Saving the Imagination
Can the mysterious stranger be saved? This is the question elicited by the award-winning advertisement created for Madrid Book Publishers Association, one of three in their “Save a book. Read a book” series. The advertiser’s initial goal is to capture a viewer’s interest through artistic visual appeal and by creating curiosity. This goal is effectively achieved by first mimicking a popular World War II (“WWII”) game theme for the setting and then inserting a foreign-looking young man, one whose identity as a classic book character can be discovered by reading the text. At the same time, to further enhance the ad’s visual appeal, the image is realistic in its representation of a WWII combat scene replete with subtle contrasts, plentiful details, and nuanced lighting. Thus, the readily apparent message of the ad is to entice gamers, a broad demographic from teens to mature adults, away from spending all of their time with increasingly popular video war games and, instead, encourage them toward exploring the world of books. However, a deeper meaning, one revealing the benefits of cultivating the imagination and recognizing its profound impact upon our societies, lies waiting to be discovered through the characters and author of the specific book chosen.
Limited use of bright color draws our attention, while the alternation of familiar and foreign begins to awaken our curiosity. Our focus is led through blurred window frames in the foreground to the sharply defined center where, in contrast to the muted, drab brown combat uniforms of the soldiers, a young man, resplendent in a coat with blood-red lapels and a yellow sash around his waist, lies helpless. These contrasts have succeeded in pulling us into the image. The medic, identified by the red cross on his helmet, calls for help while his hand rests upon the injured young man’s chest; the clever use of red links these two individuals in a dire situation even though we see no blood. We wonder why the medic is trying to save this mysterious stranger who is so out of place, and the advertisers have succeeded in their initial goal of capturing our interest.
Myriad details contribute to the scene’s authenticity as well as to its mystery, and work to lure viewers into solving the contradictions. We note the specificity of WWII uniforms and the armed soldier’s helmet displaying a white poker spade, which is the insignia of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. This insignia was prominent in the popular WWII video game “Call of Duty.” Someone who plays these types of games is instantly attracted to the familiarity. The uniform of the young man, however, is distinctly dissimilar from that of the soldiers. With its broad lapels and cuffs trimmed in gold piping, along with its formal cumberbund, the ensemble lends a dashing ambience to the otherwise dreary scene, and points to how the boy has been dropped into this time and place from somewhere else. Thus, a gamer’s initial familiarity is skewed and intrigue is added to the mix. We are also intrigued by the disparity between WWII soldiers with guns and a youth whose golden rapier has fallen from his open hand. The juxtapositions of attire and weapons illustrate that the distinctive young man doesn’t belong in the soldiers’ regiment. The advertisement is holding our attention.
Our curiosity is further incited by how the lighting ebbs and flows through the image; the diffuse background, the out-of-focus foreground of the window frames, and the shadowy browns and grays all contribute to a spotlight effect that illuminates the youth’s curly hair with golden highlights. His cream shirt, light tan pants, and leathery lapels all reflect light — his body almost seems to glow, though his face remains in shadow. The artistic projection of the young man is toward innocence, gallantry, or the numinous, none of which fit the grimness of war.
The preceding visual cues keep directing our attention to the mystery of the young man in the WWII combat scene. The image is enticing us into its story through contrast, detail, and lighting, taking every opportunity to communicate by piquing our curiosity. We can’t help but try to imagine what the story might be.
As our curiosity drives us toward further exploration, an artist’s rendering of a dog tag draws our attention. The dog tag tucked into the upper left corner of the image has a translucent or ghostly quality that is emphasized by the contrast of a black, all caps, Engravers style font reminiscent of that often used in a headstone for a grave. The dog tag, a symbol of identity even in death, supports our desire to know who the fallen stranger is. The minimal text provides abundant information, starting with an undeniable comment that, “When you spend all that time playing war video games, it’s not just your enemies you finish off” (Nudd). People spend inordinate amounts of time playing these popular combat action games. In particular, those designed around WWII are even considered psychologically legitimate because gamers are “killing” the Nazis. But who else are we “finish[ing] off” according to the text (Nudd)? The advertisers imply that when we don’t allow time for reading books, we are also “killing” the incredible characters created within a book’s pages. Specifically, the implication here is that gamers are responsible for the young man in the scene: Be a hero and save the young man! This is the superficial message of the advertisers, and they provide instructions for doing this: “Save a book. Read a book” (Nudd). The simple phrase is one easily recalled, and may remind a gamer of the potential for entertainment via books.
