Codebreaking: Diet Coke’s “Stay Extraordinary”

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The older a product is, the more it is a commodity, and the fewer objectively discernible qualities or features it has, the more the advertiser is forced to construct a fictional “grand narrative” to sell you a product. They have to tell a story about the world, and place the product within that world in a way that is conspicuous and positive but also realistic (but not real). The less of a product there is (the less “there” there is there), the more important the brand is, and consequently the more important the grand narrative.

Since the rise of television as the cultural dominant, a few brands have emerged as accomplished authors of American business’s grandest narratives

The grandest of the grand narratives come from Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola is just carbonated sugary water, after all, so there is very little “there” there. And Diet Coke is even less, lacking the sugar. So to get people consuming something that is basically nothing, they need to tell a very compelling story.

So let’s play a game. Below is a 60-second spot advertising Diet Coke that began running in March 2011 to coincide with the launch of their new branding campaign “Stay Extraordinary.”

Let’s pretend it isn’t a commercial. Instead, let’s pretend it’s a film, a work of propaganda, directed by the likes of Hitchcock, Kubrick, or David Lynch. A film where there is often more meaning in symbols, cinematography and imagery than in text or dialogue.

In short, pretend this is a coded message. Your mission is to break the code.

Watch the commercial like you were a CIA analyst, psychoanalyst, or literary theorist. Consider the composition within the frame, the choices of costume and props, their sequence, their synchronization with music, etc.

What parts of the code can you break? What are the symbols, and what do they represent? What story is Coca-Cola is telling? Is it a true story, partially true, or not at all true? Do you like the story, or parts of it? Why is the slogan Stay Extraordinary, and not Be extraordinary? Who is Coca-Cola talking to? In reality, what is Diet Coke? Why do people drink it? Why do they think they drink it?

Here are some avenues of attack:
Gender Roles
What are men doing in the commercial? What are the women doing? What are their jobs? How old are they? How do you know any of this? What did you see in the images that led you to these conclusions?

How are various ethnicity represented? Does the use of an actor of a particular ethnicity reinforce the message that character’s vignette is intended to send? Look for ethnic juxtaposition. What message does it send? If the ethnicities were reversed, does that send a different message?

Are the characters young or old? Is their juxtaposition of ages? What message would be sent if those ages were reversed? What else would have to change?

What kinds of relationships are on display, including romantic, professional, family. In these relationships, who is portrayed most positively? Who is consuming the product?

What role does technology play in the narrative? What conclusions or assumptions do you make (do they want you to make) about the owner of the phone based on the brand of the phone?

What do you conclude about people based on their attire? What message do the clothing, makeup and hairstyle send? Only one character is shot in extreme close-up (where there face is larger than the frame)? Which character is this? What is notable about him in this shot?

Work and Play
Characters are working and playing in the ad. What kind of work are they doing? What is the character’s position in that hierarchy? What jobs are absent? What about the character at the beginning and the end of the ad, are they working or playing? Both? What is implied, and how is that implication made visually and symbolically?

Let’s see what we can come up with. If you like doing this kind of thing, we can make it a recurring feature.

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45 Responses to Codebreaking: Diet Coke’s “Stay Extraordinary”

  1. jermismo says:

    Mmm, diet coke. I’ll think more about this later, but my first thought is that they chose “Stay Extraordinary” in order to suggest that extraordinary people drink diet coke. “Be Extraordinary” would suggest that drinking it would make you better, but that’s not what they are selling. The diet coke didn’t make these people “great,” but great people do drink diet coke. They’re selling a culture – you have to be extraordinary to get in and the drink of choice is diet coke.

    I’ll have to think more about what makes these particular people so extraordinary… A nurse, a painter, a fashion designer, a movie director? Are these who I am supposed to think are extraordinary people? Maybe I should put down the diet coke now, the people in this club give me the willies.

  2. vandal says:

    You know what really got me was the jobs. Business man but not the kind to go to offices all day, more the kind to make connections with beautiful women in the evening, if asked I’d say he goes by something with “consulting” in the title. Artist, not the kind for museums, even more creative with murals (and the one with the close up). Designer of some sort, viewing a dress. Nurse, not doing technical things, doing motherly things. Badass director filming explosions. Finally beautiful (it’s assumed, don’t see her face but everything about that bit is more glamorous than the others) superstar.

