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When we think of an ethnography, we think of an in-depth, detailed account of lived culture. It seems as if advertising and ethnography were juxtaposed, we would have a glaring oxymoron. Keep in mind that advertising reduces communication to its most minimal kernels - its smallest particles of meaning. Driven by the cost of commercial time or space it peels away the extraneous layers of a message. This is easily seen in the construction of montage in which a whole culture might be reduced to a single shot that appears for less than a second in a flow of other signifiers from disparate cultures that appear and disappear just as rapidly.

The advertising ethnography gives us more. A scene is extracted from (actually constructed about) another culture. It is packed with cultural attributes (setting, music, accent, dress, gesture, etc.). But unlike ethnography whose goal is to question stereotypes and replace generalization by detailed description, the commercial relies on stereotype and generalization to validate the narrative of the scene. Interpretation depends of preconceived shared notions of people, place, and culture.


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Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, Noah Kersey