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 people and why we are so susceptible to being materialistic in today’s society. It will incorporate the theory’s of people such as Berger (Ways of Seeing) who helps to highlight how being rich can come at a heavy price and Bauman (Identity) 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, theorising of a sensory or impractical nature; 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. This makes the public want and aim for something impossible. Showing the audience 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, Ways of Seeing).
In this way publicity is very one sided and selfish. 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. Twisting 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 imagination and has no real substance.
This example of deceptive advertising (Figure 1) shows an old male on his wedding day marrying a, 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 also looks very happy with her new husband and new life. 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.
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, people may not feel the need to buy the things that they 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 come role models; with this comes aspiration and materialism.
With the media putting emphasis on materialism and possessions, advertisements need to progress with society’s needs while also perpetuating 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 can present 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 actually causes unhappiness. Therefore people who don’t express materialistic values can enjoy a happier life feeling content with what they have.
TV Programmes like MTV cribs help to highlight 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, Ways of Seeing).
Wanting for the near impossible 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 whilst 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, Ways of Seeing).
To have nothing is to be nothing. The materialistic life only accepts those who comply, regardless of the consequences. Branding gives you an identity and 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 how truthful or not this may be. 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 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 influence us somehow. Even films can influence us on both a materialistic 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 work 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 is there a 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 great amounts of money into outdoor media alone, as a company, you have to be sure that it will pay off and benefit you. Extensive research is essential, companies have to know their target audience inside and out to know where and when to advertise their brand.
Advertising is part of a higher power of conforming. It is conforming to society that is the real key to the cause of both materialism and advertising. Even selfless acts such as donating to charities show people following to the crowd,
“Charity donations were higher when potential donors believed that many other people had already contributed”. (Armstrong, 2010, p68).
People are scared to try new things and therefore follow the crowd. The crowd then brings its own styles and beliefs creating stereotypes and a stronger need to conform. With people being influenced easily by others this can create false desires,
“People often fail to act on their intentions because they lack the ability, resources, or willpower to do so”. (Fennis and Stroebe, 2010, p200).
If people in society don’t individually have the willpower to be true to themselves this leaves potential for a false community to arise with false hopes and dreams.
Figure 2 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 the image appear more real. You find yourself asking irrational questions about the qualities of the products advertised, asking if the phone could actually hold such a large amount of weight. 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. This makes 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 lives 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 a one sided fantasy. It is healthy to have aspirations and goals, but surely over stimulating our goals and aspirations will lead us to an imminent eventuality of disappointment.
Armstrong, J. Scott (2010), Persuasive Advertising (Evidence-based Principles), Hampshire, Palgrave Macmillan.
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.
Fennis, Bob M. and Stroebe, Wolfgang (2010), The Psychology of Advertising, East Sussex, Psychology Press.
Gauntlett, D. (2002), Media, Gender and Identity, Oxfordshire, Routledge.
Gauntlett, D. (2005), Media, Gender and Identity (2nd Edition), Oxon, Routledge.
Grant, J. (2003), After Image: Mind-Altering Marketing, United Kingdom, Profile Books.
Kasser, T. (2003), The High Price of Materialism, London, MIT Press.
Wilson, S. (1995), Cultural Materialism: Theory and Practice, West Sussex, Wiley-Blackwell.