    And you know what hits me? Nothing is technical about these jobs. Maybe it’s because I’m in a technical field, but I notice that absence strongly. No engineers, no scientists, no grad student in math fields or computer programmers. They could have sold it as something sexy (it sounds hard to sell computer programmer as sexy but I’ve seen it done). Maybe an engineer doing the explosion instead of some artsy director.

    But you know who I see drinking a lot of caffeinated products like diet coke or regular coke? Nerd in STEM fields. Making a video game with a diet coke on the side, that’s more realistic. I know artsy kids, nurses, etc, they’d complain of the high fructose and would rather drink anything but such a diet coke. Nerds into STEM like it though.

    And now I think it’s “Stay extraordinarily” because it’s sold to these nerds. A bit of “hey, I can continue drinking diet coke, hot superstars and artists drink it” even though they don’t know any artists or hot superstars. You can stay in and code and drink some diet coke, it’s chill, no need to change and maybe go out on a weekend night, you’re like a superstar with that diet coke.

    • Pastabagel says:

      How do you know he’s a businessman? I think you are right, that’s what he’s supposed to be, but how do we know that? Why don’t we assume he’s a professional athlete, or a grad student?

      For me, the phone (and partially the suit) is what codes him as a businessman. It’s a blackberry (or looks enough like one for us to assume it’s one.) Blackberry represents some kind of business person, a junior executive, or a lawyer. If it was an iphone, it wouldn’t signify “executive” as well (even though in real life plenty of executives have iphones).

      I hadn’t thought about the lack of technical jobs on display in the commercial. The only thing close is the woman who is a doctor or nurse. But also notice how “extraordinary” is limited to socialites, creatives, and the entertainment industry. These people are already extraordinary. CPA’s, stay at home moms, and UAW workers don’t code as extraordinary (and therefore would code as ordinary. See detergent ads.).

      • Jerboa says:

        Grad students don’t wear ties.

        Except when they’re giving presentations they know they’re not prepared for.

      • foxfire says:

        The nurse is the closest to a technical profession. I say nurse because she seems to be working the night shift after most doctors would be at home on call. I get night shift from the emptyness of the nurses station combined with the lights being off in the nursery.

        By the actions she is taking, she is taking care of infants, which codes her as kind, gentle, and caring.

        The technical requirements of being a nurse like, reading of medical equipment, charts, dispensing meds, or spending time infront of a computer entering medical reports, seem intentionally absent. She is at a desk with her Diet Coke, then she in the nursery cooing over a baby. These are things that anyone could do without needing any significant training.

    • jermismo says:

      Vandal: You’re right… I was trying to figure out what these jobs had in common – the nurse was the one that didn’t seem to fit in to me. Art, fashion, movies and nursing? Then it struck me, they are all people focused. Even the business man isn’t viewing reports, he’s out making connections. Who else has a people focused job? Marketers that make Diet Coke commercials. Is it possible that they were also feeding their own egos? What do the marketers want to be true?

      I know there I tons of Diet Coke drinkers in STEM fields, myself among them… but marketers don’t really get the people who make the things they try to sell (in my experience). Maybe it is the difference between inward thinking people (what do I know, what can I do) and outward thinking people (what do they think I know, what do they think I can do)?

  3. Pops says:

    I was drawn the film being made. A rusted trailer home with rusted cars in the middle of a dirt field. Explosion!! Does this scene remind you of your home? Excitement could be just around the corner. Sharing a diet coke with a famous movie director.

  4. jw says:

    The one that stands out is the doctor/nurse/nurse’s aid. She’s the one we’re meant to identify with because she’s unreadable in terms of class.

    The others are easy:

    Penthouse MBA party dude (rich AND gets laid!)
    Trust fund AmeriCorps art school guy (so soulful! artistic! he’s giving back!)
    Aristocratic fashion designer (sophisticated and tasteful! so European!)
    Akira Kurosawa / Michael Bay hybrid (its artsy AND has explosions!)
    Red carpet starlet (fill in the blank – we don’t have to see her face to know she’s got everything)

    They are new age capitalist fantasies of fulfillment: material, artistic, spiritual, sexual. Their jobs are exactly what they want to be doing – working isn’t for making money, working is how you express yourself, find your inner soul, satisfy all desires. The money just comes along for the ride.

