Topic 4

Helen Ingham, What Value is there in Studying Advertisements, (no date, or publishing details given)

  • The argument that advertising’s purpose is to inform us of our choices and give us information to make a rational choice is not valid.
    • ads try to sell us things which are not needs but wants – and try to create the desire to purchase these
    • Ads rarely give meaningful information about the product – e.g. car ad – driving fast in beautiful scenery
    • often the one company makes many similar products, branded differently to appeal to different target groups.
  • the article is an attempt to answer the question “what exactly are we buying into when we consume products, and … why?”

Ads comprise image, text & sound (depending on media used)

  • selling a product by creating its image [its brand recognition]
  • ‘appeal to the irrational aspects of our psyche; using emotional appeals, playing on our fears, our need to belong; and in doing so, offer us a product as the answer.’  Supported by a large body of research showing that few purchases are made from ‘rational’ choices.
  • Packard’s research (1964)
  • Packard did not cite the approach of playing of feat, guilt and insecurity (the Guilty Mum and Loving Pet owner of The Checkout.
  • reinforcement of stereotypes – especially gender stereotypes.
  • We know ads are not real, but we are still drawn in by them
  • Unattainability of women’s image in current ads – photoshopped images, no correlation between the product ad and what it really achieves – cites ads for Organza Dior
  • Linking identity with the products we buy – e.g. latest fashions, being seen in trendy restaurants,
    • “We are made to feel that our status and who we are is sustained by what we buy.”
  • linking a product (sign) with a particular concept (signified) – leads to association of a product with an outcome – e.g. an unknown man gives a woman flowers because she’s wearing a particular perfume – we skip the reality and want to believe the fantasy of the message – we buy into the fiction of the storyline.  Diamonds = love (also red roses = Love)
  • We present our chosen image by the clothes and colours we wear, and the products we buy – this is manipulated by advertising which promotes fashion, trends, must haves (to be ‘one of the group’).
  • Packard also showed that while brand loyalty in smokers was high, in blind tests, smokers could not identify their brand – i.e. the all tasted the same, but brand loyalty was still maintained.
  • Shift in focus from the brand (telling us why it’s so good and better than all the rest) to the buyer (because you deserve it, you’re the right purchaser for this product, it makes you the person you want to be) in the last forty years.

Critics of the advertising industry

  • see the industry as decadent and corrupt.
  • Criticise it for inspiring ‘irrationality of emotion’.
  • Raymond Williams – advertising ‘plays a role in the destruction of a decadent society’ … ‘no longer just a way of selling goods, but a true part of the culture of a confused society’ (Myers, 1986)
  • No longer sell reality – because the facts don’t sell enough product – sell a dream of a fantasy ideal image/you/society
  • Numbing effect of ads on people’s critical response to their environment.
  • Advertising can lead to apathy and ‘one-dimensional thought’ (The Frankfurt School of Thought and Herbert Marcuse).
  • Ingham is skeptical of the above which tend to say that advertising is the scapegoat for all of society’s ills.
  • Advertising can dehumanise people – the ideal as opposed to reality.
  • confuse the thinking about real issues, root causes of social and personal problems, and about the difference between a created want and a real need.

Studying advertisements gives viewers an open mind – to analyse rather than just consume the advertisements, and see them at face value.

  • The view that ads can be viewed as an art form – whose purpose is to gain our attention, and once having gained that, to manipulate us for a specific purpose – the selling of a product.

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