ANATOMY OF DESIGN
It may be shocking that shock is stylish in advertising, but it is not surprising.
After busting so many taboos against nudity and sexual congress, what is left
to grab an audience's attention, advertisingwise? Where once the prevailing
hook was implicit allure and suggestive titillation-sensuousness that appealed to
the eye and maybe the groin—currently an atavistic interest in the grotesque
(and physically gross) is being tapped. Market tests are not necessary to
understand that people really do like watching train wrecks, as long as they
are not in them. Sure, they may be disturbed, and they may even avert their
eyes to some extent, yet rubbernecking is a human frailty and gawking is a
sport. So media hawkers increasingly rely on shock bait to reel the
rubberneckers into the store.
“The media environment in the last decade has become tolerant of much
stronger and controversial content,” wrote Lazar Dzamic in VO
ICE: The AIGA
Journal of Design. “New television formats (especially the advent of reality TV),
the obsession with celebrity culture, the behavior of celebrities themselves,
computer games, closely covered wars and crime chronicles all make our world
less, not more prudish. The taboos of old are quaint today.” So is it no longer
shocking, in a quaintm squeamish way, to stumble on an ad for the opening of
a Ljubljana shoe store, Obuvalnica Butanoga, that features a couple (Borut Kajbic,
the owner/designer of the company and his girlfriend) in the Garden of Eden,
fully nude except for their chic shoes. Oh, one other thing. The shoe designer's
right leg is amputated below the knee, though his right shoe is positioned
exactly where his foot ought to be. From the heroic pose against an outdoor
backdrop, even without knowing the backstory, the irony is clear. Moreover, if
nudity is acceptable, an amputated leg is just natural. However, in truth, the
image is shocking insofar as amputation is anomalous in life as it is in
advertising, and the only logical justification for creating an ad like this is to
play on the voyeuristic by shocking the senses.
The Obuvalnica Butanoga advertisement is not, however, as gratuitously
shocking as those that employ medical waste, human organs and body parts,
stitched eyelids, dead animals, or other unmentionables (mentioned here). Yet
using this distastefully blistering imagery is arguably not always gratuitous.
Sometimes it underscores a point of view, as when the British government
mandates that all cigarette packages in Canada and England show photographs
of diseased tissue to hammer home the effects of smoking, or the way anti-
abortionists show mutilated fetuses to press their position, or the way animal
rights advocates regale viewers with pictures of tortured animals to make them
stop and think. But sometimes grotesquery, when combined with sexual
imagery, is more than gratuitous: It is so offensive it sparks protests that
beget media interest, which increases publicity—a useful advertising tactic.
Returning to irony, Obuvalnica Butanoga is replete with it, not simply in
the staged photograph but also in the typography. Cutting the letterforms, as
though with a knife, is an appropriate fit for the amputation theme. Cut type is
a timeworn method of straining legibility to force attention. Or, as in the case
of Mesa, it is a visual pun on the word itself. In addition to Butanoga seconding
as a fig leaf, the cropped form helps redirect the eye from the figures to the
shoe company brand.
Designer: Borut Kajbic
2001 Obuvalnica Butanoga poster
ad,d,s: Borut Kajbic i: Marjolein Spronk, Martine Eelman c: TDS drukwerken
Promotional poster for the opening of Butanoga, a shoe store of original and unique
design by Matjaz Vlah.
Shock of sexuality