Thursday, 23 July 2020

Ad capture (03) – Pandora

This the third in a series of posts that are designed to take a detailed look at TV advertisements. I want to slow down the experience and pay attention to what is offered to view between programs on the small screen. This kind of content tends to be considered unimportant or ephemeral.

This 30-second jewellery ad came just after one advertising fruit and vegetables and just before one for an electrical goods retailer. The way the earlier ad approached its subject was to promote health advantages, especially as they relate to mood. The retailer’s ad was aimed at businesspeople – many of whom run small businesses, or people who operate as sole traders – who might be interested in taking advantage of the federal government’s instant asset write-off policy, allowing people to immediately (instead of incrementally, over the longer term) subtract from taxable income any business expense (equipment) that might be incurred before the end of the financial year (I saw the ad on 28 June, two days before the end of the financial year).

The Pandora ad – which I saw again in the morning on 4 July while watching ‘MacGyver’ on 10 Bold – opens with drums and the soundtrack quickly segues into a song that was specially produced for the company, a Danish jewellery retailer with manufacturing facilities in Thailand. The lyrics are simple and direct and play over the top of a series of video segments that are carefully orchestrated to support the corporate goal, which is for people to go online and buy a bracelet for their significant other.

The lyrics go like this:
You bring me joy,
you bring me joy
you take away the pain
with your loving ways.
About the way I love.
Cause every time I see you,
you remind me just the reason
you bring me joy.
The song is bluesy and emotive, evoking a time in the past when manners and mores were more traditional, but with a modern twist (since no-one can meaningfully suggest that jazz is old-fashioned; it’s timeless), and contrasts with the broad smiles of the people shown in the video, most of whom are women. The overall effect of the ad is more refined than pushy.

I’ll return to the theme of variety later on in this review, but it’s worthwhile mentioning at this point that the tune and the lyrics are appropriate as accompaniment for both busy and slow segments of the video, and with this ad you get both.

In broadcasting their original song with segments of carefully designed video, the admakers have added a certain discipline with respect to the timing of words and images. What I mean by this convoluted explanation is to describe how, sometimes, particular words are timed to appear along with certain images – a child, say, or a segment of plain text on a dull pink background (which is also the colour used to display the company’s logo) – but, on the other hand, sometimes synchronisation is absent. By alternating a disciplined approach to the broadcasting of segments, and a looser, less formal one, the creatives behind the ad allow the viewer to experience a range of emotions, and to relax. (You’re not being pushed into doing something you don’t want to do.)

I talked in the previous post in this series about how diversity and contrast in the transmission of elements to the viewer enriched the experience of watching an ad. The same is true of the Pandora ad, even though the subject matter is very different. Whereas, in the Nurofen ad, such things as colour and the opposition between dark and light added meaning to your experience, in the Pandora ad contrast is equally subtle though it relies on other elements.


First of all I want to look in more detail at the lyrics. In the above transcript I have tried – to the best of my ability – to add punctuation though, of course, when you listen to a song there is no punctuation and the pauses and phraseology must be implied by the use of voice and rhythm. I had a bit of trouble with the sentence “About the way I love” because it wasn’t precisely clear, even when I slowed the audio track down to half its natural speed – there’s an online tool that allows you to alter the tempo of a song without changing the pitch – where the punctuation should lie in respect of these words. In fact I didn’t even quite get the words at first; the word “about” was particularly difficult to pin down as the stress falls heavily on the second syllable, so much so that the first syllable almost disappears in the singer’s vocalisation. It almost sounds like “out”, with the “a” swallowed in the throat of the singer and the “b” almost lost in the ecstatic explosion of the final syllable.

The singer is a young woman. She has no discernible accent and, importantly, the words used for the song don’t require her to do so. If the makers of the ad had relied on a commercial hit – as many advertising companies do – they might have met with a problem. By getting a songwriter to create original lyrics that are distanced from any secondary meanings – meanings that unavoidably adhere to songs that are part of the culture – the admakers have been able to produce a distinct and authentically Australian ad for its target market.

There is, for example, no “r” at the end of any word which, if an American were singing, would have required a different pronunciation compared to if, say, an Australian had sung the same song. It is clear, however, that the singer was educated in an English-speaking country so, at least on the surface – going by appearances – she belongs to the dominant culture. This is important for this company because it’s a foreign enterprise although its franchise system – which was introduced globally in Australia in 2009 – makes it more likely to be responsive to local markets.

