Landscapes of Global Capital
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With the spate of 1990s mergers in the banking sector, we have begun to see new representations of Capital in advertising. In fact, 1998-1999 ad campaigns for First Union Bank and Nations Bank (each having just swallowed banks the size of Bank of America) self-consciously raised these representation questions. Of course, we might as easily use many of the ads for financial institutions that are branching out into investing for individuals -- mutual funds and insurance companies. Here we see the convergence of a series of issues -- nostalgia, personal space, capital space, and globalization (see the campaigns for Fidelity, Oppenheimer, T. Rowe Price, The Travellers, and Franklin Templeton).

First Union is a financial services mega-giant, formed out of a series of larger and larger acquisitions and mergers until it now stands near the top of the banking food chain. In September 1998 First Union debuted a new campaign with a "surreal 60 second depiction of itself as a safe harbor in a gothic financial world" (Wall Street Journal, Dec 21, 1998: B8). The imagery concocts an analogy between the new marketplace and the noisy confusion of a carnival atmosphere rife with con men and barkers. Each ad in the series opens to reveal a global landscape with a dominating dollar sign etched across the earth's surface. Though a bit less surreal, the third ad in this First Union campaign explicitly took as its theme the changing landscape of capital in the global city -- "in the financial world the landscape is constantly changing."

In the financial world
Nothing is permanent but change.
The landscape is constantly shifting.
Everyday companies are downsizing.
Seeking the right merger,
Looking for acquisitions that make sense.
Even deceptively simple corrections like debt restructuring can take months,
And demand a variety of financial products.
Today companies searching for solutions in the changing world are finding them in a place of stability and experience.
Come to the financial mountain called
First Union.
Or if you prefer the mountain will come to you.

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First Union04-99 First Union04-99 First Union04-99
This First Union ad constructs the visual metaphor of huge machines and helicopters dropping hoists and cranes out of the sky to lift and move and reposition the architecture of corporate America. Being lifted out is a replica of the columned facade that we iconically associate with the classical Greek city-state, and revived in the architecture of the modern American state and leading banks in the early 20th century. Viewers may or may not recognize a resemblance between this scene and the entrance to the New York Stock Exchange. In the ad, gigantic machines appear to remove the front facade, then rework it in some massive foundry setting, before putting into a place a new corporate skyscraper of imposing proportions. But the careful watcher will notice that the base of the new building has been fashioned around the Parthenon-style facade. There is always change, but there is also a place where there is "stability and experience."

Joseph Schumpeter (1975) is well-known for his notion of "creative destruction" as the moving force of capitalism. Schumpeter argued that an efficient capitalist economy requires the periodic destruction of buildings, factories, and organizations in order to make way for new buildings, factories, organizations and ways of life. The First Union campaign offers strange testament to this notion as it depicts early modern buildings being crunched and ground up in order to make way for the most recent incarnation of Capital.

Representing capital
  • Landscapes of perpetual change
Constructing the new global landscape
Grand narratives and global representation
Narratives & representation revisited
The grand narrative of sign value

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© Copyright 1998-2003
Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, Noah Kersey