The Beauty Queens of Real Estate Advertising

This is the introduction to the paper I’ve been working on for the past year. The SMDC campaign has been a source of fascination since it launched over 4 years ago with Marian Rivera at the helm, and now with Anne Curtis as the not-so-new face of the campaign and the drastic shifts in the brand’s positioning, the work has only extended past discussions on the relation between personality cults and architecture. This is what I proposed when I applied for the grant to attend Former West, which served as a crash course in the biopolitical and neolib sections of this paper.

Oh yeah, and the Bb. Pilipinas pageant was just last night. Who won?

In the video, we follow a beautiful young woman as she welcomes us into her home. We begin with the “living room” – a grand lobby decked in marble and softly lit by crystal chandeliers. From there, it becomes clear that we are not just looking at a typical place of residence. As the woman moves from room to room, her outfits change, with her hair done-up to match varying degrees of formal dress. From afar, we see her lying on a chaise in the “plush lounge” where she “reviews all her scripts and contracts. Observing her from above, we watch her lithe figure sprawled out on a deck chair by a crystalline pool, her flowing commentary uninterrupted by the flurry of activity throughout this short tour. Finally, with her back to us, we find ourselves at the threshold of this woman’s innermost sanctum – the bedroom; but before entering, the woman turns to tell us that unlike everything we saw earlier, “Not everyone is allowed in here.” She then closes the door to leave the viewer wanting.

This video is part of the advertising campaign for the SM Development Company (SMDC), which has materials plastered to the backs and sides of buses, inside other public and commercial spaces, and online in the form of banners and videos, which are also broadcast over mainstream media channels. Because the business of advertising calls for this type of aggression, SMDC has been nothing but successful in making their presence felt by parading a monolithic aesthetic that can be read as postmodern in its iconoclasm – that of the beauty queen. These images possess an unprecedented capacity for using the grammar and vocabulary of the commercial and domestic sphere, as well as the entertainment sector, in compelling their viewers to “Live like a star”.

Despite the intention of this campaign to sell real estate, SMDC advertisements rarely offer viewers a clear picture of the actual space for sale. A typical SMDC ad shows ballgown-clad Anne Curtis (currently one of the country’s most popular celebrities), on her own, appearing to have the time of her life. Behind her we are given a rendition of the good life that the good guys of SMDC have to offer – the exterior of a structure that has yet to be realized, illustrating not only an imaginary environment, but an imaginary lifestyle, heavily infused with the collective dreams on which so much of advertising depends. That the image of the beautiful woman is being used for endorsements should come as no surprise, but this practice begs the question of just what is being sold by real estate ads. To sell a dwelling space is to sell a primary component of everyday life, a habitat once defined by its antithesis to fantasy, the tenets of which depend on temporary pleasures. This is where the images of everyday life being sold to us in the SMDC advertisements deserve to be questioned not only for the images they provide, but for the aesthetic they perpetuate and the grittier realities of everyday life that are stamped out in the process.
As Metro Manila races to catch up with the rest of Asia through rapid vertical development, SMDC has identified itself as a key player in gentrifying the cityscape to cultivate the vision of a globalized cosmopolitan future; moving from retail developments to the private housing market, and reshaping desire literally from the ground up.

One thought on “The Beauty Queens of Real Estate Advertising

  1. I privately make fun of this commercial (I just won’t say how because it’s a bit NSFW) – but the reason I do is because it is so unrealistic, pretentious and based on a self-centered, materialistic viewpoint. So much for our so-called family-based Filipino values.
    And if this is SMDC’s idea of “gentrifying” our urban landscape, they’re doing it all wrong. I’m better off watching “Celebrity House Hunting” …

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