Cracking the Code

I took some time Friday night to watch a movie that was recommended to me.  At first I wasn’t sure why the person thought I would like this, but it turned out this movie was in fact very pertinent to how I feel about brands and advertising.  The movie is called Branded.  The main character is an advertising executive who in the beginning shows the audience how he uses focus groups to draw the biggest audience.

branded code

How many times have you gone to see a movie only to feel by the end that the trailer had the only decent part of the movie?  That’s how using a focus group can sell even a bad movie.  While selling us a movie that might be a waste of our time to view, Branded then shows us the heads of the fast food industry who have gathered together to meet a man who is reported to be able to fix any business.


The fast food industry is quickly going broke, no one wants to eat fast food any longer.  The question posed to them is “How far are you willing to go?” The first response is that they will do anything, but one person has a temporary conscience and replies, “Within the law”.  He is told that won’t be far enough.


The main character walks away from advertising and the bustle of the city, only to return to a completely changed way of life in the place he had called home. He realizes advertising has finally taken over people’s lives and decides something must be done and the people saved.

I don’t want to give too much away and spoil the movie for you so that’s all I will say about the details.  But since watching I’ve wondered if we put a stop to advertising how would that change our lives.  If we didn’t see the advertising for new drugs for every medical condition would we still go to a doctor and ask for a pill to help us?  If children didn’t see commercials and flyers with toys would they be happier without ever knowing about those toys?  What would they do for fun?  Maybe something like this?

9_30_2013 3_36_11 PM_jpg

Would people still go to the malls looking for something, anything to buy?  And would they still want their fast food if advertising was banned today, or is it a habit that is so well-formed those establishments wouldn’t see a drop in their bottom line?

While I was pondering these questions, I happened to see in my inbox Kate’s thoughts on the movie “The Legend of 1900″.  This is a story of a new-born baby boy who is abandoned on a luxury liner and grows up to be a piano prodigy.  He never leaves the ship, and there is a good reason why.  Kate’s thoughts on “The Legend of 1900″  so closely resembled my own after watching “Branded” you might want to stop by and see why he doesn’t leave the ship and how Kate applies her impressions to today’s society.

What was the last movie that stayed with you and made you think?

40 thoughts on “Cracking the Code

  1. Always looking for a good movie/film so thanks for the suggestion. If you haven’t watched I’m Fine, Thanks ( I highly recommend it, too – Although, you kinda already do what they suggest :)

  2. Yes you are right Lois, Advertising is BIG Business and it has our kids hooked from those early ages as parents unwittingly sit their offspring in front of the TV for that moments ‘Peace’.. But its ingrained from an early age, as they see those toy adds as they soon learn to crave and say ‘I Want!’ and so live starts of the ‘I want’ and as they get older they expect! … and then later in life they expect everything still and so that little plastic card comes in handy in the ‘Never Never land’ of buy now pay later.. and Pay they do!…

    The last film I think I watched which had an impact into its hidden meaning was Avatar!… for here was a world living in relative harmony, until Man came to extract the minerals at ALL costs…. This showed how the imbalance was started, but it also showed how together all was affected and how if ALL joined together one could conquer …
    It was subtly done, but the message shouted out clear to me…. xox

    • Sue, I loved Avatar! I had assumed it would be another dumb movie, but my son bought a blu-ray of the movie (because he loved it so) and gave me the DVD copy. He had to bug me to watch it, but once I did I fell in love with it. I took from it the same message you did. Here were people in perfect harmony with nature, until human’s arrived. I was reminded of how distant we have become from the earth that gives us our sustenance, even you and I who know the calming influence it has on us. I am sure early peoples understood that connection much clearer than we may ever again.

      As for the credit cards, talk about a dangerous thing that was unleashed on society. I own zero and while I have had to pay a bit more for things like car insurance or higher rates on a car when financing it because I have no credit score I am happier because I have no debt or the clutter from the shopping excursions. Another plus is that I don’t have to worry about my identity being stolen as easily as those with lines of credit. But sadly I had to learn the hard way by having my identity stolen twice, I thought I had been very careful.

      I do think the new trend of cutting the cable and only watching things like Netflix will help the next generation. They are not being exposed to those commercials they way our children were when turning on the TV, but only time will tell what the results will be. Of course today’s youth spend more time online where they are bombarded by ads.

      • Yes same here Lois I owe zero too….. I would imagine identity theft quite unnerving!

