Postmodern advertisement

To commute these days in Switzerland with public transportation makes one aware of a recent advertisement campaign by the Swiss electronic seller Galaxus. Galaxus is the ‘Amazon’ in Switzerland. Switzerland is a small country and sellers and chains are still Swiss origin rather than international global companies. Migros and Coop were and are the main food market chains, nowadays challenged by the German discounters Aldi and Lidl. In electronics, gadgets, and household goods Amazon has only a very small market share. The top player is Swiss – Galaxus, affiliated with MIgros. Its mission as an online department store with a few physical stores and pick up points across Switzerland is to make competitive prices alongside aggressive but also creative advertisement.

Galaxus- advertisement - Switzerland - Sep 2017

Fig. 1: Galaxus- advertisement – Switzerland – Sep 2017

I took this snapshot from a recent bus drive, wondering how to interpret and what to make out of it.

In English it says: “Stop export of weapons? NO!” and the object is the Swiss icon the multipurpose army knife. Attached to the object a small price tag.

The Swiss army knife is not only a Swiss icon but also acts as a sign of Swiss identity for tourists worldwide. A gadget that one can purchase in all airports shopping zones, Swiss tourist shops and any other places that has some connection with the Switzerland.

The advertisement is a pastiche of political party campaigns. Appropriating especially the typefont and design format of the right wing party SVP- example here. The posters are black and white (SVP uses mostly red, black and white). The text is a parody of high level political topics (weapon export) appropriated with a visual image of the Swiss icon, the army knife (traditional red color with the white Swiss cross).

Overall, this left me wondering how to place this in a context of visual culture. It certainly raises questions how far advertisement can go. The local newspaper ’20 Minuten’ asks whether this is warmongery or a brilliant ‘coup’. The article cites the marking expert Cary Steinmann who argues (Zanni, 2017)

 ‘In der heutigen Zeit müsse Werbung polarisieren, um die Aufmerksamkeit der Menschen auf sich zu ziehen.’

translation: ‘Nowadays, advertisement need to polarize to attract attention’

This advertisement is embracing signs and language in a local context. One need to understand some political debates as well as the Swiss systems of popular voting for many various topics. And one need to understand language and Swiss products. Altogether, the juxtaposition of visual and language is a good example of semiotics and deferred meaning as a mean for selling products. Galaxus plays with strong connotations and expects that the visual, the object of interest overrules the language signification. If one would separate the meanings, the advertisement would be offensive. The price tag is the sign that it is advertisement, alongside the brand and slogan at the bottom.

There are more examples from that campaign that are not that ‘offensive’: Fig. 2:  the peeler, in German ‘Sparschäler’ – combination of the words to save, to economize and peeler.

In summary, the campaign and especially the snapshot (Fig. 1) is dividing people between those who find the company should refrain from such campaigns, and those who love it for its brilliant act of attracting attention through signs and pastiche. In this sense, a true postmodern advertisement campaign, a parody and play with signs for the sake of making profit. And a true act of commercialization playing with beliefs and assumptions of the viewers/readers.


Other images from the campaign – in german and french language as the country is multilingual by law (Galaxus, 2017)




  7 comments for “Postmodern advertisement

  1. September 12, 2017 at 8:29 pm

    I think that an ad campaign like this in Britain, particularly at this time of the dreaded Brexit might be seen as ‘brave’ or foolhardy depending upon your outlook. Companies seem to try and stay the ‘right side’ of political correctness and clear of risk leading to a lot of bland advertising. You can see this in the way that they squirm if a celebrity that has been paid to promote their product does/says something controversial. A shock tactic like the one that you have described certainly cuts through; I find myself remembering adverts often without recalling the products that they were trying to sell!

    • Stefan
      September 12, 2017 at 8:43 pm

      Thanks for commenting. Interesting to hear how it would be received by U.K. public. Or, as you said, political correctness is leading to mediocrities and keeping polarizing statements. How are artists reacting to that? Underground or subversive actions? I think that a country is healthy when polarizing debates are possible and such campaigns are subject for public debate. I find myself forgetting what the ad was selling, more with TV ads though.

      • September 12, 2017 at 8:54 pm

        I agree re the importance of being able to express an opinion without out sanction; that’s a marker of a strong and healthy society. Unfortunatly I think that there is currently a global toxicity that’s causing the center ground to dimish which is having an effect on freedoms of expression. As artists I think we have a responsibility to respond. (Finding the ‘how’ is not always straightforward though)

        • Stefan
          September 12, 2017 at 9:32 pm

          Absolutely – need perhaps more courage due to the knowledge that there will be always a group opposing strongly and publicly what one is doing. Kind of shocking with purpose – but do it. The current situation reminds me at times to my practice with traumatic memories: freeze – fight – flight, more in a freeze state.

          • September 12, 2017 at 9:35 pm

            we all get stuck @ that stage from time to time

          • Stefan
            September 12, 2017 at 9:37 pm

            I mean society in freeze state. I am going to be ready for debate – especially with the laid foundation with UVC

          • September 12, 2017 at 9:42 pm

            Not so much ‘freeze’ as ‘blinkered’ over here! (I’m sad to say)

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