    With the black doctor/nurse/nurse’s aid you can read her several ways. As a doctor she’s another example of the fanstasy fulfilled. As a nurse’s aid, though, she’s trying to convince herself that she’s living the life shown to her on Oprah and in Diet Coke commercials. She’s trying (and maybe even succeeding) to find fulfillment coddling someone else’s baby, working the overnight shift while her real kids are at home. Oprah and Diet Coke commercials are telling her: be happy with your crappy dead-end job cleaning the white baby’s poopy diapers. “Stay extraordinary” means “be happy that you even have a job right now – rest assured that Diet Coke knows how spiritual and artistic you really are deep down, even if you’re three months behind on your mortgage.”

    All the others are acknowledged for their awesomeness: the MBA has his ladies, the trustafarian has everyone assembling on the overpass, the directer and starlet have their audience, the designer has the flashing cameras.

    Those photos on the wall are for the obstetrician, not the person who empties the bedpan. No one notices what the nurse’s aid does. Except, of course, for Diet Coke.

  5. michaelhockenhull says:

    Going with the ethnicity angle:

    Displayed are Caucasian, African-American and Asian.

    Caucasians are all displayed in happy/creative jobs. Either business, artist, designer or superstar. Except the baby! Didn’t even register first time around.

    The African-American people are displayed as model/doctor/nurse (struck me as nurse right away. It is impossible to make any clear cut judgement, but green scrubs signal nurse to me. She is wearing a white blouse, not a doctor’s coat as far as I can see. This may just be my bias.) The focus here seems to be on the innate abilities (beauty, motherly care).

    The Asian/Japanese is in a creative outlet. To the “jw” who saw him as Akira Kurosawa/Michael Bay mix: This is interesting. Might you be making this association simply because he is Japanese and is dressed with glasses and this particular kind of scarf that so often is associated with artists (and Palestinians)? I can understand what you are saying, but from the scene itself one might just think ‘action flick’.

    In the scenes where more than one ethnicity is present at the same time it is always Caucasian/ African-American. There are two such, and it is interesting that they propound opposite power dynamics. In the first, the Caucasian fashion designer enters a room to find the African-American model. She nods and smiles approvingly at the ensemble. Designer is quite clearly the boss. But! Note that the African-American model wears an expression of defiance towards the designer, and that there is in fact a third person in the scene: another Caucasian, who’s focus is entirely on the model and is obviously worried about whether she did a good enough job in dressing her up. So, there’s a two to one ethnic ratio, with the Caucasian both as boss and as assistant. The African-American model is in between, defiant.

    Switch immediately to African-American nurse/doctor who is on the late shift (denotes hard-working, average). Hearing something, probably the baby coughing or some such, she rushes to it and turns on the warm lighting, touches it gently to which the baby responds in a heart-aching manner. Here the roles are reversed, instead of the defiant/confident model from before, the African-American woman is a caring and nurturing mother-figure. And, the Caucasian is all but helpless (a baby after all). The final scene is as said heart-aching and this is where the translation from the connotation of hard-work and therefore average-ness changes into ‘one of those moments that makes it all worth it’ and hence, extraordinary.

    Also, as to ethnicity (and gender) I think it is important to note what is absent: Latin-American (although the painter nears this) men or women, African-American males and Asian women. And I think most will peg the Asian man as Japanese/Korean, hence, no Chinese. I have no explanation for this, other than a) that the segment they are aiming for is not any of these of b) it is exactly all segments and they are playing on the aspirational nature of the genders/ethnicities already presented.

    Btw, anyone else notice the ‘business’ guy at 0:06-0:08? It seems to me as if they snuck in a reference to smoking! Whatever he has in his hand doesn’t seem big enough to be a coke bottle or can, and the motion is distinctly like that of someone pulling a cigarette from their lip.

    • jw says:

      I was saying Kurosawa because he was Asian, but also it seemed pretty artsy to me: the stark landscape with a trailer and a couple broken-down cars. The explosion’s also “tasteful” if you can say such a thing. It’s relatively contained, dwarfed by the barren landscape, a brief burst of glorious light amidst the oppressive conditions of rural poverty. Its definitely not the chaotic explosion of invading robot aliens.