The lyrics do not rhyme and there is no metrical system used for the 38 words they comprise. The word “you” appears in every line (once as the possessive pronoun “your”) except for the one I have already mentioned (“About the way I love”) which contains, rather, the first-person singular pronoun. This line therefore stands in contrast to the other parts of the song. We’ve already seen how it stands out for its lack of definition and clarity, and we now see that, grammatically, it is set apart also. In my transcript I have given this line the status of a discrete sentence as, unlike the other lines, it doesn’t flow into the start of the next line or naturally result from what goes before.

It’s distinct and individual. It’s also important to note that the target of this ad is women but the person who would buy the product would be a man (in many cases; the ad does address the issue of same-sex attraction). The ad however refuses to rely too heavily on the dominant Anglo culture, although in the cases of some of the models it’s not clear where their parents were born. Most of the women featured in the ad are dark-haired, however. In fact, there’s only one blonde, and she is not the most important person you see.

There are four Asian faces and two of the women pictured might have forebears from southern Europe or the Middle East. It’s just not clear and, the creatives behind the ad seem to be saying, it’s not important. This is clever targeting as over 50 percent of Australians have at least one parent who was born overseas. If you count people who might have a grandparent from a non-Anglo culture then you have an even higher level of diversity in Australia in terms of ethnicity. In this ad you see, in fact, traces of a vibrant, multicultural society with distinct values grounded, the creatives behind it seem to be saying, in close personal ties of affection. In fact, with one case pictured it’s possible that the woman who would be the recipient of a gift of jewellery has a partner of the same sex.

The content of the ad signals modernity in other ways, too. Mobile phones (what Americans call “cell phones”) feature prominently, as do, in one scene that places the ad after Covid-19’s onset, computer screens. In a scene starting around the eight-second mark there’s a shot of a woman driving a car and talking on a phone using an earpiece (see image below). These segments underscore the fact that women Pandora is targeting have agency and are independent yet attached to their partners, a seeming paradox of post-war generations for whom the idea of equality is not arguable and is, indeed, a defining element of their personalities.

On the other hand romance is important as well, as the makers of this ad demonstrate in subtle ways. But rather than possessiveness, the ad privileges the idea of gratitude.

As the segment showing the woman driving the car is displayed the song is at the stage of “With your” (the soundtrack quickly cuts to “loving ways” for the subsequent segment). In fact, the audio over this section of video starts with an intake of breath, necessary for the singer doing her job – in the same way that the woman in the car is busy going about the business of looking after the family – to recover from the word “pain” in the previous line of the lyrics. 

The woman we see here is doing two things at once. You can see how her right hand is set on the left-hand side of the steering wheel – indicating that she’s turning left – but she’s also talking on the phone using hands-free devices. Some people drive in this way. I don’t; I’m more likely to always keep my hands at the “ten to two” positions and turn by moving my hands across the surface of the steering wheel rather than, as this woman is doing, fixing one hand on one point of the wheel and dragging it – using the power steering that many cars these days have – to the side.

In the shot you see buildings by the side of the road and, importantly (for a moment), a tree. The setting suggests that the woman is driving somewhere in a suburb of one of the country’s major cities, where living costs are higher but where wages are commensurably higher as well. To add realism, the woman’s hand is not particularly attractive – her wrist is quite bony and her forearm is fairly thick, suggesting strength rather than elegance – and she is wearing (importantly for the people funding the ad) a bracelet that features pearls or some sort of round accoutrement set on a band. There is no watch on her right wrist, suggesting that she’s right-handed.

The reason for her odd hand placement is to obscure the carmaker’s logo – usually found on the centre boss of steering wheels – so that there’s no way to discover what brand of car she’s driving. You can see the seat in which she’s sitting and it’s a new, expensive looking bucket seat. It is pale, a colour like cream, suggesting that a factory option had been selected by the person (probably the woman you’re looking at) buying the car. The steering wheel has controls to the side of the centre boss that is pressed to sound the horn. The steering wheel controls on my old car let you adjust the stereo but on the new car you can do a lot more with the buttons there. 

