chapter  5
16 Pages

Cellphone Connections: Audiences Activating Agora

Cellphone connections can be competitively marketed by telecommunication companies as saving cash for consumers. High speed links between handphones may also be sold as supporting extended families and furthering friendship. The structured convenience of their use has generated a world of more or less continuing contact (in activated agora)1 upon which people depend as both cultural citizens and consenting or critical consumers to belong, bond and do business. Commercial branding of a handphone heaven of quick connection denying

separation in space and time may involve substantial narratives on traditional media (particularly television). Consumer reactions to both cellphone connections and their branding can involve significant stories (as in diverse interviews or digital blogging). New media are richly represented in these accounts. We have argued that inductivist studies of media branding and its cultural

consequences for consumers reduce the interpretive (and arguably ethical) importance of respecting and realizing the intricacies of that culture. Instead, the rich complexity of consumer “attitudes” discerned during focus groups or interviews needs to be read by academic researchers within alternative horizons of analytical understanding. From the latter perspective these detailed evaluative beliefs or discourses can be seen as expressions of alignment with or being alienated by wider cultural narratives, not the least of which is the mediated marketing of branding. Engaging in a frequently analytical discourse (which can be deemed one of self-distancing depth hermeneutics) the Chinese event organizer we interviewed distanced herself from the promotional place branding of Malaysia in the video Golden Celebrations: “they just try to present a good side to foreigners but actually we are Malaysian, we know that it’s not like that”; “actually, for me, that’s not the truth.” Far from the causalist discourse of regarding “targeted” audience attitudes

as effects of screen events, consumer appropriation of corporate branding is rational or a cognitive activity for which reasons can be given (albeit perhaps retrospectively).2 In this immersive process audiences align with marketing’s prescriptive narrative, buying its meaning, bringing its story into their life-world, amending everyday familiarity. Reducing this complex cognitive activity to the merely caused consequence of advertising is indeed an effect of

administering audience silencing questionnaires as an instrument of measurement. But collecting data begins with culturally saturated discourse. From the interpretive perspective on consumer audiences forming attitudes

from branding it is important that the latter is seen as edited, segmented and sometimes subverting expectations. For elliptical accounts on Internet or television screen bearing information about the perfect paradoxes of multicultural nations or the perfecting qualities of much travelled products (such as Coca-Cola) require a reader to complete their prescriptive narrative, to shape them into a coherent story.3