I often come across sexually provocative advertising that makes me chuckle. Some of it is subtle, some is downright raunchy, and if I’m lucky enough to spot it, (almost) cleverly subliminal.
Subliminal advertising: Great for a laugh
Subliminal advertising can get pretty creative since it has to be below the threshhold of concious perception to be effective. You know, the flash of an image on a single frame at 25 frames per second, or the suggestive figure in the ice cube of a dry gin ad.
When I notice an ad with a dirty little secret, I find myself wondering how many others have recognized it, and how many consumers have or will be persuaded to act as a result—unaware of a spell being cast.
I consider subliminal advertising to be in the blackhat category of “sexy” marketing. Blackhat marketing usually refers to deceptive search engine optimization tactics, but from here on in, let’s pretend it also applies to fooling the subconcious search engine in our minds. Something along those lines anyway.
Subliminal advertising doesn’t irritate me at all. In think it can be pretty funny and interestingly clever at times. On the other hand, if I’m aware of a company using it in their marketing efforts, I’d be inclined to wonder what their product lacks, in that this is part of their marketing strategy.
Overtly sexy advertising gets our direct attention
On the other side of the coin, the use of suggestive imagery in mainstream advertising is often far from invisible, let alone subtle.
Crate labels from as early as the 1930s were designed to appeal to a predominantly male target audience with sexy brands such as “Plenty Grand” and “Buxom Melons”, both of which I have originals of, framed and hanging on my livingroom wall (Yes, I’m a fan).
Television and magazine ads run by Godaddy and American apparel are a couple of examples of racy ad campaigns that have generated viral attention in recent years, and, in some cases even public outrage.
Still, I consider this type of marketing pretty “whitehat” (or at least as whitehat as traditional marketing gets, but that’s a whole another issue). There’s no wholesome pretense here, the message is pretty clear: “We are now distracting you with sexy images; imprint our brand into your psyche. Thank you for paying attention”.
Not manipulative or covert, your just typical,
sleazy, sexy, raunchy, push marketing.
The weird, grey areas: Ultra-manipulative anti-social sex appeal
Almost 100 years have gone by since the first suggestive crate-labels for “Buxom Pears” and “Indiana Belle” appeared on boxes of fruit in the US. By now, the sheeple are all be getting pretty desensitized to campaigns built on the “sex sells” advertising model,
because along with other forms of shout-marketing, it’s just getting lost in the noise.
Diesel’s Be Stupid campaign
It seems the next logical step for Diesel’s advertising division was to combine sex-appeal with risky and antisocial behavior. How irreverent and rebellious. Rarr.
The My6Sense video
Here’s another bit of marketing that creeped me out recently. The level of manipulation in the video is a bit much.
An attractive, busty, woman stands before us in a relatively tight t-shirt, describing in the first person, the “Digital Intuition” of my6sense‘s iPhone Application.
Here’s a transcription of the video with some of the more poignant lines in bold:
Hi! I’m your digital intuition.
- I’m insightful.
- I’m flexible.
- I’m NOT demanding.
So you don’t ever have to say anything for me to get to know you–even when your interests change.
I bring content from your RSS and social streams. The results are so tailored and specific to your needs that you’ll never again have to sit through hundreds of messages to find the insights that matter to you. And because I know that your moods and interests are diverse, I present you with your assorted streams in various ways.
- From all of the RSS streams and social networks that you’re subscribed to in your top messages list.
- From collections of streams in topic folders that find the you.
- …and even from a specific stream.
Remember, you don’t have to give me any feedback or give me any preferences at all. I’m your digital intuition! Just read the messages that interest you, and skip over the ones that don’t! Share them in social networks. Email them to your friends. And so on. It’s completely effortless on your part. All you need to do is: act naturally. [Playfully, almost giggling] Now, it may take some time to figure you out, but once I do, I might even bring you stuff you never dreamed would be interesting—but is!
Here’s my interpretation of the video.
Hi, I’m the woman of your dreams.
- I know what’s what.
- I’m “flexible”. (uh huh)
- I’m not demanding.
I’ll always know what you want, and when you want it. This is all about you, so don’t worry about having to pay attention to my never-ending blabbering in order to get to the good stuff.
I know you have all sorts of fetishes, and I have no problem accomodating your every need.
Don’t worry about feeling like you have to hold any conversation with me or even tell me how you like it.
I find this type of marketing much more unnerving than the typically provocative ad. The line is so blurred as to where the overt sexual overtones end and the manipulation begins that the advertiser could coyly infer that I’m imagining things. Am I? Am I just projecting my own desires onto a lil ol’ innocent product vid? Or, am I supposed to believe that if it seems manipulative, it’s just part of some cute, sexy marketing satire?
At least gratuitously sexual advertising is straightforward; the manipulation is much less aggressive. Watching the my6sense video left me feeling creeped out and manipulated almost to the point of feeling violated. Well maybe not that creeped out, but more than any social media application advertisement ought to.
The application itself does look interesting; it addresses segmentation and filtering of contacts over social media networks.
