Why Things Matter: Transferred — tangible vs intangible
by Marguerite Coetzee. People are cultural beings. Everything we do is cultural — our behaviour, language, relationships. Material culture forms part of our cultural make up — it constitutes part of our physical world. Some even argue that “there is no single type of human activity without its material accessories”. So, what would a tangible material culture look like in an intangible world, then?
In theory, materiality refers to objects that are created, exchanged, and consumed. Material culture explores behaviours, rituals, and norms around these objects. Anthropologically, researchers are concerned with the production, history, value, and meaning of material objects. Philosophically, there are theories around the relationship between objects, and between people and things.
Computer-generated imagery (CGI), augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR) have been around for a while but have more recently found their way into advertising. On the one hand, this often raises questions surrounding the ethical use of computer-generated celebrities (who have long passed) to star in commercials, such as the Galaxy chocolate ad that features a digitally created Audrey Hepburn. AR, on the other hand, juxtaposes real life with CGI to alter the way the viewer sees the world (through a technological lens).
Here are 15 impressive adverts that employ AR to communicate an impactful message or experience. It’s been argued that digital is either the death or future of advertising, depending on how you view it or how you make use of technological advancements.
We are creating new material culture through technological innovations and social networks — merging digital with cultural. The digital era and increasingly globalised world we find ourselves in has given rise to a new kind of material culture. We have terms and laws for intellectual and cultural property — for intangible property. We are able to connect with others and make transactions or exchanges across time and space — in cyberspace. We are able to create alternate realities — virtual and augmented realities. This is the future of consumption and advertising. The trick to this is not to keep up with social trends (like McDonalds) or falsely mirror them (like Disney) but to invent and anticipate them (like Amazon).
Social scientists have long observed social changes and changing societies to understand how these systems and structures operate, and where they are headed. Two such examples are the McDonaldisation and Disneyfication of society. The former is a theory of a homogenised and hybridised society in which fast-food principles dominate: efficiency (completing a task in minimal time), calculability (a quantifiable objective or outcome, not a subjective one), predictability (routine and repetition create similar service delivery), and control (replacing people with technology). Disneyfication is the process of removing a place or event of its original character and replacing it with something watered down and unrealistically positive. We have more recently experienced the Amazonisation of everything — creating a customer-led and customer-focused culture by merging technological innovations with customer experience.
For further reading on material culture, and why things matter, anthropologist Daniel Miller explores this topic in depth, particularly: virtualism (claiming to reveal reality but actually masking it), semiotics (the relationship between levels of representation), and relative materiality (the assumption that objects represent people). These topics are important to consider as we venture further into a technological, digital, and consumer-centric era.
Marguerite Coetzee is an anthropologist at strategic marketing consultancy, Kantar Consulting. “Why Things Matter”, her latest regular column on MarkLives, applies an anthropological lens to the world of commercials and commodities.
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