Ideology & Advertising

Ideology — a concept developed by Karl Marx to explore how ideas are diffused through and (more usually) imposed on society by the controlling power. You should be familiar with this concept, and that of hegemony

When advertising is examined on an ideological basis (rather than simply deconstructing advertisements or evaluating how the industry works) it can be viewed as corrupt, unethical, and oppressive. Advertising is seen as the tool of the evil corporations and their globally dominant brands. Advertising is responsible for our "Me! Me! More! More!" materialistic society, continually creating and feeding consumer hunger. Ad agencies can be seen as cynical exploiters who are quite happy to manipulate and mislead their fellow humans on a daily basis.

There are several general ideological aspects of the study and criticism of advertising:

1. Implied Behavioural Normalcy & Problem Reduction

If you don't have/do/look like this then you are aberrant, not normal, and you should be anxious that you do not BELONG (Maslow). Implied behavioural normalcy is one technique for the top down imposition of hegemonic norms (eg shiny hair, clear — spot AND wrinkle-free — skin. Once an advertisement has established that you deviate from Implied Behavioural Normalcy, then the opportunity for Problem Reduction is presented Key examples are personal hygiene ads (mouthwash, deodorant, panty liners etc)

Advertising reinforces norms, and seeks to make society static Ð advertising is often reactionary in its approach to gender and status, probably because it relies on so many stereotypes.

All Your Insecurities Wrapped Up in A 30 Second Spot - A look at the effect of advertising on teenage girls' perception of themselves

Advertising to Kids - the sheer volume of advertising which an American teenager found themselves exposed to in the 1990s

2. Market Consciousness

In the good old days, we had awareness of the process of manufacture, and how produce arrived at the point of purchase for our consumption. Nowadays, this has been replaced by only awareness of the point of exchange — there are no reminders of our working life in advertising, unless they focus on nostalgia (eg Jack Daniels), or idealistic representation. Therefore advertising denies the existence of mass production, poor working conditions, child labour, pollutant by-products, unecological distribution techniques etc. It helps us ignore that profit is the result of the exploitation of labour and the artificial inflation of product value. This is particularly important to large corporations who provide us with the end product of cash crops such as

and who exploit third world labour and land for their profit and our supposed pleasure. Perhaps you should only buy coffee and chocolate bearing the Fair Trade sticker?

Those who support advertising say that it increases market consciousness by providing us with extended consumer choice and product awareness. Advertising can be said to have an accumulative effect through the constant bombardment we receive of exotic images of consumption and enjoyment. Few consumers have more than a hazy concept of how products are made or where their components come from. Therefore we have no real idea of the true cost of these artifacts, and are easily persuaded to pay the asking price.

3. Individuals & Group

A lot of advertising may be considered paradoxical in that it appeals to us as individuals, to our individual tastes and our desire to stand out from the crowd, by asking us to join a group. The group being the owners of mass-produced items. A lot of advertising emphasises individuality as being based on superiority "get ahead" "special","stand out", "unique", when the main benefit they are stressing is membership of a club of owners. Sports shoes advertisements focus on winners — Adidas have run campaigns to suggest that wearers of their shoes go further and faster than other runners. This is also true of wristwatch adverts, where the wearing of a prestigious brand confers certain attributes on its owner. Therefore advertising promotes a society of competitive individuals, who labour under the illusion that the possession of certain consumer goods makes them better than their fellows.

I Want It, I Want It Now! — Greed & Advertising

Ideology Specific To Advertising

Meaning Transfer

Most advertising is about linking a particular product or brand to a particular set of qualities or benefits in the consumer's mind. This linkage is often achieved through juxtaposition — the simple imposition of the qualities on the product, in the hope that the consumer will make that connection themselves. This is a process known as aestheticization, carried out through

The second stage of meaning transfer is that the qualities will shift from the product to the consumer once they have bought it. The consumer is therefore aestheticized too.

Basically, this means that we define who we are by what we own — and advertising is the route through which we gain a particular identity.

Remember that ownership has nothing to do with production these days. You may possess a "beautifully handcrafted rocking chair" but all you did was hand over some $$$$. Anyone can do that. In pre-mass-production times the owner of a beautifully handcrafted rocking chair might well be supposed to have crafted it themself. Therefore, if you saw such a chair in someone's front room, you would have attributed to them the qualities of skill, patience, taste, determination etc.

Vive La Resistance

There are a number of organisations out there dedicated to battling the corporate behemoths, who seek to inform an otherwise gullible public as to how exactly the wool is being pulled over their eyes. They all, of course, have websites: