Mad World: Rule the (Hot) Air

Kelsey Wallace
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Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

Verizon doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being an organization that’s empowering its users. After all, it is Verizon that’s leading the fight against net neutrality, which would amount to an Internet that is basically the opposite of user-friendly. Perhaps that’s why they’ve launched a new ad campaign designed to convince us that, through powerful transmitters, Verizon is on our side in the fight against prejudice. (I know, right?)

This campaign is worth discussing for many reasons. First of all, it’s clearly hypocritical, since Verizon’s whole jam lately has been to try and take control away from users by fighting net neutrality. Second, the slogan here, “Rule the air,” just flat-out doesn’t make sense. Are they trying to sell us air? Aren’t we technically supposed to own those already? (I get that they are selling cell phones, obviously, but I still don’t like the slogan.) Third, this campaign is co-opting the tenets of feminism and other social justice movements in order to get us to equate Verizon’s cell reception with fighting oppression. Notice the use of anti-oppression rhetoric about fighting prejudice and refusing to be silenced—what exactly does this have to do with cell phones, again?

This whole “empower yourself by embracing our brand” idea is nothing new, of course. (If you want to read more on that topic, Naomi Klein’s No Logo includes a great discussion about the way big corporations appropriate rebellion in order to increase customer loyalty.) However, Verizon is taking things to a level of faux-empowerment I’ve rarely seen. Their billboards feature women and people of color, and include language about being powerful and strong. I couldn’t find the one I’ve seen on I-5 that shows a young black woman shouting, but I did find this one on the right so that you could see what I mean. See? She’s a young, strong, Latina woman who is exercising her right to express herself… by using a Verizon cell phone. You know, the very company who is trying to rig things so that people like her have to pay more for better Internet access.

Another aspect of this campaign that irks me—and probably makes it more effective, sadly—is the interactivity. Not only does Verizon want you to associate self-expression and empowerment with their particular brand of corporate cell phones, they are cementing that association by encouraging you to “create your own signal.” Develop a signal as unique as you are and share it with the world, reads the copy. Then you are encouraged to upload a photo of yourself and choose one of several pre-written “unique” taglines to accompany the photo. The end result looks something like this screenshot (I used a photo of my dog Edith, who doesn’t care much for cell phones):

Again, this type of rhetoric is not surprising. However, the fact that this particular campaign is coming from Verizon, and that it appears to be targeting mainly marginalized populations (people of color, women, young people) makes it stand out even in the sea of corporatized “empowerment.” Does Verizon think that if they appeal to people who long to have the freedom to express themselves without prejudice that they can make us forget that they are working to take those freedoms away? Also, why are they trying to sell us air? If air is truly free, why do we need Verizon to market it to us? I think the answer is simple: we don’t.

OH_Logo.jpg This project was made possible in part by a grant from Oregon Humanities (OH), a statewide nonprofit organization and an independent affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which funds OH’s grant program.

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10 Comments Have Been Posted

I'm so tired of big-guy

I'm so tired of big-guy corporations hitching a ride on the whole 'empowerment' jig. It's annoying - particularly from a company like this. Puke.

The issue of 'net neutrality is no joke at all and is scary

How would you feel if your internet provider blocked access to this site and your other favorite social justice, progressive, and other favorite sites? If things go the way they are planned, your internet provider could deliberately block your access to this website and any other website that criticizes them-for example.

Here are two examples of incidents that really happened: Verizon once blocked text messages from NARAL to their customers that subscribed to NARAL's text messages. AT&T once censored an appearance by Pearl Jam at Lalapalooza on a webcast a few years' back.

<i>Bitch</i> came dangerously close to ending back in 2008 and it could come that close to ending again if Google and the telcos/internet providers get their way, because this site would lose traffic quite dramatically and anyone affected would have to use other methods to subscribe, make donations, buy from the store, etc. which might not be convenient for them. Those affected would especially miss out on all these amazing blog entries. It would be a difficult setback indeed.