    • sunshinefiasco says:

      On the racial note, I was struck by a few things:

      -No Latin Americans (unless there are. Is artist guy Latino? If he is, they make sure no one can be sure of it), but that doesn’t totally surprise me because Coke has an entirely separate giant wing of advertising for those populations (it’s also a little awkward that this is Diet Coke, which is really difficult to find in many places in Latin America (typically there’s Coke and Coke Zero), essentially: I wouldn’t be surprised if Latino communities generally drank more regular coke, not so much diet coke). Also, I believe that there are no Latin Americans for the same reason that there are no black men, and no middle eastern people: those demographics make people angry, and this commercial is about being streamlined, urban, and living the dream.

      -A note or two on the black nurse: She is a nurse, but Coke is intentionally making that ambiguous so as not to appear racist. She’s wearing monochrome scrubs, which to my knowledge, means nurse or surgeon, and I think surgeons wear blue. She’s also working at night, which makes it far more likely that she’s a nurse working the night shift is a much more recognizable story than doctor, especially when we consider that she’s black). If they wanted her to read clearly as a doctor, they would have given her a lab coat, that’s one of the most obvious symbols of all time. But they seem to think that a black nurse working the night shift isn’t quite dreamy enough to match these other urban professionals, so they muddy the issue with a white sweater (instead of lab coat) and they give her the stethoscope to further muddy the waters.

      I think it’s also worth pointing out here that the nurse is the only person in this story who probably actually drinks diet coke. Nurses, particularly night shift nurses, chug that shit, along with other caffeinated substances. I’m not sure what that means, but I think it’s part of the reason that they make her ambiguously doctor-esque : so as not to conjure up the image of the actual nurses that the viewer has seen (who are too unglamorous?).

      The strange thing about this ad is that despite the fact that multiple ethnicities are incorporated, this ad reads to me as being primarily about white people. There’s white business guy, who we see more of than anyone else, and all his white friends (I’m not sure that he was going out for work, he may have been meeting friends). Also, white designer lady, who’s of an age/is working on couture/seriously has her Diet Coke in a glass on a tray with garnish?, implying that she is on the major, earth-shattering designer level (like a Coco Chanel/Vivienne Westwood level), not just a regular famous designer level. There’s the black model, whose facial expression interests me, but I’m not sure what that’s about. Either way, she doesn’t have a Coke, and I get the feeling that for the model, they just wanted “not white”. The Asian director is thrown in so that it’s not just a commercial about white and black people (plus, it’s an URBAN commercial). I’m sold on the intentional ethnicity of the nurse (as in, there is an intent to her being black), but I’m still confused as to why she’s the only “real” person. They make her scene dreamy too, but there’s something off about the inclusion of a working class person in the first place.

  6. Leucrotta says:

    I actually work for coca cola and who are they targeting? Clearly young professionals. What is the biggest threat in this demo? Red Bull and Energy drinks. What is cokes market share in this segment? Families and kids are a totally different segment and not in diet cokes world.

    Ethnicty – Latino are not a core diet coke drinker. Neither are blacks..they skew towards more flavored drinks like grape and pineapple. In the end who is the core drinker of diet soda? High income high education .

    also the business guy was holding his phone between 6-8 secs…relax there is not magic bullet here

    • michaelhockenhull says:

      Ah, I can see that it’s a phone now. Thanks for that. :-) That said, strange way of using/holding a phone.

      But if neither latinos nor blacks are core diet coke drinkers why are there blacks in the video, yet no latinos? Asking since you seem to be in the know.

  7. Leucrotta says:

    Core user but Coke does not want to push away any user..big difference. Since we are looking at race here…. the artist in the pool painting…looks Hispanic? Yes No?

  8. Mark H. says:

    Two things I noticed:

    1. At some point in every scene, the Coke container is briefly dead center in the frame.

    2. The commercial wants to associate the Coke and the tools of the trade. In one movement, the businessman picks up his phone and a Coke. The artist holds his brush and the Coke in the same hand. The doctor puts away a pen (drawing attention to the stethoscope) before opening a can. The movie director and the star switch between drinking and looking into a camera. I’m not sure what tool to associate with the fashion designer–the discerning eye?

    Combining these two points, one might could conclude that the message is that Coke is a necessary part of these lifestyles/careers.

  9. BluegrassJack says:

    Why is the slogan Stay Extraordinary, and not Be extraordinary?

    Seems like that distinction is what the folks in Atlanta are pitching. All of us want to be extraordinary, even when we may not actually be extraordinary in other peoples’ eyes. A 26-year old single college graduate living in Dad’s basement “finding himself”, still has a vision of himself as extraordinary.

