advertising the Esso oil company. In this commercial, cars rushing along urban roads are at the center of attention, but it suggests a totally alternative approach to what is actually driving the cars:

The second example uses the approach of visual metaphor to advertise a service which is supposed to make urban life much smoother and easier for customers using it. This is demonstrated by the addition of a highly unlikely structure into the dense fabric of a city, combining interiors and exteriors in a wide variety of contexts, all made to cater to the personal needs of customers and the fun they can have using it – as well as to the fun we can have watching it.

The following example presents a series of interventions that are neither too complex nor too absurd to actually happen in the physical world. But what does make them unlikely, in this sense, is that these interventions took place precisely because they were part of the production of a TV commercial. It presents urban environments that are undergoing a transformation, and where the advertised product is directly what is making it happen:

The final example presents a whole series of urban interventions that propose to extend the experience of a city’s physical space altogether. In this case, it would be easier to discuss the commercial after seeing it:

This commercial builds on the centuries-old tradition of illusionism in painting: paintings that are made to seem as if what is painted in them is actually physically right there. In the terms of The Virtual Space Theory, such paintings create virtual places that are an immediate extension of the physical places in which the paintings are located. In this commercial, illusionism is now implemented at the level of dynamic images, and their powerful effect is demonstrated in the various urban locations which they redefine.

The unlikelihood of such an attempt succeeding, however, serves precisely the point of this commercial: to propose that its advertised product somehow holds in it the magic that artists – and observers – have been seeking for centuries. It might be an unprecedented product, and it is surely a fun as well as unusual urban intervention, but whether such attempts can ever fully succeed is at the heart of the discussion of my book “The Architecture of Virtual Space”.

Creating Worlds to Drive Through

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Part 1 of 4 in the series The Virtual Worlds of TV Commercials

TV commercials (including viral videos for that matter) can provide interesting examples for discussion in this blog, and this post is the first in a series that will explore various aspects of this topic. When a combination of imaginative agencies, creative talent, daring clients, and substantial production budgets occurs, the result can be the creation of fascinating virtual worlds that serve to promote a certain product or brand.

Car commercials represent a particular type of commercial that may involve the creation of inventive worlds. One of the ways to evoke a desirable image of a car is to show the kinds of environments that such a car can handle: challenging, varied, fascinating – suggesting that you would be able to explore them yourself if only you buy the advertised car.

The first example is a commercial for the Citroen C5, which shows the range of road and weather conditions it can handle by presenting the landscape it drives through as made of a series of huge domino blocks. Each such domino block consists of a different type of landscape in a different season, yet they all fall perfectly into place just as the car is about to cross over from one to the other:

The next example follows the same approach of showing the variety of road conditions the car can handle – this time a Land Rover – but expresses it in a very different way. Instead of making the impossible look realistic, the whole world it presents is made of continuously transforming clay. As the car rides along, the road, houses, landscape, trees, animals, and people playfully shift form to create ever new environments:

An alternative approach occasionally used in the making of car commercials is to use the car parts as raw elements from which to create something entirely new. In the following Subaru commercial, this approach is mixed with that of inventing new worlds, resulting in the creation of a virtual world which is made up of car parts – including the buildings, roads, water, plants, and animals – while the car itself is hardly ever seen, but rather implied:

The final example, advertising a Honda motorcycle this time, makes a conscious reference to the car commercial approaches discussed in this post. Thus, instead of trying to create a convincing new world, it invites us to witness the construction of an illusion of such a world – suggesting a stop-motion animation of a continuously changing wall painting surrounding a parked motorcycle:

When Music Videos Look Like Video Games

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Part 6 of 6 in the series The Virtual Places of Music Videos

Along with the last few posts, this post continues the exploration of music videos from the point of view of the design of the places that are seen in them. In this particular post, I will discuss music videos whose design approaches take their inspiration from video games. Over the past decades, video games have developed a particular visual language and set of standards that indeed work well within their own context. Yet the use of such visual standards in a different medium or for a different purpose – such as in music videos – provides another perspective on both mediums and as well leads to interesting results in themselves.

