Icons in Society (Revised)

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This image comes to us from “Fender Magazine”, a magazine published by renowned music equipment builders, Fender Guitars. This image is part of a series run in the mid-sixties, titled “You won’t part with yours either.” The campaign was launched during the heyday of surf rock and garage rock, which inspired ad designers to create a series of adverts that prominently featured beach and surf culture.

Our image icon is the man holding the guitar. While not as common or as powerful as other image icons, the “Californian Surfer Dude” persona and character is still highly recognizable in American culture. Perhaps as an addition to the image, the guitar is the image icon. Truthfully, both the man and the guitar are the prime focus of the image. The advert is for the guitar, but it’s being marketed by the surfer holding it.They have a joint effect of creating a singular point of focus.

Rock music and electric instruments were polarizing elements of music at the time of their introduction. A lot of that sentiment has stayed present in our beliefs in music. We largely interpret “Rock Music” to be, in a general sense, a form of rebellion. Both the aspects of surf and rock cultures, present in the same advert, denote that this is a “youthful” activity, a product for the “new generation of musicians.”

After all, in the mid-sixties, the people who were most likely to buy these radical new instruments were innovators, rebels, and musicians who wanted better equipment. When placed alongside the prominent surfer culture, embodied by our good friend “Surfer Dude”, we begin to associate all of these behaviors with “youthfulness.”

This is more directly addressed in its marketing copy. While the surfer is rebelling against safety and common sense by playing an electric guitar while aboard a surfboard, the tagline reads “You won’t part with yours either.” The absurdity of playing a water-sensitive electric instrument while surfing highlights the tagline’s point. You’re going to be so attached to the instrument that you won’t want to part ways with it, even in the face of activities that might cause you to.

Roland Barthes, french semiotician and theorist, would have a slightly different interpretation of the advertisement. What is/are the signifier/s? What is signified by those elements? In all, what is the sign? In Barthe’s theory, the surfer with the Fender guitar is the signifier. The surfing guitarist signifies rebellion, loyalty to his crafts, and youthfulness. The two associate themselves as a sign that effectively means “if this cool surfer is using our equipment, even in as strange a situation as this, these instruments must be very gripping.”

Am I convinced? As a musician myself, I find myself biased when I question whether this advert persuades me to purchase a Fender instrument. I imagine that, had I not chosen to invest my life into music, I would still be wooed by this advertisement. Personally? I find it to be clever and engaging. Music is a long-con effort. There’s no way to instantly pick up an instrument and become a master of your craft unless you practice for hours upon hours. The best way to market a long-term investment is to create the immediate idea that the product you are being sold is something that you will form a bond with. There’s frankly no better way to market that kind of product.

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I’d go even further to say that Fender’s marketing team hasn’t come up with an ad campaign as good as this ever since its initial run. Now, Fender is an established name in the music community, to such a degree that they don’t need to market themselves anymore. But at its infancy, Fender was poised to either sink or swim, and this advertisement is proof enough that even before they were big, they were big.

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