    Diet Coke hangs with extraordinary people. It wants to be an intimate part of their extraordinary life. So, pick up some DC at the grocer’s, so that we (Diet Coke and you) can travel life’s journey together.

    Diet Coke sadly knows that it doesn’t have the power to make ordinary people into extraordinary ones. It bravely accepts that fact up-front and admits it.

    Now, aren’t you proud that you’re extraordinary, and that Diet Coke is by your side all the way!?

    • Comus says:

      It is also implies in the wording that diet Coke is what keeps you and these people extraordinary. The explicit demography being people who already drink Coke and are awesome. The implicit demography is the people who don’t drink coke, and who see a blind spot on hopping the train to magnificaville. It’s a clever trick, construing your consumers as extraordinary and then aiming the whole campaign to these construed people. It goes directly to the lay peoples desire to be extraordinary. By claiming the campaign to the side, it creates an illusion of having a secret glimpse of a secret.

      Of course if they all were to stop drinking diet coke, their whole worlds would collapse nad they’d be, ugh.. ordinary.

    • jw says:

      It’s also a tacit admission that the American Dream is dead. “Be extraordinary” gives you something to aspire to – you can be rich and fulfilled too, if only you work hard. “Stay extraordinary” says to you: yes of course you’ll never do anything like that, but look, we stuck your meager wage-earning existence in the same montage as these superstars. Can’t you see how awesome you are, too? You like babies, after all – that’s certainly got to be as special as directing a film or making millions selling credit derivatives, right?

  10. Wow, you guys are great.

    Where would you have seen this ad? It first broadcast at the Oscars.

    The ad is for Diet Coke. Caffeine, no calories.

    -Penthouse guy was sleeping, needs to get going.
    -Artist needs to figure something out- jolt the creativity
    -Nurse needs to be alert– look how quickly she heard the baby… breath differently?
    -Ang Lee needs to blow something up at dawn
    -Actress walking to the Oscars needs to get ready, get focused.

    Everyone drinks their coke in a personal style or with their own ritual. The penthouse guy has a stylish can; the celebrity at the end drinks from a bottle (long and slender). Tapping the top of the can; pushing the lemon in, etc.

    Music: note when the music changes.
    -artist taps his fingers on the can to the beginning of the drum beat.
    -Fashion designer picks up the glass of Coke, and the music simulates the sound of ice clinking (or is that actually ice?)
    -Everyone moves with the beat, e.g. 0:15 guy in back with yellow sweeper brush, and 0:25 the assistant swaying her arms to the beat; the neonate opens its mouth to the O-A-O of the song.

    All that serves to keep you in the flow of the ad.

    No one talks, there’s only music. So the music has to do the talking for Coke, and it does– that’s the song that was in 500 Days of Summer, which is your movie/young people coming up/creative types go to rom-com.

    • zorazamala says:

      TLP duly brings the focus back to the music and film; what we are watching here is essentially a “bliss montage” used to great effect in romantic comedies. On the first viewing of the ad, the music grabbed me, and I was kept “in the flow” for the duration. If a bliss montage sets to music an entire relationship (ok well just the first fun sexy part), with quick cuts and whimsical adventures and rain-soaked kisses that happen just when the orchestra swells, then this ad is selling us a relationship as well, that of a woman and her diet soda (the deliberate obfuscation of the woman’s face, and the scene shot from her perspective at the end leads me to believe that she represents the female viewer, watching the Oscars at home with her coke, sorry, make it a diet). The woman is already extraordinary–no need to insult her–but the world doesn’t know it yet. If only someone would see her hidden wonderfulness (John Cusack is not available, but maybe if you were thinner he would be–have a diet Coke) then they would know, and she gets to stay extraordinary, except this time everyone is watching, so it counts.

      Unrelated: when the business boy at the beginning (he’s superyoung, right? An intern?) takes his stylized soda out of the fridge, the placement of the remaining bottles makes it look like they say “COOL.” In case you didn’t get it.

    • sunshinefiasco says:

      Just wanted to point out that I actually remember seeing this commercial (I don’t think it was the Oscars, but it was prime/night time) and getting a bit wound up by it, and then at the end thinking “That’s a Diet Coke commercial? Not a liquor/phone/watch/friggin’ something else commercial, but a Diet Coke commercial? Christ. “

      • ExOttoyuhr says:

        I’m glad I wasn’t the only one. I cracked up at 0:23-:24. If there are two two-word phrases I’d never put together, it’s “high fashion” and “Diet Coke.” Shouldn’t she have been drinking tea, or pomegranate juice, or something else with a name that isn’t slang and a taste that vaguely corresponds to something in the real world?