Everyone reading this should do their part in letting the telcos and the FCC know that the end of internet neutrality cannot be tolerated.'s "Save The Internet Campaign" will tell you what you need to know and how to add your voice.

<i>I want to finally note that this is a hypothetical possibility of what could happen. The stakes are high, and as many of us readers are activists, we can do something about this. Let your voice be heard!</i> is a great is a great resource for more info about net neutrality. i'm with you - it's terrifying and we need to do something about it while we still can.

Why did they bother to

Why did they bother to change their ad campaign, when that dude with the glasses and the billion people following him (and you) around seemed to be a fairly accurate assessment of their ambitions.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Thank you!

My fiance and I HATE these commercials for this same reason. We also like to reword the commercials: "A gun doesn't care if you are young or female; someone can still shoot you with it." The way they take this rhetoric and specifically aim it at a population that feels like it isn't heard: teenage girls, and act as if saying an inanimate object isn't biased is a new discovery annoys me like nothing else.

Ugh, I hate that commercial.

Ugh, I hate that commercial. I get so irate over the line, "if we are black or white." Uhm, hello Verizon, first off, at least use proper words and two, there are more ethnicities out there in the world.


I found this article by doing a search, "Rule the air verizon slogan neutrality". I wanted to see if others felt as patronized and bullshitted as I did when I saw this campaign. At the same time Verizon attempts to grab a monopoly on the two tiered internet, they use this slogan, "Rule the Air". It's a play on words to sell to young people the idea that they can rule the air by using their products, when in fact Verizon are trying to rule the air by writing the rules to suit it's agenda. Disgusting, demeaning and annoying.

devil's advocate

I understand the point being made in this article completely, and agree. And believe me, I have no soft spot in my heart for big corporations. AND, I'm not nearly naive enough to believe that Verizon made these commercials to better the world, they are clearly trying to corner the market with a demographic who will be life long consumers.

But let me play devil's advocate and simply say this: with all the advertising dollars spent on objectifying women, with all the ad campaigns based around skeleton-looking models, and all the things we see in the media and entertainment that are sending messages that make women seem weak (e.g.- the mobile NFL commercials)... using the empowerment of teenage girls and the fact that they are strong, intelligent, valued, and have a voice that should be heard as a national ad campaign is somewhat refreshing-- at least on the surface level. And let's be honest, much of the population will only see it at that level...

@ home @ this forum...

My favorite expose of the doublethink shown by Verizon's current ad campaign is how no one anywhere rules the Air, which anyone who's been the victim of a hurricane or tornado will humbly testify to. That is, unless you believe what Alex Jones says about HAARP...

[Are you laughing or googling HAARP?]

Notions of "ruling" anything are generally Patriarchal, so there's more absurdity fo dat ass... People who have wanted to "rule" people and things historically have been Males in power or with power. Also the mission to "rule nature" is written part and parcel into the very first book of the Christian Bible.

Actually, the very notion of "Ruling the Air" was so ridiculous to me intellectually that when I first saw the slogan I could barely believe it; As if Verizon doesn't employ people with Master's degrees in their marketing department. The very idea of ruling Nature seems remarkably un-hip to say the least and so bizarrely incongruous with our current group-think of Living/Consuming/Being Green... ?!? Learning to live on Earth without destroying it doesn't appear to involve "Ruling the Air"...

BTW, @ Anonymous/Agree, I came up with Bitch's article after googling "i hate verizon's ad campaign". I guess I'm a little less subtle. I always love it when commenters post what they googled to get where they commented on.

Oh, and my favorite is when the Billboard has this macho tattooed biker crossing his arms and the BIG "Rule the Air" slogan is stretched across the image, which is so much more appropriate; as a man, I am enticed by this power fantasy, but also embarrassed by the foibles of masculinity that it suggests. So hilarious also that when on a motorcycle, your ass is SO ruled by the air.


Verizon is not

Verizon is not user-friendly?

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