        Here the BBC don’t have Adds but still manage to franchise things such as things to do with certain children’s shows in the form of toys books etc..

        As to the film Avatar… It was amazing how many people I spoke to also picked up on the connection to what we are doing to Earth Now… Which at the time gave me greater hope for humanity in its waking up process! x

        • You are lucky the BBC doesn’t include more advertising to children.

          I believe the responses you heard about Avatar are wonderful, it shows people are noticing what is happening around them.

  3. Just watched a documentary about tort reform, the movie is called “Hot Coffee”. Very interesting, made me think…. I don’t have cable so no TV, no ads. I watch Netflix and don’t miss the ads at all :)

    • Jayne, I too watch movies and documentaries on Netflix from time to time and also a free site I watched Hot Coffee, the one about the McDonald’s lawsuit? While I shook my head at the lawsuit at the time it was filed, my information came from the media and those talking about the woman’s injuries, much of it misinformation. After watching the documentary my whole outlook on the pain and severity of her injuries did a complete 180.

      The only TV I watch is to see a few football games which is where I see the commercials. I love football season but won’t miss those commercials when it’s over.

  4. “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” about cave paintings at Chauvet has kept me thinking.
    Advertising/marketing is a tool which is neither good or bad, but may be harmful in how it is used. I run my own business, so marketing is important to me, not to make people buy what they don’t need but rather to inform the world I exist in case they want my products or services.

    • Alex, you made a great point about the differences in advertising. I have no problem with advertising done right, and being honest. I will have to see if I can find the Cave of Forgotten Dreams. I have traveled and lived in the South Western part of the state and love the cave/rock paintings found there. I love deciphering the stories they tell.

  5. I must try and find the movie, though the BF is effectively in advertising, so I’m not sure he’ll watch it with me!! The link to another blog didn’t work for me. I think advertising is a necessary evil to some extent. There are innovations that are positive, and advertising lets it be known. But in Australia, drugs can’t be marketed (nothing the doctor would prescribe), though they sometimes run things that say ‘if you are overweight, ask your doctor about your options’ and they word it in a way that gets known to associate with a brand. But you don’t know the drug name at least. Anyhow… I also think I would eat fast food even without advertising – they are the sweet spot of sugar/fat/salt (as I was reading just yesterday in a academic magazine) and it’s true even with supermarket bought goods!

    • Thank you, Sarah, the link is fixed. I’m glad you let me know because reading Kate’s post I found she did a much better job of sharing what she took from the movie she watched than I did. I think you will enjoy it. How lucky you are not to have commercials about prescription drugs. If I never have to hear another one about erectile dysfunction I would be very happy. :-) From our ads you would think no man in this country can perform without drugs. Even drugs such as anti-psychotics are advertised. Nothing like reaching out to a desperate group of people who would love to have just one day of not struggling with chronic depression or schizophrenia. I have been avoiding fast food for so long that I can’t stand the taste of it now, for me the one thing I will always want, even without advertising, is chocolate.

      • It’s true that I’m often shocked at the advertising in US magazines which would never get through here!
        Otherwise, I’m pretty immune to advertising despite being a visual person. I’m not interested in or aware of brands and would never buy something because I saw it advertised. Not sure how I got this way, I had plenty of exposure!! For convenience, I always shop at the supermarket that only sells own-brand – I suppose that is branding of a kind, too, tho’… ;o

        • I seem to notice the commercials more today when I am exposed to television than ever before, it isn’t in a good way. I think all taste and restraint went out in advertising since I last had a TV. I would never buy a product because I saw it in an ad, what I usually do is wish the darn things would end so I can get back to what I was watching. Is there a certain style of advertising or is it particular products that the US advertises that shock you?

          I’m not sure about the store only brands. I view the store brands as the inexpensive alternative rather than as a brand themselves. We don’t have any stores like that around here.

  6. Amazing Grace 2006 made me feel very insignificant in the world. It tells the story of how William Wilberforce, led the campaign against slavery in the British Empire. Wilberforce died just three days after hearing that the passage of the Act through Parliament was assured.

  7. Well, I have mixed feelings on the topic of advertising. I currently make my living from internet ads, and it’s a really nice model. It allows me to give away my work for free, which I do feel is in the public good. But I do agree that ads often convince people to buy things they don’t need and cannot afford.

