The idea that talent imitates and genius steals, usually, refers back to a postmodern view of culture. It posits culture as a self conscious stock house of signs. Since meaning is impossible to definitively assign, texts pull established signifiers into service as referrents:
Thanks to the processes which led to postmodernism, all culture is a buffet table. It is not so much what the chef prepares but what the diner puts together as his or her meal that counts; appropriation is an act of creativity. Because everything is in quotes in postmodernism, the allusion may be the most important literary device of our age. [From Using Hip Hop to Introduce Allusion]
This use of allusion allows for layered meanings to be constructed, as in the addiditve compression aspect of transmedia planning that Jason wrote about here. In the Burger King ad, there are layers and layers of allusion that help construct and deepen the 'meaning' of the ad.
The idea that culture is simply an aggregation of sources is not new:
Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.
Oscar Wilde [Stolen from Herd]
But postmodern expression is also characterised by an ironic self awareness and use of representation - a kind of nudge and a wink to the reader or viewer - that expresses the elusiveness of true meanings.
I think advertising moved into a postmodern mode a long time ago. But it has become more and more self conscious in its self consiousness for the same reasons that brought about postmodernism in the first place, as detailed in the picture above: uncertainty, lack of absolutes, a feeling that progress is unlikely.
The rules that advertising formalised since its inception are slowly breaking down and the modernist certainty of beneficient progress has given way to an industry typified by questions concerning what we should be doing, whether advertising has validity and ads that are either ashamed to be ads [see any beautiful piece of film ad or branded content or product placement] or ads that overcome their shame by being grossly self aware ads [see the bizarre Barry Scott shouting about Cillit Bang.]
So what happens next?
Here I'm going to steal from Alan Kirby in Philosophy Now magazine [via Corporate Blawg].
Postmodernism, like modernism and romanticism before it, fetishised [ie placed supreme importance on] the author [TIGS Note - for our purposes it will help to read author as brand], even when the author chose to indict or pretended to abolish him or herself. But the culture we have now fetishises the recipient of the text to the degree that they become a partial or whole author of it.
This makes sense of the whole move towards the consumer being in control. In postmodern communication the brand reappropriates signs but still remains the central control and focus of the text.
Whereas in post postmodern communication - or pseudo-modern comms - the consumer is an integral part of the creation of the text:
Its successor, which I will call pseudo-modernism, makes the individual’s action the necessary condition of the cultural product. Pseudo-modernism includes all television or radio programmes or parts of programmes, all ‘texts’, whose content and dynamics are invented or directed by the participating viewer or listener.
The shift to this pseudo-modern mode of communication has been facilitated by emerging communication technologies that allows for traditional media to become interactive. Thus its ultimate expression is online:
The pseudo-modern cultural phenomenon par excellence is the internet. Its central act is that of the individual clicking on his/her mouse to move through pages in a way which cannot be duplicated, inventing a pathway through cultural products which has never existed before and never will again. This is a far more intense engagement with the cultural process than anything literature can offer, and gives the undeniable sense (or illusion) of the individual controlling, managing, running, making up his/her involvement with the cultural product.
Which is why pseudo-modern communications tend to lean towards co-creation, interaction, engagement and that - consumers are intergral to the construction of the texts - and this reaches far beyond the sudden explosion of UGC open source advertising campaigns.
We can offer people the sense [or illusion] that they are in control of their interaction with the brand and that their interaction is a requisite condition for its existence.
Because they are and it is.