At this point, you might have realized that as annoyed as I say I am with this type of marketing, it is directly responsible for the attention I’m giving the product, and I’m now spreading their idea virus to you. In reality, I discovered this product by looking on Quora for discussion on similar apps and My6sense’s Marketing VP has been spreading the word there. As hungry as I am for these types of applications right now, this ad almost pushed me away.
Here’s the vid:
Wanna-be SEO types (you know, the ones that would be better off in boiler rooms) love to pitch W3C Validation as being crucial to SEO for one simple reason; it’s easy to demonstrate to a client that a competitor’s page has 376 errors, and then compare it to the soothing green ‘Congratulations’ of having no errors on some other page that passes validation.
The visual impact of “Congratulations, no errors” from the W3C can go a long way to leaving a great impression on trusting, and sometimes gullible clients. Whether validating pages play into even half a percentage point with search engine algorithms is highly speculative.
Web standards on the other hand, offer great value to SEO efforts. Especially the W3C recommendations that enhance accessibility and semantics. However, Web standard markup goes well beyond passing a simple validation test against a strict – or in some cases – a transitional doctype.
So Why Validate at All?
Valid HTML is just one result of adhering to Web Standards. If your page passes validation, it means that in your quest to meet strict standards, you didn’t accidentally use deprecated tags or make any syntax errors. Passing validation does not measure adherence to Web Standard coding practices. I’ll say it again: Passing validation does not measure adherence to Web Standard coding practices.
W3C standard validation is nothing more than a syntax check, not a measure of how web standards compliant a Web page is (In case you didn’t get the subtle hint from the end of the previous paragraph).
So Then How Do You Measure Web Standard Coding practices?
Web standard markup is mostly about separating content (text, images and other media embedded within the proper HTML elements) from presentational data (which should be restricted to external cascading style sheets, or CSS). Presentational data consists of any code that’s necessary to alter the original appearance of an HTML file – from Arial font-families to z-index – and all attributes in between.
The only way to measure the adherence to Web standards of a Web page is to understand what Web standards really mean, and to look at the page’s source code for yourself.
Separating content from presentational data alone isn’t guaranteed to help search engine optimization efforts, but it is a step towards the issue and SEO benefits of HTML semantics.
For example, a page that uses tables for layout purposes is going against the fundamental rule of Web Standards. Table based page layouts weave presentational data throughout a page’s source code, adding a tremendous amount of code bloat, and have all sorts of other nasty effects, notably much more time-consuming and costly site redesigns.
However (and this is important), a table based layout will pass strict HTML validation. Do you see where this is going? Tables are allowed in strict, Web Standard markup. It is up to you as to whether you use them appropriately.
Now I’m not saying that using tables for layout will necessarily have a huge impact on SEO efforts, but poor semantic choices of other elements just may.
The paragraph tag will obviously not cause a syntax error in your markup. It’s one of the most basic HTML elements. But if you erroneously used the paragraph tag in place of a secondary heading or vice-versa, the validator wouldn’t know the difference, but would it make sense to use a secondary heading in place of every paragraph? Of course not. Visually, paragraph and secondary heading fonts could look similar, but they aren’t; they have very different meaning (semantics), and this is where the benefits of Web Standards on search engine optimization become clearer.
Do I even need to make a case for missing alt attributes? I didn’t think so.
Search engines, similar to other visitors of your site, need as many structural cues as possible to have the best possible chance of cutting their way through your content with ease.
Tables are semantically inappropriate for page layout; they’re suitable for tabular data. Spreadsheet stuff – not mastheads, sidebars or footers. Aside from adding a lot of unnecessary markup bloat to pages and driving up the ratio of code to content on a page, the detriment to SEO is probably negligible – on a small scale; however, for sites with tens or hundreds of thousands of pages of content, I wouldn’t leave it to chance. Especially at the development stage of a site. Going back to properly recode three hundred thousand pages of markup can reach a point of diminishing returns pretty quickly.
- Secondary headings are semantically inappropriate for holding content more suitable for paragraph tags
- Navigation links are effectively lists of related links, and belong in HTML list items
- Strong and emphasized text will add clarity to text
Individually, none of these semantic choices will have a huge impact on a site’s rankings; but overall, a site that is lean on code, has clear, structural markup, and embeds a minimum level of semantics into its documents will be much easier for search engine algorithms to understand and properly index.
Understanding which elements of Web Standard markup add to the search engine friendliness of a site comes with front-end development experience. To some, that pretty validation button might seem like a neat and convenient way to measure the “quality” of a page’s source code, but the only way to measure quality in this case is through understanding.
Incidentally, the main difference between transitional and strict web standard markup is certain elements and attributes have been deprecated (phased out) from strict HTML standards. In other words, if you use deprecated HTML tags, those tags will earn you syntax errors when validating against a strict doctype.
Tags such as font and center have been omitted from strict standards because they have no semantic value; they’re purely presentational elements – and presentational data should be reserved for external stylesheets, not markup.
Don’t take the easy way out!
It’s easier to show a client 0 validation errors than it is to explain Web Standards, semantics, tableless layouts and the separation of content from presentational data. Okay, you have me there.
Then again, you could just bookmark this article and give the link to your more inquisitive clients when the need arises ;)
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