Beyond pure entertainment, though, is the realm of the inner world as well as its creator, and their combined benefits to our society. Within the text on the dog tag, we find the identity of the author, Antoine de Saint-Exupery. This is another connective layer that lies within the mystery of this advertisement because the author was a reconnaissance pilot during WWII. In fact, not long after writing the book about the young man in this scene—The Little Prince— Saint-Exupery disappeared; he was rumored to have been shot down during what was to have been one of his last missions (Antoine, Wikipedia). If people stop reading his books, then Saint-Exupery will also be “finish[ed] off” (Nudd). Writers create stories to share what is important to them, to provide a bit of insight into their own personality and a perspective of the world in which we live. We miss out on getting to know human nature, and the treasure of individual experiences and views, when we spend all of our time immersed in action games. For instance, Saint-Exupery was seventeen when he sat beside the bed of his dying brother. Further, in 1935, the author crashed his plane in the Sahara desert and nearly died of dehydration before being rescued (Antoine, Wikipedia). There is little doubt that these experiences informed his creation of the character and story of The Little Prince. Every time we read a book, we “save” the author by honoring not only what they’ve written but also their personal life. A book provides many gifts to us and one of those is the ability to see through someone else’s eyes, to appreciate a different point of view, which tends to enhance communication.
Published as a children’s book, The Little Prince is more a simple philosophical story for adults, one that contributes significantly to the deeper layer of this advertisement. Even though The Little Prince is not about WWII or even about war, the very fact that it was written during war time and by someone who was on active duty during the war, is telling. Just as we see through the window of this advertising image into a war scene, reading the book is also a window, though one into innocence. The Little Prince has come to the earth from a star, and his revelations remind the narrator—and all of us—just how much we lose through growing up and becoming lost in a cynical society that is obsessed with war and power. The prince also traveled to other stars before visiting earth and he elucidates some of his experiences with the narrator in the desert where they meet (Saint-Exupery). This book carries us easily into our imagination where we can understand other perspectives and begin to solve our problems. Essentially, the Little Prince was “born” in 1943 and death comes nearer to him every time we play a video game instead of read a book, any book, because he is a chosen representative of the world of books and the imagination.
By using our imagination to explore this advertisement, and to dig into the deeper layer provided through the careful selection of The Little Prince as the referenced book, we can go beyond the obvious message of trying to tempt gamers into buying books. A deeper analysis reveals that book publishers are supporting a greater purpose than one of mere profit. They are advocates of greater levels of communication and the broadening of perception, both of which are enhanced through reading books. Imagine seeing a homeless person, a soldier, or a traveler from another country, through their eyes because we read a book about a similar situation. Books allow us to inhabit the minds of other people, other characters, and through this vicarious symbiotic relationship we can understand how someone else thinks and why they respond with certain emotions that might be different from ours. Ultimately, imagination is the key to saving our world from war and destruction, because it creates within us the ability to empathize with people from all walks of life. As Albert Einstein said: “Logic will get you from A to B, imagination will take you everywhere.”
“Antoine de Saint-Exupery.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 20 Oct. 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2013 < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antoine_de_Saint-Exupéry >
Nudd, Tim. “The World's Best Print Ads, 2012-13: See the top 59 winners from the Press Lions at Cannes.” ADWEEK. Guggenheim Digital Media, 26 Jun. 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2013. < http://www.adweek.com/news-gallery/advertising-branding/worlds-best-print-ads-2012-13-150758#gold-lion-madrid-book-publishers-association-29 >Saint-Exupery, Antoine de. The Little Prince. Trans. Katherine Woods. Reynal & Hitchcock, 1943. Print. EPUB.