How Advertisement Perpetuates Materialism
Advertisement is all around us; it is a part of our everyday lives and effects us on both conscious and subconscious levels. This essay will look into how advertisement influences society and why we are susceptible to being materialistic in today’s society. It will incorporate the theory’s of people such as J. Berger who helps to highlight how being rich can come at a heavy price and Z. Bauman looking at identity within society.
Walking down a high street you are bombarded with advertisements from companies trying to sell you their products. The imagery and persuasion that they use is of ideology. An ideal world, or an ideal lifestyle. An adverts main focus isn’t necessarily on the product they are trying to sell you; they are trying to sell you a lifestyle, an all be it imaginary one, which can only exist in our minds and dreams. Making the public want and aim for something impossible showing us images of people who are enjoying a ‘better’ life are therefore enviable.
“Publicity proposes to each of us in a consumer society that we change ourselves or our lives by buying something more. This ‘more’ publicity persuades us will make us in some way richer, even though we will be poorer by spending our money”. (Berger, www.youtube.com).
In this way advertisement is very one sided and devious. They want your business and are prepared to make you believe you will be richer to do this. They lead their customers to believe they are providing them with a service which will better their life, when in fact the company’s that you trust and couldn’t live without, through the powers of advertising and their distortion of reality, could potentially leave you moneyless.
Advertisement for some can be a means of escapism. Advertisements promise you things, (status, sex appeal, etc.) but at the same time threaten that you are substandard as you are. To create a want for something the media can go to great lengths to twist reality to such an extent that its catalytic, making reality seem mundane and almost not real. Whilst they threaten you, they also provide a remedy. They invite you into their world, making you feel excluded as you are and giving you a need to be a part of something. This something which has been created by a man with a pen and paper and a big imagination seemingly.
Needing and wanting for things can all be related back to community. If there was no community and there was no one to gaze upon you, would you still feel the need to buy the things you do?
“The question of identity arises only with the exposure to ‘communities’”. (Bauman, 2004, p11).
With a lack of community comes a lack of role models and idols; a lack of following; a lack of structure and compliance. Communities bring in place acceptance and normality. Communities have different ideas and beliefs, but within them lays structure. With structure brings power, and with power comes role models; and with this comes aspiration and materialism.
With the media putting emphasis on materialism and possessions advertisements need to progress with society’s needs while they also perpetuate the needs themselves.
“Consumable embody the ultimate non-finality and removability of choices and the ultimate disposability of the objects chosen. Even more importantly they seem to put us in control. It is we, the consumers, who draw the line between the useful and the waste”. (Bauman, 2004, p95).
We want to buy into these companies, yet we also want the freedom to change our mind freely. In today’s ‘throw away’ society this is vital. Whilst advertisements claim they only give you choices and advice, they subtly create a divide between ‘you’ and ‘them’. In situations like these materialism presents problems such as depression and insecurity. The images shown in media are soaked in materialism. Materialistic people feel that by buying products they will make them happier, however that never ending longing for something that you don’t have causes more unhappiness. People who don’t express materialistic values can enjoy a happier life feeling content with what they have.
TV Programmes like MTV cribs show big cultural divides. Giving you a guided tour of the rich and famous’ houses; you want what you don’t have, leaving the bitter taste of envy. Showing you what you ‘could’ have, but in fact, what is actually a very unlikely, unreachable goal.
“Status is open to everyone, but enjoyed by only a few”. (Berger, www.youtube.com).
Wanting for the near impossible. Wanting the lifestyles of the people you idolize, whilst only knowing the smallest facts about what their life is really like. It could be compared to taking a job that you don’t know what the job title will be. Your expectations could outweigh the reality. Aspiring to be like someone, to do the things that they do and have the things they have. They may feel as unfulfilled as you do. Putting reasoning to the saying,
“Money can’t buy you happiness”.
However this is not what the advertisements lead you to believe. Buying into a brand gives you a sense of belonging and a misinformed judgement that now perhaps you are like the woman in the poster and your life is perfect, helping the fuel the fire of materialism.
Branding and possession all exude money and power.
“You are what you have”. (Berger, www.youtube.com).
To have nothing is to be nothing. The materialistic life only accepts those who comply, regardless of the consequences. Branding gives you an identity. In todays society people are often viewed on face value. Because of our throw away attitude life is fast paced and unfortunately appearance is becoming a fast track way to describe everything about you, weather truthful or not. It is easy to judge someone before you have even met them, giving way to stereotypes and in turn enhancing the materialistic qualities in society because what you wear and have is who you are viewed to be, it is your identity.
