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Some of the largest advertisers in the world—in particular packaged-goods marketers such as Procter & Gamble Co. and Unilever—produce some of the most formulaic advertising.

This type of advertising, all too familiar to regular TV viewers and newspaper readers, includes such timeworn devices as split-screen comparisons of laundry detergents, scenes of women cheerfully immersed in household chores and before-and-after demonstrations of haircare products.

Marketers of such products justify the cliched quality of their advertising with voluminous research suggesting that a straightforward focus on the functional efficacy of their products results in increased sales.

Typical ad cliche

Ad cliches, however, are not confined to the packaged-goods market. Narrative conventions that help distinguish advertising as a genre of communication occur frequently across most product categories. A typical cliched spot establishes a problem at the outset, then resolves it with the timely appearance of the advertised product.

Critics of advertising have charged the industry with encouraging and reproducing stereotypical, cliched and banal images. Others have argued that advertising, as a particular kind of language, is inherently cliched; that is, advertising must use stereotypical images and hackneyed phrases not so much to reproduce a dominant ideology as to reduce it to a kind of social shorthand to communicate effectively.

Even in narrowly targeted media, such as cable TV and the Internet, the increasingly pressing requirements of brevity and concision, together with the need to achieve emotional resonance with the target audience, are more likely to produce technical innovation than originality in content.

The size of media budgets in markets such as the U.S. also tends to make advertisers risk averse when it comes to content, directing their attention to media-buying clout rather than originality in their messages.

In addition, cross-referencing between ads has become increasingly common, particularly in spots targeted at segments of the market perceived to be "media savvy" and resistant to formulaic approaches. In the U.S., for example, TV viewers have seen the Energizer bunny humorously used in ads for fictional products that at first glance appear to be selling those products but in reality are selling batteries.

Use of nostalgia

Nostalgia is another mode in which advertising has knowingly played on the conventions of a genre, particularly through pastiche and the recycling of domestic images from the 1950s. From a present-day perspective, these images carry an almost delirious innocence and optimism that, when transplanted into 21st century advertising, evoke a peculiarly postmodern blend of irony and longing.

The increased self-consciousness with which some campaigns refer to advertising cliches is in part motivated by the need to encourage stronger consumer involvement with brands. An ironic approach to advertising's own cliches has become one way for marketers to provide instantaneous intelligibility to address the strategic need for building a higher consumer involvement with a brand.

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