    Back when I worked in the non-profit music school world, we’d always end up with “marketing professionals” on our board of directors who wanted to come help the poor idiots in the non-profit world figure out “how it’s done”. I found most of what they had to say to be complete and utter nonsense, but one thing has always stuck with me. One fellow told me that when it came to advertising and marketing there were essentially 2 different kinds. One kind aimed simply to inform, and the other kind aimed to convince. He said that non-profits generally did a good job of informing, but a lousy job of convincing. Since the “convincing” variety always struck me as coercive and underhanded, that was just fine with me! In fact, one of the main reasons I left the organization was because they wanted to go off into that other direction, and I just wasn’t comfortable with it.

    Anyhow, I guess that’s my long winded way of saying that I think it’s a complicated topic. I mean, if there were no advertising at all, how would you know that certain services or products were available? On the other hand, the whole “you must buy this in order to be cool” think makes me absolutely nuts!

    • It is complicated, while I haven’t seen your site with the ads if they are like most ads I have seen on the net they aren’t trying to manipulate anyone. I have a link I plan to share on Friday which in effect goes into the detail of just how children are marketed to. I think children should be off-limits, but the marketing gurus believe the younger you grab them as your customer, the more likely they will become brand specific as adults and give that company a life-long customer.

      I can’t handle the strong sell tactic!! I have worked in non-profit situations and it’s all about asking for help, not the convincing, which in the case of non-profits is usually based on guilt. I could probably write a series of posts on advertising and the different facets of how we are manipulated by it and also results of what changed when advertising was banned towards children.

      • For us at the music school the advertising was mostly purely informative – stuff like: Beginning Banjo Class Tuesdays 7-8pm $65, or something like that. We also did a pretty terrible job of guilting people out of donations, which was also just fine with me. Honestly… it wasn’t that I didn’t think the work we did was important, it just seemed like the massive fundraising campaigns should be saved for hungry children, environmental destruction and the like. But maybe that’s just me.

        • Cat, I have nothing wrong with that kind of advertising. My son and his wife wanted to find dance lessons for their daughter. I happened to see an ad for a new school opening up that was advertised as affordable. I gave them a call and found they were true to their word on the cost. As a result the little one has been enjoying her weekend dance class. There is a difference between advertising to inform and that to coerce. I have no problem with a sign in front of a house advertising who is doing the roofing or new plumbing work either. But these commercials are not informing, they are trying to play on the ego to coerce you to buy.

          Fundraising for hungry children, environmental destruction, and even for things like medical advances by individuals I have no problem with, but then again that type of thing is a combination of educational and manipulative (pulling heart strings).

  8. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this :-)
    2 weeks ago, I watched a documentary called : Miss Representation, it focused on how woman we give away our power by believing we don’t have any and how the media a big role on it! It was great to watch, it’s incredible how social media influences us (I found it on Netflix-Canada) :-)

    • Thanks for the suggestion, I will have to look for that when I feel like watching a movie. Things have changed a lot in the last 50-60 years for women, but not enough in my opinion. I see too many women who to avoid confrontations will be quiet and just go along with what others want. We make up roughly 50% of the population and we are so far behind in standing up for what we need.

  9. I think commercials have gotten worse. We rarely watch TV, but we did when we were living with my parents, before moving here. The kids’ stuff is the worst–“Hey kids! Tell your parents to call 1-800…” Yuck. I noticed differences in Beanie, and the toys she wanted, as well. (Luckily, she’s good and detoxed!)

    • Aren’t those ads horrible. Nothing like they were when we were younger. I’m glad you detoxed Beanie, she doesn’t need that. My grandchildren either watch a movie on Netflix or something prerecorded so they see very few commercials.

      Another thing about the Christmas advertising is that they raise the prices now and lower them in January. There was one board game advertised when my boys were little that they wanted (even though their lists were completed months before) It looked like fun. I ran all over looking for it to surprise them. I didn’t get it, but it was listed at $40. I found it when the stores restocked in January, it was being sold for $20! Now that’s wrong too!

    • Yes, I do. No commercials for male enhancement pills, or the list of all the side effects of such and such medication they are telling us to ask our doctor to prescribe. Although I do remember all the alcohol and cigarette ads from that same time period. Hey, that’s a good point. They aren’t allowed to advertise for cigarettes yet they are still bought, guess you don’t need an ad to find what you want.

  10. Playing the devil’s advocate, if there were no advertising, we probably wouldn’t have network TV, magazines and newspapers, the Internet, professional sports, theatre and symphonies, etc. Advertising subsidizes all these things so that consumers don’t have to pay full price for them. We all sell our souls a little or a lot to save money. I am immune to most advertising – after I see an ad I usually can’t remember what they were selling – but some offends me. One of the worst I remember was targeting kids to include Pepsi in their school lunch boxes.

