Sheep are used for a wide range of products and services. They are popular in recruitment. But then to indicate what is not wanted. Though sheep are domesticated they sometimes are made to stand in for nature and a pristine environment.
Nevertheless, we managed to bring some structure to the whole and we divided the advertisements into eight usage types. Although several of our samples can be assigned to different types at the same time, we consider this approach better than an arbitrary enumeration without any logic.
In the 1990s the label Wools of New Zealand ran a series of adverts directed to prospective carpet owners (1, 2, 5). Each advertisement takes a slightly different approach.
In No. 1 You are told to buy only carpets carrying the specific label showing the fern leaf.
that stands for the standard of perfection. The brand tries to make the reader smile with
the best dressed sheep wear it and in the image sheep are shown with a structured coat that refers to
the endless variations in the structure of the carpet.
No. 2 continues to maintain a light tone in the image and we also learn something from it:
NZ wool is used to make tennis balls. No wonder our carpets are so springy.
And they again point to the fern leaf that is awarded only after passing twenty demanding tests.
It is only in No. 5 that the NZ nature card is fully explored.
What should you look for if you are looking for a world-class carpet?
Again for the label of course, but you should also consider that
We recognize the typical branding of NZ: quality, green, and clean. It is kind of an early case of greenwashing. What I remember from NZ is that almost all the original vegetation has disappeared and what remains is in many places surrounded by barbed wire as protection against the ubiquitous grazers. And the condition of many native species is not great either.… The best carpet manufacturers mainly use wool from New Zealand. Do you know why? Because New Zealand wool is clean and that is because of the air. Now we don't know how the air quality is in your country, but we have our ideas about it. …
They then continue aboutbreathtaking landscapes, beautiful nature, pure air and therefore clean rivers, clean grass, clean sheep, and thus clean wool.
But the landscape in the photo is true to reality; it suggests a vast tapestry; it is green; the sheep behave in a herd and the arrow points to the label with the fern at the bottom of the photo. With the exception of the greenwashing: well done.
Dikketruiendagis a campaign by the Flemish government annually organized on, or near, February 16th, the day the Kyoto Protocol came into effect in 2005. The sweater symbolizes what can be done at home, at school and at work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In the early years, from which advertisement (3) originates, the emphasis was on turning down the heating.
The advert is a difficult one to read and understand. I have no idea why exactly this design might have been chosen:
Friday the thirteenth, a dark corner, the shadow and the cobwebs. It evokes a Halloween atmosphere without connection with the purpose of the campaign. But the sweater is knitted from wool and hence the sheep. At least that is clear.
There are original combinations to keep you warm and there is the perfect combination are we told in (6) which is an advert
to promote fuel oil for heating. It is clear that they try to make us smile. We recognize also the improve on Mother Nature
theme which is also present in advert 7 where the insulation foam performes better than the sheep's product.
Unfortunately, I do not understand why the sheep is half-sheared; why not completely shaved? Is it to indicate that the wool only performs half as well? Is it to illustrate a half-solution to be avoided? Hard to tell.
The message of the repair service (8) is easier to read. A typical intervention is for a defective heating system and from there the reasoning is straightforward. The maintenance technician himself brings the sheep as temporary heat sources. There's the mild humour again. And there is more to come.
Recommended by leading mowing experts. Trying to steal a chuckle, again.
They could also have depicted other grazers, but sheep is a particularly good choice because they crop plants very close to the ground, lower than f.e. cows. It is also noteworthy that the scientific name is correctly written: Ovis aries with a small initial letter for the second word. Most copywriters stumble here and use a capital letter incorrectly (e.g.: a toad Bombina Variegata, or a dolphin Tursiops Truncatus).
Are you going to continue doing what everyone else does?are we asked in the Spanish advert for scooters (11). The same idea —stand out from the rest— is present in the
Play moreadvert for a game console (12).
Recruiters almost without exception are looking for people who
stand out, who have a
unique personality, or
who love to
break away from the flock (14-16). Again the sheep show what is not wanted.
At least, that is what they are telling us. In sometimes daft language (14, translated from Dutch):
In my experience employers in general prefer the more docile people who without friction step into the company's grey suit with blue tie.Standing out and convincing, that's what our profession is all about. We are not herd animals. No sizzle, but all the more steak †. … We are looking for a sheep with five legs … in red.
The same holds true for the two goats in No. 17. The advert stems from ages before digital printing, when images setters first wrote text and images to be printed on film, which was then copied to an aluminum plate which was then used in the press. The process required the film to be placed gently and precisely in direct contact with the plate.
So, just like in our earlier examples, the opposite of what is needed is shown. But why the goats? Any animal species where males compete for dominance could have been chosen. A species where the males push each other instead of bumping would have been better. And then they should not have resorted to using the opposite with a simpler message as result.
That is exactly how the black sheep in No. 19 is used : it stands for an inferior product. The premium brand explains (from Dutch):
… Some people are inclined to save on less important equipment when furnishing their kitchen. That rarely ends well. Therefore, it is better to stick to the highest quality level. … After all, you spend a large part of your life in your kitchen.
… The new imagemaker is the black sheep of the imagesetters. She stands out in many ways. … the true master in terms of productivity and quality.
The English versions (21, 22) don't mention black sheep in the text, but the animal is always present.
And from the text it becomes clear that the advertising brand is the black sheep which is superior:
Don't settle for less than the best (21) and
… a productive imagesetter that delivers outstanding quality (22).
This is the opposite of the usual meaning of a black sheep.
cheapsounds nearly like
sheep? But this doesn't explain the colour though.
Is Purup pulling the wool…?In this case (25) the same brand which used black sheep to represent its own superiority, is now bringing normal sheep to the forefront. In this advert the sheep stand for the reader, or more precise, the competitor who is trying to imitate the brand. And they are wondering if the specifications of the imagesetter aren't too good to be true.
The next advertisement is for a radio program where listeners can win a bed (26). For the winner, sleepless nights will be a thing of the past.
counting sheep. This explains the sheep. The text also attempts some ordinary puns about getting up early (the broadcast is early in the morning), going to sleep (in Dutch
under the wool), and
bleating. Nothing I would pay for.
No. 27 is an example of this approach. Our car is
a relief for the environment because it is equipped with start/stop technology.
The sheep crossing the road carry the Dutch word for
Thank you on their flanks. The car is with the sheep. In the next example where sheep play the role of the environment (31) cars are clearly the enemy:
Who gets space?
literary spring(28) and taking place in March and April, spring in Flanders where this advert was published. A food supermarket (29) which announces it will be open on the Monday after Pentecost. Finally a factory outlet for used computers (30). The advert was published in March and that is probably why the lamb is shown.
sometimes can walk over the heads. We have seen similar uses of a flock of sheep for Spain and for a recreational area in the Netherlands.
No. 35 is from a telco. We see a service engineer transporting farm animals under the threat of a tornado. The caption explains that he is doing this during the weekend. Always at your service whatever the problem. Is that the message?
Put a goat under the tree and
Surprise someone with a symbolic gift (36).
The drawing indicates that it is Christmas season. Let's hope everything becomes clear when visiting the website. Unfortunately, there is nothing that encourages me to take the step.
Best of both worlds (37) comes with a scrawny dog and a lamb. It is about apartment buildings next to a city park.
The text also says
Are you a party animal or a nature lover? Does that explain the animals?
Little bleating, but all the more wool.which is the reverse of the expression
Veel geblaat en weinig wolor
All sizzle and no steak.