    • countingtoten says:

      This ad may have first broadcast at the Oscars, but it was airing long before that on Hulu (or maybe youtube, but I saw it a long time before the Oscars). This ad isn’t for old people it’s for those of us who watch Hulu instead of TV. Those of us who would only see the Oscars if one of our friends is holding an Oscar viewing party.

      The ad is porn for 20-somethings. All of the jobs are fantasies we’ve been sold. You have the powerful or on the way to powerful middle manager, the nurse because there aren’t enough nurses so you can make bank or so we’re told (@jw more of my friends from high school have become nurses than any other job, even the tough guy basketball writer bought into it.), and a slew of creative jobs. @pastabagel CPA’s, stay at home moms, and UAW workers aren’t extraordinary because that narrative is left out of tv/film. When was the last time you saw a movie about a man quitting his dead end job and pursuing his dream of going back to school to become a lawyer? Never.

      Accept that the ad is porn for 20-somethings and let’s talk about that. Why is everyone in the ad available? Even the business dude meeting girls for drinks. You can’t tell whether he’s with the first girl or the second, purposefully. The weirdest part is there are no significant others in the ad, even for the hot actress who is about to walk the red carpet alone. Isn’t that a little scary?

      @pastabagel the guy comes across as a businessman because he’s waking up wearing his suit. (One of my best memories was attending a conference in Portland and going back to my hotel to sleep for two hours before waking up to attend an open bar party hosted by a conference sponsor.) I don’t know what it’s like at your companies post ’09 layoffs, but everyone is overworked at mine. If they’re young enough to go out, the dude coming home from work and immediately falling asleep only to wake up to be charming to his lady friends is either immediately relatable or a day dream. If only I knew which bars to go to…

      (I wouldn’t have posted if @thelastpsych hadn’t told @pastabagel that the song was from 500 Days of Summer on twitter. Honestly, if you didn’t already know that, the ad is not for you)

      • countingtoten says:

        If you think the nurse is out of place, you are obviously not under 30.

        • jw says:

          Nurse aides/assistants (subsistence wages) far outnumber actual nurses (good work if you can get it), at least in my neck of the woods. I was very careful to make that distinction in my earlier post that you referred to.

          She can be read three ways: as a doctor (living the dream like the others), as a nurse aide (struggling wage-earner pretending to be extraordinary), or as a nurse (a good middle-class job – one of the few that remain).

          But even if we read her as a nurse, she’s still out of place. If you claim that only older people realize this, it’s because they are still stuck in an era in which you could make good wages for good jobs – being a nurse is exactly that, so it’s nothing special, it’s not at all equivalent to being a movie star. They might be stuck in an earlier age, but they’re still right.

          Maybe some over-30’s have not yet accepted “the new normal” like most under-30’s have, when nursing seems equivalent to living the life of MBA penthouse guy. But it’s not. It’s simply a good job, and this ad (if we read her as a nurse) is trying to convince you to accept the “new reality” that a simple good job is extraordinary.

          That nursing seems like a fantasy job demonstrates ideology at work. It’s the same “new normal” ideology that says public school teachers are living the high life on the taxpayer’s dime, and need to be cut down to size like the rest of the private sector wage-earners. They are two sides of the same coin. Accepting that good-paying jobs are extraordinary means one of two things: either we embrace them as fantasy, as some unattainable prize in which we might finally become fulfilled in our lives (the Diet Coke version), or we can attack these workers as undeserving, of getting a bigger piece of the pie than we have for doing a job no better or more productive than that middle-class job we were just laid off from (the Scott Walker version).

          Talk of “the new normal” makes the current conditions of wealth transfer from the middle class to the rich appear natural, inevitable, and simply “the way things are.” In fact, the situation is contingent, a matter of policies, laws, and institutions that are changeable and (theoretically) under our control. Ideology tries to hide this fact.

  11. eqv says:

    Not a liquor/phone/watch/friggin’ something else commercial, but a Diet Coke commercial? Christ.

    That’s what struck me, too. The soft-focus and soft (warm? dreamy?) lighting combined with the quick cuts is something that you’d see in an ad for, say, a high-priced vodka, or a men’s cologne, and the demographic fits, too.