This shot is extremely complex and varied. You see the woman from the back though also from the left, as though the person (putatively) looking at her were sitting in the back seat of the car. What is most striking in this rapidly replaced scene is colour and variety. You can even see, in the lower left-hand corner of the frame, the other car seat (the front passenger-side seat) in which, presumably, someone (possibly a child) is seated. Perhaps there are two children and we’re supposed to be seeing what the one in the back seat sees every day. 

Which is a woman smiling though she’s shaking her head as if she were saying “I can’t believe it” or something along those lines. As if she were using her voice to express pleasure and anger mixed, concerning something she wants to show was so outrageous that her credulity was challenged but that, instead of losing her temper, she brushed off the disappointment and moved onto the next thing in her busy life. She’s sensible and not prone to unwarranted outbursts of anger.

This is a stunning segment of almost infinite interest, showing the care that the admakers put into every facet of their product. This level of care is evident everywhere, including at the outset, where the lyrics are paired with images to bring into focus the main point of the ad – a man’s gratitude – which we return to again and again, especially as it relates to children. At the beginning of the ad, the song goes “You bring me joy”, and as these words come out from the TV’s speakers we see a shot of an animated and happy, smiling 10-year-old girl (see image below). In fact, the timing of the image is such that she appears a single beat before the word “joy”, on the word “me”. 

Timing is important in this ad because of the centrality, for the viewer’s aesthetic experience, of the original song written for it. Before the scene discussed above, the words “You bring” appear layered over the company logo (see image below) that launches the ad. This is a frame that efficiently serves to cut off the viewer from whatever had come before, and skilfully establishes a sedate tone for the rest of the production. 

The tempo of the music is relaxed and the logo is carefully styled and beautiful in a modern, contemporary way. To return to the idea of diversity, the background of this shot is varied though one colour – pink – predominates but some areas are darker pink and most of the rest is lighter pink. The overall tone of the colour field is subdued and mature. It’s not a candy pink that might be used for girls’ toys and which, in fact, we see in the shot of the ribbon worn by the 10-year-old girl (see earlier image). 

There is a dark patch of colour in the top-right quadrant of this colour field with its company logo. This dark patch of colour blocks out the ideal future, and grounds the viewer in the real past. This is important as is contrasts efficiently with the colour pink, which would otherwise be too cheerful – remember that the lyrics are bluesy and relaxed, and are grounded in an implied viewer’s reality. This is an element of the experience of seeing the ad that returns again and again, notably in the women’s arms and hands. Watching the ad you won’t be mindful of the classical story behind the name “Pandora” – the woman who opened the box of evil spirits – a name that combines a sense of female agency and power with a suggestion of the elemental and irrational. 

By itself, the name might conjure up negative feelings, but the ad reassures. The background colour is moreover one that would suit a mature, elegant, youthful woman who is also a mother, but pink reappears (cleverly) in the next shot (at about the ad’s six-second mark; see image below), which shows a woman laughing while talking on her mobile phone. Here, the woman’s mobile phone case is pink. Her right arm again is wrapped in bracelets – possibly of the kind the jewellery maker funding the ad makes in Thailand – and in her left hand she holds some papers, which distractingly fly around (she’s gesturing with her left hand as she talks), adding variety and movement to complement the movement of her torso as she’s animated by emotion deriving from her phone conversation.

In fact, emotion is readily visible as the woman in this scene actually cries, using her left hand, the index finger bent and raised, to wipe moisture away from her eye. The word “pain” arrives with this gesture, but this scene, with its bright colours, is again joyful and relaxed. The woman wears a blue-and-yellow top and her hair is tied up at the back with an elastic band (which we cannot see; we saw the one for the 10-year-old girl, and it was bright pink). She is right-handed and we see her face from below, as though we were (again) a child looking at his or her mother. 

The woman is not the same one as the woman in the car, but this woman also has a bony wrist and dark hair. She is also wearing, around her neck, a chain or some form of necklace. Importantly, in this shot we also see trees – out of focus and again in the background – suggesting that the woman on the phone is in a park (possibly looking after children while going over some important documents). Adding variety, there are telephone lines on poles, visible in the space to the right of the woman’s head. 