The first example is of a music video whose visual theme is indeed centered on video games, as it lightheartedly explores the evolution of their visual language. The Lost Levels’ music video of their song The Early Sheets follows the adventures of a video game character in three parts, each representing a different graphical level of video game creation in recent decades: pixel graphics, vector graphics, and photorealism. It features architectural elements as game props (especially in the first part) and enhances its sense of space by using 3-dimensional camera angles and movements throughout the video (even when the visual contents are only 2-dimensional):

The second example uses the visual language of video games as a means of expressing places and situations from the physical world in a free form. The music video of the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s song Californication presents various geographical areas in California as if they were video game levels that need to be completed, and each of the four band members is presented as a character that one can choose to play the game with. The goal of the game is to lead each character through his separate adventure towards the meeting point of all four of them on the final level. The music video then alternately follows each of these game sequences as the band members find their separate ways to the end goal of the game:

In contrast to the above example, the music video of Superpowerless’s song Wasted My Time presents an opposite kind of relationship between video games and the physical world. Instead of showing a video game that is modeled on a physical place, it rather makes a regular physical place look and function as if it were a series of video games. It presents a simple contemporary environment using the visual language of video games, thus also emphasizing their absurdity and limited relevance to actual life in the physical world:

Finally, the music video of Röyksopp’s song Happy Up Here brings out video game elements into an otherwise unaltered common physical environment. Opening with fragmented views of a city at night with its light-bulb signs, it proceeds to suggest (starting at 0:50) that the signs turn into spaceships that seem to be taken straight out of the video arcade game ‘Space Invaders’. In this case, the photorealistic visual language is the same as that of a documentation of events in an urban environment, yet in its own playful way it somehow suggests that the city also includes objects that clearly do not belong to it, but rather to the world of video games:

The above examples show music videos that are influenced by video games in various ways, yet they all also demonstrate an interesting approach to designing places for pictorial mediums in general. Different mediums often end up each developing their own unique elements, style, and visual language that tend to become typical of them. Sometimes, however, such established standards are borrowed from one pictorial medium and applied to another – or in this case, from video games to music videos. When successful, this can be a refreshing creative approach as regards both the resulting work and the virtual place that is presented through it.

Architectural Settings in Motion – Part 2: City Rides

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Part 5 of 6 in the series The Virtual Places of Music Videos

One of the most enjoyable aspects of writing this blog is that when I begin to research some topic I do not always know in advance where it might lead. The current series of posts on the virtual places of music videos is probably the most obvious example of that. While keeping the principles of The Virtual Space Theory in mind, on one hand, and searching for architectural content in music videos on the other, I looked for cases where one could be used to demonstrate the other. Yet as I was browsing the Internet (and my own memory) for interesting music videos to discuss and analyze, it first seemed that all I could find were random unrelated examples.

Eventually, however, some recurring patterns started to reveal themselves. One of these, as discussed in the previous post, is music videos in which the performers are presented as they walk through a city. A whole other pattern that became apparent is music videos in which the performers are presented on the open back of a vehicle as it rides through a city. This may seem like a mere semantic difference, but as the following examples will demonstrate, the sense of space that they create is quite different.

One example of this is the music video of Bjork’s song Big Time Sensuality. In this video she is seen performing on the open surface of the back of a truck, while the camera is located at the rear of the truck looking forward. As she sings and dances, the view moves along New York streets, which, due to the dynamic changes of view, serve as much more than just a background, but rather as the architectural settings for her performance:

The music video of U2’s song The Sweetest Thing provides yet another variation on this principle. Presented as a husband’s grand apologetic gesture to his wife, whose birthday he forgot, the video puts the viewer in the place of the wife for whom the song is performed. The band’s singer, Bono, is seen seated in a horse-drawn carriage, and the camera view is directed towards the back. Accordingly, as the carriage rides on, the city’s changing views (Dublin in this case) are now revealed in the opposite direction as before: Coming in from the sides and moving away behind him. This is enhanced even further by the inclusion of other band members, performers, and various props that join in as they enter into view:

A more peculiar and playful variation on the theme of a city ride is the music video of Dizzee Rascal’s song Bonkers. In this case, the back of a truck is presented as a wall-less bedroom riding through a city, while the point of view is variable. One of the most dominant points of view in this video, however, is a polar panorama showing the performer from above while distorting the view of the city. This creates the impression of a self-contained, strange world of its own, whose dynamic structural changes are determined by the streetscapes coming towards and moving away behind the truck. Additionally, as the video proceeds, the form of presentation of its urban environment evolves as well, from daytime to nighttime, and ending in a graphic abstraction of itself:

What I find interesting in the above examples is the particular sense of space that can be created when presenting a music performer on a ride through a city: A simultaneous combination of two apparent opposites. Such videos engage the viewer with a dynamically changing architectural setting, all while providing the most natural environment for music performers – a static stage. And yet, they each manage to create a different variation on this principle, resulting in a particular experience of space all their own – or in terms of The Virtual Space Theory: a distinct virtual place in virtual space.