Media, political ads want you to ‘Obey’

Around major roads in Tampa, large, white images with an outline of an expressionless face have appeared in forgotten corners, on sides of abandoned buildings and bland gray walls.

Sometimes it appears with a simple message demanding, strangely, “OBEY!”

Down the interstate the same image is scattered, and in most areas of town, these large posters are being scraped from areas where they are seen as graffiti.

Since this isn’t a figment of the imagination, what exactly is it? Is it the work of a graffiti artist, such as signature artists who paint single characters over cities and now sell their images in galleries such as KAWS or Neckface?

Or is it a sales pitch, such as when Mars candy placed an ambiguous slogan on billboards and later revealed the image of a candy bar?

The Obey Giant, as the image is called, is a study in phenomenology. The goal of phenomenology is to distinguish the interaction between consciousness and conscious recognition of external environments. Philosopher Martin Heidegger believed that the true goal of phenomenology was to manifest things obscured by daily interaction.

It is through this philosophy that people today might find a way to make apparent the obvious problems with institutional structures that go unnoticed due to the sensitivity of consciousness, often distracted by daily routines, or worse, other forms of propaganda.

Propaganda can technically be employed by anyone, and it seems to be employed by everyone. Its connotation often overshadows its very real denotation: a means of furthering an agenda.

In the case of the Obey Giant, the agenda is both the study of philosophy and the interpretation of the meaning of the Giant. The Obey Giant Web site,, claims that the Giant is effective because people are not “used to seeing advertisements or propaganda” where the intent is unclear. The approach is to get the attention of the public through engaging the senses with direct ambiguity.

Unfortunately, people are more accustomed to these kinds of tactics than ever before. They might just ignore the Giant altogether. Others question the message not just because of its ambiguity, but because they are eager to discern what is being “sold” by the image. A signature move by propagandists, known as “intentional vagueness,” is common in games of psychological warfare. Translate psychological warfare to the consumer market and it results in a vast majority of companies attempting to sell people items by employing any means necessary, even “new” efforts, such as tampering with consciousness through intentional vagueness.

People may be catching on to the “new” sales pitch, but they seem less sensitive when it appears in politics. Yet, modern propaganda is rampant in all sectors, even in the government.

The online version of Propaganda Critic references a pamphlet titled Language, A Key Mechanism of Control distributed by Newt Gingrich to members of the Republican Party. Gingrich’s pamphlet is an example of government implementing propagandist tactics to further a political agenda. This example is not necessary to seeing the use of propaganda by political parties, since every election year there seems to be an attempt at finding new methods to sell a new candidate to the public, often employing propaganda and psychological tactics.

During the Bush campaign, direct marketing firms such as Olsen & Shuvalov receive millions of dollars for their work during campaigns – and sometimes much more than they receive to sell consumer goods.

These are the same firms warned by Enterprise, a popular business magazine, that perhaps people aren’t “buying it” anymore and firms need to rethink their strategies. The warning is that, more than ever, people are starting to distrust the agenda of sales strategies.

When the line between politics and product sales is blurred so drastically, isn’t it time to distrust the agenda of the officials as well? Political magazines should also begin to issue warnings that the public isn’t “buying it” anymore.

Marketing geniuses are attempting to use psychological tactics to push everything from Britney Spears to shampoo, so it’s not surprising that political campaigns hire marketing firms with “new” ideas on winning the public over. It would seem that selling a presidential candidate is not too far from selling a hair product – the same tactics are being employed and the same firms are working on their target, the general public.

Of course, a new study will have to investigate how effective propaganda truly is when people understand it is being forced upon them. I’m interested to know just what a candidate’s response will be when someone asks him, “What exactly are you trying to sell?”

Christina Diaz is a senior majoring in political science.