    Something I didn’t see anyone else mention was the shot of the moving spotlights, just before the Coke logo is superimposed on the screen. Spotlight= famous, high-powered, ‘extraordinary’.

    When I first watched the ad, I thought the african-american woman was a doctor, but it is hard to tell, and yes, that is probably deliberate. She is ‘extraordinary’ because she’s awake late, looking after sick babies. By placing her alongside the other professions, the ad’s telling us that her job is glamorous too, in its own way ( and the doctor-glamour thing is already well-mined anyway, look at all the <iGrey's Anatomy-type TV shows around).

    The song, by the way, is by the ,– building up slowly to a swelling climax.

    • eqv says:

      Oh man, I need to learn how to use HTML tags correctly.
      The song is by the Temper Trap (click the link) and all their songs sound the same.

  12. Guy Fox says:

    Yes, the DCs are definitely part of a ritual, and each character has its own ritual, but the DC pops up at the same stage in each process: right before the culmination. It’s the penultimate element of success, just before you reap your rewards. To the extent that all of the characters represent aspirational statuses, they all (presumably) put c. 10 000 Gladwells in to get where they are. DC serves as a proxy for all that hard work. Instead of implying the message “These people busted their asses, and now they celebrate with aspartame”, the commercial seems to imply that DC is a proxy for all the hard stuff: Skip the work, have your DC, and the Kingdom of Heaven be thine.

    • cat says:

      I think that reading would fit better if Coke had chosen “Be Extraordinary” as a slogan and not “Stay Extraordinary”.

      Then it might mean: skip the work, have a Diet Coke and let that brand make you become extraordinary.

      “Stay Extraordinary” to me means that Diet Coke is part of a magic formula that helps ensure these “extraordinary” people stay that way. In the world of the ad, Diet Coke brand is a symbol of their extraordinary status, it doesn’t transform them into extraordinary, it shows other people that’s what they are.

      • michaelhockenhull says:

        Well, the “Stay Extraordinary” could just be a cop out to the audience’s narcisissim.

        The brand is connected with the people who are already extraordinary, and so offers a proxy which you can buy into.

        But it might sell better if the audience feel that they are extraordinary and therefore, as extraordinary people drink diet coke, they too will have to buy diet coke.

        Also, people have undoubtedly grown jaded to the (superficial) idea that soft drinks can make you anything. The product comes of as preachy and imposing. Instead, by saying that you should stay extraordinary (and tapping into the notion that many already hold, i.e. that they are in fact extraordinary), the product is trying to sell itself by *doing* anything to you (which you know it can’t), but instead by reinforcing what you take yourself to be, modestly supporting you.

  13. Guy Fox says:

    BTW, Pastabagel, there does seem to be interest in crowdsourced deconstruction.

    • Pastabagel says:

      I agree. We’re working on rolling something out that will make “crowdsourced deconstruction,” as you so aptly put it, a more permanent feature of the site.

  14. EasternMind says:

    Agree with Mr. Fox: Totally love the codebreaking.
    The song is Sweet Disposition by The Temper Trap. The lyrics used in the ad are also part of the subtextual symbolism, along with the tempo and timing coordination which Alone pointed out:
    “Sweet disposition
    Oh Reckless abandon
    A moment, a love
    A dream, a laugh
    A kiss, a cry
    Our rights, our wrongs
    A moment, a love
    A dream, a laugh
    A moment, a love
    A dream, a laugh
    Just Stay there
    Cause I’ll be comin’ over”

    Life is a series of moments, full of wondrous things which are more likely to happen TO YOU, if you are drinking a Diet Coke! You’ll even get laid, at the end, because “I’ll be coming over.”
    She’s definitely a nurse. A doctor wouldn’t respond to the crying baby; s/he would notice the baby is desatting on a remote telemetry monitor and tell the nurse to go check it out.
    The juxtaposition of Diet Coke can with Tools of the Trade is fascinating. Good pick-up, Mark H! It most certainly implies the necessity of drinking DC in order to achieve the level of success of these Extraordinary Individuals.
    The meme “Extraordinary Individual” has always been a part of advertising, but has been taken to new heights, recently (see Dos X’s “The Most Interesting Man in the World”, or the Heineken commercial “The Entrance”).
    Final thought: The use of “Stay” instead of “Be” Extraordinary is brilliant. “Be” would have implied the customer is, in fact, ordinary. “Stay” implies that the customer is on par with all the depicted extraordinary individuals, who all drink Diet Coke, like the customer most certainly does. What? Are you kidding? You don’t drink Diet Coke?? But, you’re so extraordinary! Get with the program, join your peers and crack open a Diet Coke!

