Saturday, March 12, 2005

The Social Construction of a Hypermarket

The Czech Dream is a documentary film about a fictious supermarket. The artists made an advertisement campaign for a new market called the Czech Dream. They also erected a huge facade "front wall" of the supermarket on a meadow. On the opening day, a crowd of 1500 gathered on the meadow. The gathering area was fenced, and far enough from the facade front wall, that the people really thought they were in an opening ceremony.

2/3 of the film is about the advertisement campaign. The two film school students who were behind the project begin it by contacting an advertisement agency.

The marketing starts from the target group. By a research announcement they collect a group of ~15 "heavy shopper" persons, who "can spend the whole day in the shopping mall". They interview the shoppers about what brings them pleasure in shopping, and then take them to the shopping mall for some etnomethodological observations. The answers are kind of naive and dreamy. The relative novelty of the hypermarket phenomenon to the Czech people is visible - they were not born in the middle of supermarkets. I doubt if the Finns would answer in the same way.

The second part documents the planning and execution of the advertisement campaign. The TV spots try to invoke the same dreamy imagery, which they discovered in the shopper interviews. The outdoor advertisement are witty thought bubbles with texts "Don't come", "Don't bother", "Don't spend" and "Don't rush". In addition, this section has ethical debates about the moral of advertisement. It also shows, how advertisement is tested against the target group.

In the third part, the crowd gathers to the meadow. At 10:00, the red ribbon is cut and the crowd rushes to the hypermarket only to notice that it was a mere facade. Then they come back to meet the people who scammed them...

When the people notice the scam, there are three kinds of reactions. Firstly, some are outraged. This is understandable, since in general, if someone scams you and you don't react, he or someone else might scam you again. It's important for someone to get angry and start asking questions.

The second reaction is to note that similar scamming happens all the time in much larger scale by the advertisers and the politicians. In this reaction, the filmmakers are just demonstrating something that is happening anyway. The third reaction is to think positively - an old couple says that if they had not come to the sunny meadow, they would be home doing boring household chores. It's good to get out of house and meet people.

In one scene, one of the workers in the advertisement company says that he enjoys his job, since he likes to have effect on people. He is deciding what thousands of people do at 30th of May (the opening day). The core of the movie is in how it disconnects the images we have on shopping from the actual shopping event (which does not happen). This way, the social representations created by (1) the advertisers and (2) the needs and wants of the consumers can be investigated in a more "pure" form.

The fact that the mass manipulation succeeded is alone enough to prove that we are very much influenced by media. On the other hand, the broadcasted images were created after familiarizing with the worldview of the actual consumers. The campaign effectively amplifies a signal, which already exists.

The project was funded by a grant from the Czech ministry of culture. Maybe the politicians want to send a subtle message for their election cattle, that the world they construct in their speeches is sometimes little more real than the socially constructed hypermarket.

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