I don’t do cold. Some people thrive in a wintry environment, but I’m one of those red nosed bundles of thermals who permanently lives in a hat between April and October. Oh, and between November and March if I happen to be in Antarctica. Despite this aversion to frostbite, I have found myself living in a ski town, so I figured I had better learn to ski. What does this have to do with PhD research, you may ask? Well, yesterday morning my newfound interest in snow sports paid off in an unexpected way:
As I boarded the chairlift, I was greeted by this little guy, snowboard in tow. No doubt he is ready for some extreme sport activities, but it was the use of a penguin that intrigued me. In our cultural shorthand, Penguins = Antarctica, and Antarctica = the most extreme place on earth. (Let’s forget for a moment that this particular specimen is actually from South America, not the icy south. For most people a penguin is a penguin is a penguin, and even British Airways have attributed Antarctic citizenship to this variety in the past).
As it turned out, there were a collection of adverts in the Resene Extreme Paint series, so naturally I had to ride as many of the chairs on the chairlift as possible, to photograph the different permutations. The other penguins were actually Antarctic varieties, and they too were indulging in extreme activities such as skydiving. I was particularly interested to see this advert because the placement was novel – mounted on the bar of a chairlift, above a ski slope – and because it immediately reminded me of a talk about Climate Change Imagery by Judith Williamson, author of the canonical ‘Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising.’ (1988).
These are roof paints which have been developed to absorb light but reflect heat, keeping buildings cooler and reducing energy costs on air cooling within buildings… The polar bear in a paint pot, with its “cool” shades and accompanying paint pot of ice is, at a basic level, there to illustrate the coldness produced by the cool paint, as are the penguins in their own paint pot of icy landscape. But these polar images are also there to illustrate, in the generally understood shorthand I’ve been discussing, the climate-friendly nature of the product advertised.
These ads are neat because even though they don’t directly reference Antarctica, the penguins make the link clear. They raise ideas relating to cold temperatures (a literal link to the south) and environmental protection (a theme that has commonly been associated with Antarctica in recent years, as the continent has been used as the ‘poster child’ for climate change stories). Even though at first glance the advert might look like a penguin in a helmet heading out for a good time, there is much more to the story, and to the campaign.
Putting the ad out in a snowy setting adds yet another layer, as the viewer experiences the cold temperatures referred to in the ad; cold temperatures that belong both to the penguins’ home in the Antarctic, and to the qualities of the paint on offer.
So, there we have it: extreme sport, extreme temperatures, extreme paint, and accidentally going to extremes to collect adverts for my project. (Just for the record, my head stayed snugly covered the whole time, as I snapped my photos then snuggled my fingers back into my mittens.)