Even more importantly, the visuals in all of these scenes rely on strong diagonals, which link to the manufacturer’s name – there are two capital “a”s in the logo. In the scene with the woman in the park, left-to-right diagonals exist in the line of the woman’s head – she is slightly bent at the waist as she talks – as well as the paper in her left hand, her right arm, and the telephone lines. Going the other way (right to left) are the lines of her left arm and the phone, but there is also an interesting play of lines to do with her shirt at the right shoulder, where the fabric is folded and hanging from it in pleats. These lines harmonise beautifully with the complicated lines of the woman’s right hand, which is holding the phone; the fingers are individually visible and separate. 

You can see the sun shining. Behind the woman’s head you see a blue sky with clouds illuminated by the sun, which also shines on the jewellery on the woman’s right arm. It’s a stunning shot of concentrated power and presence, and ideally illustrates the kind of relationships that a modern, independent woman is capable of making with the people in her life. A reasonable man must be deeply attracted to this kind of woman. The “you” of the song lyrics (though they’re sung by a woman) is the woman in the ad. 

She’s everywoman and with the words “your loving ways” she reappears again at the 10-second mark after the woman driving the car. 


What I have described so far is only the first 11 seconds (approximately; in fact, a bit more) of the ad; there is so much information packed into it that it’s almost indescribable.

But I try. The first 13 seconds of the ad are, to provide a quick summary, elegant and simple. Then there’s a busy period up to the 24 second mark that is populated by quick changes of imagery with a lot happening in them. At 24 seconds you get the shot of the Pandora shopping bag, and at this point things suddenly slow down again. 

Variety being the operative word in this ad. Between the segments showing people going about their business – driving a car, talking on the phone, visiting friends, walking in the wild, speaking on Zoom – there is text that adds meaning and that spells out a sentence. It’s as though a person were talking to himself with his thoughts being interrupted by memory at particular moments. As mentioned before, the different segments appear either at tonic moments with respect to the song being sung, or off the beat. Variety is the important thing. The sentence being spelt out is, as follows: “Thank you for always being there even when we’re apart.” 

Ads are notorious for nailing the critical point down, in fact they exist precisely for this purpose. To emphasise the ad’s main message, the following is repeated near the end of the ad: “Thank you for always being there.” As with the video used in the ad, these words emphasise the importance of relationships.

In order not to outstay my welcome I won’t go into much more detail than I already have done, but it is worthwhile emphasising again how the ad uses variety. Not only does it vary the types of people – a number of ethnicities are welcomed into the fold – but they are engaged in different activities. For example, featured at around the 13-second mark there’s a group of three smiling young women enjoying junk food. These women are notable for not using technology – everyone else in the ad is either talking on the phone, taking a movie of someone else, looking at pictures on their mobile, or using Zoom to connect with people overseas – but like most of the other people shown they display positive affect (they are smiling broadly).

Then there’s the Zoom convo (which also involves some Asian people) at the 18-second mark:

There’s a woman with a toddler at the 20-second mark:

And you have some people hiking in the wild at the 21-second mark:

These later segments, past the 13-second mark, are less carefully crafted and are more like real life. They’re less staged and less beautiful, more real and less ideal. All this because they’re less important, merely underscoring the points already been made in the opening segments, that I’ve talked about in greater detail above. The long segment with the three young women celebrating with pizza is the hinge upon which the ad turns.

Not until 24 seconds do you get (see image below) the money shot: a segment featuring the precious cargo (the bag with the jewellery in it). The final five seconds of the ad has far fewer segments and is, in general, slower and more thoughtful. You get, at this point, the opportunity to rest after all the business of what went earlier.

It’s also worth noting something else about the ad, which is that you only see jewellery in context, apart from this specific shot at the end of the proceedings. This strategy ensures that you aren’t tired of the sight of jewellery by the end of the ad; in fact you might even be unsure, until this point, what the ad is about.

The small, hand-written tag on the parcel says “For always being there” and a heart symbol is appended at the end of the clause just to make sure the message gets through. The effort made by the admakers to contextualise the product demonstrates that the manufacturer is not interested in the hard sell. Everything about the ad works through suggestion and, apart from the “o” in the brand name shown over its pink screen at the beginning of the ad – the letter designed so that the circle has a small, crown-shaped feature on its top that is evidently meant to represent a jewel – you aren’t explicitly shown the product until you see this bag with the gift in it.

In the above I focus mainly on the secondary messaging that operates in addition to the words used in the song and in the static text displayed in white letters over a pink background in some segments. Almost like subliminal or hidden messaging, in subtle ways video content affects the conscious mind as it tries to make sense of adverts.

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