DECADENCE AND DANGER: Why America’s Image of the Unrestrained Self Won’t Always Travel So Well

Is decadence an impediment to the one-size-fits-all-countries school of global advertising? Consider the thinking behind a Heineken campaign that ran in Singapore, via Backer Spielvogel Bates’ office there. (The thumbprint teaser gave way to Heineken’s similarly shaped label.) A BSB press release quotes regional creative director Paul Quinlivan on the departure from beer-ad norms: ‘So much of the beer advertising in this region is still derived from Western images of self-indulgence, following formulas from the 1970s and 1980s.’ In a city-state whose leaders are determined that Western-style prosperity not bring in Western self-indulgence, imported hedonism is no joke. Indeed, while style-makers in America often see decadence as chic, it can look far different to people in more austere societies. And coming from a country where so much individualism takes the form of antisocial behavior, unfettered self-expression doesn’t necessarily look so attractive. Likewise, the outlaw sensibility of our youth-oriented ads may look less and less glamorous to foreigners who fear they’d be shot on sight if they dared take a vacation here. By coincidence, a foreign-ministry official of Singapore writes on ‘The Dangers of Decadence’ in the current Foreign Affairs. After giving some horrific U.S. statistics on crime, out-of-wedlock births, divorce, etc., he concludes: ‘Many a society shudders at the prospects of this happening on its shores.’ If he’s right – and he sounds fully plausible – then these peoples will look increasingly askance at Western ads that treat self-indulgence as an unquestioned good.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)