    • Pastabagel says:

      I agree with this. Furthermore “Stay” Extraordinary introduces into the consumer’s mind that they are extraordinary, but the consumer’s own self-image may not align with the capable people-of-action in the commercial, creating a gap that leads to status anxiety. I also think that this introduces diet coke as a “tool” simultaneously with its well-established position as a lifestyle brand. I.e., not only are these people the kinds of people who drink Diet Coke, but drinking diet coke helps them stay that way. And let’s admit this, many people drink coke and pepsi products for caffeine delivery, and also to soothe indigestion brough on by stress of fast food diets. (FYI, this is how soda was originally sold in drug stores 100 years ago-“Pepsi” comes from the word “dyspepsia” which is a medical term for an upset stomach.)

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  16. foxfire says:

    The red carpet celebrity at the end.

    When she is drinking the diet coke before getting out of the car, the camera is pointed toward the window so you can the chaos outside the limo.

    Then when she exits the car, the shots are from behind her so that you see what she is seeing.

    The camera shots are all trying to show your the world from her point of view and thus bring you into her world for a moment.

  17. Robert says:

    All of them are alone at the point of consumption. – and then they go out and into the world, as it were. So the coke is the kind of meta-object which allows them to “be what they are”. These “extraordinary people” are actualised, in the logic of the advert, by the consumption of coke – the circular logic here is that they choose coke, but also, in a sense, coke chooses them. They are dragged out of the world they exist in during the moment of drinking the coke, and then thrust back into it. In a sense, the coke is the objet petit a, but a radical consumable externalisation of it. They choose it, but it also chooses them – they choose to drink the coke and take into themselves the kind of meta-objective objet-a, but it also chooses them. It’s reverse fetishism – the logic of the fetishist is always both “I’m choosing her,” but also and at the same time “she’s choosing me, she wants me to do this.” There’s always a meta-standpoint with these kinds of things, a sort of “reality” which is an illusion in itself, but a beautiful illusion. It’s the same with popular science programs which direct our eyes to the “beauty of the universe” – even though this may be the truth, we still “know” it is an illusion.

    Or something.

  18. Robert says:

    Also – sorry to go on, probably wrongly – this is not an advert for coke. It’s an advert for the sort of person who would buy coke. They show you the coke in the first place to make you think it’s the one kind, one-dimensional – “but coke and then you are this” – but in fact it’s “you’re this, so I’d go and buy some coke if I were you – it’s the sort of thing you’d do.”

    • Pastabagel says:

      This is not at all wrong, Robert. There’s a concept in postmodern psychoanalysis that views the “partial object” as both a “part” of a whole object (i.e. a Kleinian “part object”, the conventional definition), but also as an object that is itself partial to subjects (i.e. it’s partial in the sense that it is the opposite of “impartial”). The partial object itself has a preference, and draws certain subjects to it.

      As you astutely point out, the commercial is about Diet Coke pulling in the right kind of consumers, rather than being about convincing everyone watching to get up and go get a Coke. The roles are reversed.

  19. rapscallione says:

    Just as an aside, comparing the comments on this site to those of TLP’s site makes one wonder how this came from that. Generally, at least.

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  21. thundt says:

    How about: “Stay Elite”?

    Except for the nurse. (I haven’t heard much about the nursing shortage in a while. Are salaries still high? The shortage I’ve heard more about these days is in speech pathology.) I see her station as a plain old nursery, not a NICU (though that would add a lot of status).

    But: At the very beginning of her scene, the shot is a whole wall full of pictures and thank-you notes. The camera then focuses forward onto her. Message: all that gratitude is due to her work. Clearly she is doing something important. So maybe it’s a NICU after all and we just don’t see a lot of machinery attached to this particular baby, or maybe she’s the head of this department. Something.

    The mural painter isn’t pulling the big bucks yet, either, but let’s be generous and call him part of the cultural elite. Clearly we’re meant to read him as the leader — he’s the one with the black brush, he’s the one contemplating and deciding; the others are merely filling in the open spaces with color.

    (Is this what film school’s like? ;-) )

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