In today’s society you would be forgiven to think that individualism is rife and that you can be who you want to be, dress how you like to dress and be happy for just being you. Whilst this is true, there is an overwhelming predominance of brands representing who you are. Once you buy into a brand you are represented by their reputation and vise versa. You become the stereotype of the said brand. Wearing Adidas for example you are considered sporty or having a Blackberry mobile phone you are considered a business man/lady. You have to fit in with the status quo to be considered successful.
Influencing digitally everyday online and on the TV are yet more companies trying to sell you things and shape your identity into a better one. Before the 1950s it could be said that broadcasting was more regional, influencing a relatively small amount of people. However, today advertisements can reach out globally.
“People in Europe and the USA typically spend three or four hours per day watching TV”. (Gauntlett, 2002, p2).
It therefore seems inevitable that at least some of this information is going to go into our brain and influence us somehow. Even films can influence us on both a materialistic level and emotional level. Showing us how people interact and converse with each other. Depicting peoples lifestyles, more often than not, ideologically. The audience then envy this scripted lifestyle, therefore encouraging them to buy into commercial products that will enhance their own ‘normal’ lifestyle.
Materialism comes at a price, a price which means we must slave away at our nine to five jobs in order for us to be able to purchase the next thing on our long list of necessities. But what is the point in working these long hours when you will have no time to enjoy the rewards because you will be slaving away saving up for your next big spend?
As much as we, the consumer, buy into these products, the brands themselves are prepared to spend masses of money just to get us to notice them in the first place.
“In the year to March 2007, Vodafone spent £20 million on outdoor media”. (Burton, 2005, p207).
Putting that much money into outdoor media alone, as a company, you have to be sure that it will pay off and benefit you. Putting extensive research into the best places and ways to advertise companies have to know their target audience inside and out.
Here is a perfect example of deceptive advertising (Text 1). The image shows an old male on his wedding day marrying a beautiful, blonde bride. The advert implies that it doesn’t matter how old you are or what you look like, if you buy this car you will marry a beautiful woman. With the slogan ‘NEED WE SAY MORE?’ it gives the advertisement a very light hearted feel. It makes a joke about stereotypes and subjectifies women as being materialistic, gold-diggers. Whilst the advert seems very light hearted it still makes you believe that what you seeing is real. The whole picture is very idealistic, yet at the same time deceptively realistic. The male looks directly at the camera with an intense gaze as if to say ‘look what I’ve got, come and join me’. The woman looks very happy with her new husband and new life. What more could a man want? A fast car and a beautiful wife.
With companies having a lot of competition, producing the best advertising campaign is vital. Exaggerating the truth, leading us, the consumer, to believe companies outrageous claims.
Text 2 also shows unrealistic claims of the strength of a mobile phone. Using computer enhanced imagery Land Rover show a multiple of trucks, cranes and diggers all piled on top of the ‘incredibly tough’ mobile phone they are advertising. Although the image is clearly not true to life it incorporates the background scene and image of workers on the machines to subconsciously make to image appear more real. Of course it is not real, but is it? You find yourself asking irrational questions about the qualities of the products advertised. In this dilute form of propaganda, what is a seemingly normal mobile phone transforms into a super strong, super hero, lifting up the weight of everyday life. Making you feel that if you buy the phone the everyday stress of life and work will all be lifted so effortlessly.
Materialism isn’t just to have things. It is to do things, to live a certain lifestyle. Advertisement revolves around community, conforming and idealism. By means of advertisement companies can create perfection. A new world away from the stressful life you live. An escape to somewhere which actually can only realistically for most of us live out in our imagination and dreams. Advertising can be both positive and negative. It brings escapism for society, claiming to show a way to better your self and your life. On the other hand what you buy into is a false advertisement of what this product will do for you. This brings false hope and in serious cases can cause depression and insecurities about ones self. It is not healthy for people, especially the younger generations, to be exposed to such an unreachable goal. With young girls wanting to be pop stars and young boys wanting to be footballers, when all they see is very one sided, surely over stimulates our goals and aspirations leading to an imminent eventuality of disappointment.
Barthes, R. (2006), The Language of Fashion, Oxford, Berg Publishers.
Barthes, R. (1990), The Fashion System, United States of America, University of California Press Ltd.
Bauman, Z. (2004) , Identity, Cambridge, Polity Press.
Berger, J. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmgGT3th_oI (1/2/2011)
Burton, G. (2005), Media and Society, Critical Perspectives, Berkshire, Open Uni Press.
Gauntlett, D. (2002), Media, Gender and Identity, Oxfordshire, Routledge.
Gauntlett, D. (2005), Media, Gender and Identity (2nd Edition), Oxon, Routledge.