    • I haven’t seen that particular Pepsi commercial but yes, I would be offended by it too. I agree we wouldn’t have a lot that we have if it wasn’t for advertising, but at the same time I could live without a few of those on your list. When it comes to professional sports, if they didn’t have all that advertising maybe the players would get a smaller salary and tickets would be affordable for the average person. As for magazines, if it’s worth reading it’s worth paying for. I do subscribe to one magazine that has zero advertising in it, donors and subscriptions subsidize the entire cost.

      Since I don’t see most of it, I shouldn’t complain so loudly but there has to be a way to stop the advertising to children directly.

  11. I do believe that there will always be advertising as long as it is effective. My concern is more for children. As adults we can choose whether or not to watch an ad or how we let it affect our decisions. The ones that specifically target children should be more regulated.

    • Can’t agree more with that, Jodi. Christmas is coming up and I hear the commercials for toys has already started. When my boys were little I had them make out their wishlists for their birthdays and Christmas all at one time. Since their birthdays were the end of July and beginning of September they weren’t influenced by the later ads if they should see them. Did you hear about how a certain business decided to run an ad campaign telling kids to argue with their parents to get the parents to relent into buying their products? We are the parents, we know what is best for our children…how dare anyone run a campaign aimed at children that teaches them to argue with us and tell us we are wrong.

  12. They pay those ad guys some big bucks to hook us. I do watch some TV but everything is on DVR so I fast forward through any commercials. They even have commercials on PBS now because they can’t raise enough money any other way. I fast forward those too and get right to the instructions of the lessons. My son showed me all the tricks the advertisers use so we are savvy to it. I don’t do fast food or buy packaged or canned foods so I’m a bad target. I know the video and there are so many more documentaries that just plain make me mad at how we are used. You can’t ban it though. Freedom of speech and press etc.Just stay informed.

    • They do pay them big bucks. Funny thing is I used to find advertising more effective before there were commercials. I still remember not being able to sleep and watching the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson with my grandparents. I’m drawing a blank on his side kick’s name at the moment but instead of breaking away for a commercial, either Johnny or his side-kick would walk to the other side of the stage and read a script for a product. I remember thinking that must be some really good dog food if they were willing to tell you to buy it. I don’t recall what other sponsors they had, but I do remember dog food. Isn’t that a strange memory?

      The only time we ever watched commercials, on purpose, was during the Super Bowl. The commercials were usually funny or sentimental, but lately they are horrible. I can’t count how many times we looked at each other and shook our heads wondering what in the world they were trying to sell. I have a business degree, so advertising/marketing was part of my course work (not that I had any intention to get into that line of work) it is sad how the commercials are all about some feeling the product is supposed to evoke rather than what the product will actually do for you

      PBS has commercials? That’s just wrong!!!

      • Ed McMahon… And I LOVED the old tonight show with Johnny Carson, especially when Joan Embry from the zoo would bring the animals!

        • Thank you! I had Ed McMahon’s name right on the edge of my brain and just couldn’t pull it out. :-) I loved the zoo one’s later Jim Fowler used to bring wild animals in. Johnny was such a good sport as these animals climbed all over him, many I believe he really was afraid of which made his faces so funny.

  13. I watch very little tv, and even fewer movies. So I guess I would be a bad choice for this. As for advertising, I think it should be banned, or if not banned, have to follow more rules then it does. I hate commercials.

    • Jackie, I used to like renting movies because you could skip the commercials, then they made it so you couldn’t skip past them. I was really angry at that. I would love to see advertising for products banned as well, but like you would at least accept more restrictions, especially towards children and about medications.

  14. Your timing is funny. I never watch TV. I haven’t watched a single television show in over a year, BUT yesterday I got some very disturbing news and couldn’t keep my mind off of it. I thought maybe some mindless television would do it. I hooked up a cable and ran it to my television and cut it on. I couldn’t take it past the first set of commercials. I guess I’m too far gone to fit back into this consumer driven society.

    • That’s a good thing, Dan. I’m sorry you had bad news, I hope every thing is okay. I used to ignore the commercials, one of my boys would say something about a commercial that was just on and I would have no recollection of it. Now that I don’t have a TV I notice them and it drives me crazy. Hope you are having a better day today.

Comments are closed.