I’m a Marketing concentration minoring in Communications. For those who don’t know much about Communication studies, it often deals with topics such as: media, culture, society, and politics. The first reading in one of my CMNS courses on popular culture this semester brings up the theme of advertising. Here is a quote from the article “The Dream World of Mass Consumption” by Rosalind Williams:
Seeking a pleasurable escape from the workaday load, they find it in a deceptive dream world which is no dream at all but a sales pitch in disguise (p. 203).
Earlier in the article, Williams writes about the shift seen in exhibitions. Before, exhibitions displayed machinery, architecture, photography, and other “things” that represented scientific knowledge or technological innovation. During the 1900’s, exhibitions shifted towards displaying merchandise like rugs, plates, fabrics, etc. In addition to this shift towards valuing consumer goods, Williams talks about how merchandising is achieved through fantasies.
Basically, she believes that advertising is a method of selling fantasies to people. Advertising stimulates your desire for merchandise. While it may not be directly effective in the sense that you actually buy the product at that moment, it encourages you to look at it. It encourages you check it out, to come. Advertising encourages you to buy something, someday.
She talks briefly about the fantasies people have like love and wealth. When you enter a department store, you are allowed to browse and look at merchandise without having to pay for them. You can try on clothes and leave the store empty-handed. You can lie on the sofa in the furniture department and then get up and go home. This is the fantasy. You are browsing and trying merchandise as if you have the wealth to actually purchase it. If this happens to not be the case (i.e. you actually cannot afford those clothes or that sofa…), then advertising has led you to this dream world in which you have riches. Advertising had invited you into the department store.
In a more general and simple interpretation of this article, advertising is evil. Businesses use advertising to exploit the dreams people have for profit.
Again, I am a Marketing student.
It’s kind of funny, actually. In regards to this idea on advertising, here is what my marketing textbook tells me:
- Does marketing corrupt society?
- The need is a biological motive. Marketing simply recommends ways to satisfy this need.
- For example, we have a need to drink fluids. Humans get thirsty. Advertising simply shows you all the choices you have (juice? pop? milk?). The need you have has always been there, therefore marketing does not actually “create” needs and corrupt society.
- Marketers support addictive consumption?
- Consumers are the ones who want to consume unhealthy products while aware of risks
- Marketers exploit people?
- This can happen, however consumers have a strong voice and can stop buying brands whose values don’t align with their own
Am I the only one who finds it funny when they say, “This can happen”?
In my point of view, marketers don’t exploit people. I don’t think marketers exploit dreams either. The definition of exploit is “to make full use of and derive benefit from (a resource)”. Choosing better words, I think advertisements reflect and reinforce the dreams of people. You see the skinny model in that fashion advertisement because that is the body shape desired and accepted by mainstream society. You see that race car illuminated by spotlights like a glittering jewel because that is the shiny symbol of wealth people want to drive. They let you see what you want to see. And seeing these images more only reinforce these ideas and values into your mind. It’s like a circle of forces, pushing against each other as it spirals away infinitely.
Saying advertising and marketing exploit people is the same as saying people are only dummies that passively absorb commercial messages. If you see an advertisement telling you to buy something, do you do so without a second thought? All this oddly reminds me of that news story where a woman sues McDonald’s for making her fat. If marketers and advertisers have a responsibility to consumers on the messages they send out, then don’t we, as consumers, have a responsibility to ourselves in this process? Are we not yet capable of governing our own spending without falling into complete submission from what an advertisement tells us we can buy?
Marketing and advertising is a big part of a business. Some companies have huge marketing budgets because it matters. Effective campaigns really do improve profits, branding, and awareness. So don’t get me wrong, I still believe advertising persuades you to consume. But it is unfair to solely blame marketing and advertising for addictions, over-consumption, or corruption in society. There are many advertisements and marketing messages directed towards eating healthier, looking healthier, and living healthier. There are many that promote sustainability and eco-friendliness. There are advertisements that tell you not to consume. Some of these messages go in one ear and out the other. And many times, these messages are not common or seen in mainstream media.
Why? Because these are not the dreams we have. They are not what we find important.
If marketing corrupts society and it exploits dreams and therefore, people, then that means dreams corrupt society. We should all never dream.
Or we should at least change our dreams.