The art of seduction

14th March 2015

There is a well-trod phrase in the world of advertising which scolds brand owners whose ads lack subtlety: Watch out, your briefs are showing.

The ‘brief’, of course, is the agreed strategy which lies behind an advertising campaign.

And, woe is me, those private briefs get a public showing quite a lot. On-the-nose ads which blatantly reveal strategy are in abundance, despite our industry’s best intents. I have been responsible for a few, in my time.

In the main, however, such ads lead to disappointing results. Watching them is akin to watching theatre whisky simultaneously spying all that’s going on in the wings as well. The fantasy on-stage is rendered less enthralling.

The dangers in revealing one’s intent is a familiar human experience. Those in the dating game will know the territory: how much do I express my actual interest? / how much do I ‘play it cool’ with the object of my desires?

The successful suitor knows the power of allure and of hiding what Macbeth named his ‘dark and deep desires’.

The act of marketing is largely a facsimile of dating.

A brand wishes to approach, engage, and then render fascinated, the target of its desires. Yes. Brands mostly want consumers to fall for them. And which of us doesn’t love being seduced?

I am reminded of this
when I look at the work of American street photographer Vivian Maier (the subject of a fascinating 2014 documentary film).

Miss Maier shot most of her art in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, using a Rolleiflex box camera.

Her oeuvre is marked by its intimate, unposed portraiture, the camera held low, looking up at its subject – creating images which are mesmeric in their truth and nobility.

Much of her genius lies in her method.

A Rolleiflex camera is held at chest or waist height, the viewfinder and lens away from the attention of the subject. Maier looked down to frame her shot, then tended to engage the person being photographed in eye contact and she pressed the button.


In her work, the camera does not mediate the experience captured. It is sidelined. As a result, the fleeting emotion between two human beings is captured directly. Indeed, many of the subjects are unaware that they are being photographed at all.

Vivian Maier’s photography is special in part because it happens invisibly, stripped of intent. The mechanics of her art are hidden, so that its meaning is both visceral and persuasive.

Great marketing communicators, and great suitors, seek the same effect.


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