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Lesson 13: Advertising, Consumerism and Commodification


Lesson 13: Advertising, Consumerism and Commodification Robert Wonser It is useless to invent something that can t be sold. Thomas Edison Pop culture ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Lesson 13: Advertising, Consumerism and Commodification

Lesson 13 Advertising, Consumerism and
  • Robert Wonser

  • It is useless to invent something that cant be
    sold. Thomas Edison
  • Pop culture could not have become the default
    form of culture in a non-capitalist society.
  • Shopping, advertising, and pop culture have
    developed such an intrinsic partnership that we
    no longer are able to separate them in our minds.
  • Remember the Frankfurt Schools critique?
    Culture, art, religion, and philosophy are now
    sold and packaged in the same way as
    commercial products.
  • If mass communications blend together
    harmoniously, and often unnoticeably, art,
    politics, religion, and philosophy with
    commercials, they bring these realms of culture
    to their common denominatorthe commodity form.
    The music of the soul is also the music of
    salesmanship. Exchange value, not truth value,
    counts. Herbert Marcuse
  • Many early childrens cartoons were program
    length commercials that promote action figures,
    dolls, and other figures the same name as the

  • Advertising as ubiquitous? Understatement..
  • The average American is exposed to 3,000
    advertisements each day and watches 3 years worth
    of television commercials over the course of a
  • Advertising is designed to influence attitudes
    and lifestyle behaviors by covertly suggesting
    how we can best satisfy our urges and

Integrating with Pop Culture
  • The line between ad culture and pop culture is
    virtually nonexistent.
  • Think hockey rinks with the boards covered by ads
    or nascar drivers as walking, or driving,
  • Can you think of a place not covered with ads?

What have we allowed ourselves to become?
  • The integration of advertising and pop culture
    involves not only products but entire
  • Part of the mythology of childhood

Ad Culture
  • Ads have become an intrinsic part of modern
    society. Although we may condemn its objectives,
    as an aesthetic experience we invariably enjoy
    advertising in the same way that we enjoy pop
    culture texts.
  • Ads sway, please and seduce.
  • ? legislation against ads aimed at children
    tobacco and alcohol

  • Most effective strategy not only to keep up with
    the times but to co-opt trends.
  • 1960s co-opted the rebellion
  • Ex The Dodge Rebellion, Oldsmobile Youngmobile
  • Cokes stupid song the Pepsi Generation
  • These ads directly incorporated the rhetoric and
    symbolism of the counterculture youths, thus
    creating the illusion that the goals of the
    hippies and the soft drink manufacturers were the
  • Rebellion through purchasing became the
    subliminal thread woven into ad campaigns.
  • This is long gone though, right?

No Logo
  • Modern day consumerist economic systems depend
    almost entirely on the partnership that has been
    conveniently forged among the previously
    autonomous worlds of business, media, and
  • The history of pop culture is intrinsically woven
    with the history of advertising.
  • As McLuhan put it, advertising has become the
    art of the modern world.

  • The technique of integrating products with pop
    culture is called branding.
  • The intent to tap into cultural tendencies that
    governs lifestyle, values and beliefs, turning
    the product into symbolic means for becoming part
    of those tendencies.
  • The most common marketing definition of a brand
    is that it is a promisean unspoken pact between
    a company and a consumer to deliver a particular
  • First act in branding process Name your product
  • Brand names imbue products with identities the
    same way that given names to human beings impart
    a distinct identity, allowing the bearer entry
    into a social reality.
  • Dont name it youll get attached! In branding
    that is the point.
  • Implicit law of the marketplace trends in pop
    culture cross over to advertising and advertising
    styles mirror what is emerging in pop culture.
    Those silly role reversal texting, twittering
    facebooking parent ads
  • As P.T. Barnum put it, consumerism can be fun,
    especially is advertised to be so.

The Golden Arches
  • Kroc bought out the McDonald brothers and
    successfully marketed McDonalds restaurants.
  • Marketed to kids (our favorite clown)
  • Kroc opened his first restaurant in 1955?
    coincided with the rise of youth culture in the
  • To attract adults, and to continue to thrive, he
    branded McDonalds as a place the family could go
    and eat
  • Golden arches reflected the chain perfectly
  • Arches reverberate with mythic symbolismthey
    beckon good people to march through them in
    anticipation of reaching a world of cleanliness,
    friendliness, hospitality, and family values.
  • Like a religion from menu to uniforms, exacted
    and imposed standardization.

  • Products placed into pop culture as props
  • Ads in Tony Hawk games oddly make it more
    realistic then if they werent there.
  • Embedding can involve cooperation among brands.
  • Ex neopet.com created a virtual McDonalds and
    Lucky Charms. Pillsbury Doughboy and Sprint.
  • Co-branding is another form of embedding.
  • Starbucks inside of Barnes Noble stores.
  • What is the subtext here?

  • Remember Marx from your readings?
  • Dolls (and toys in general) are fetishes, objects
    perceived to possess a life force.
  • Powers can be so strong as to constitute an idol.
  • Ex Lucky penny

  • By the advent of the 80s, Americans believed in
    consumption as salvation, as the only way they
    knew shop til you drop, spend til the end, buy
    til you die. Buying was the new time religion,
    and the shopping mall or Wal-Mart its cathedral
    of consumption. Kowinski 1993
  • Consumerism propels the insatiable belief that we
    need what we do not have
  • A way of being in the world
  • A fundamental frame of reference for relating to
    oneself, to others, to the environment as a whole
  • The principle socializing force behind this way
    of being in the world is television and

Our new drug of choice
  • We find reward through purchasing power (the
    paycheck and salary) rather than labor power (the
    artistic ability to create and make, and the
    humanistic ability to contribute and serve)
  • TV amplifies our confusion of reality
  • Helps make our needs and wants ambiguous
  • Advertising is its only true enduring program
  • The primary role today of most media is to
    deliver advertisements
  • As McLuhan put it, the medium is the message

Consuming Identity Construction
  • What we acquire and own is tightly bound to our
    personal identity
  • Competitive acquisition has long been an American
  • Comparisons we make are no longer restricted to
    those in our own general earnings category, today
    we are more likely to be making comparisons with
    or choose as our reference group people whose
    incomes are three, four, or five times his or her
  • ? upscale spending, the new consumerism.
  • Advertising and the media have stretched our
    reference groups vertically, built on relentless
    ratcheting up of standards.

How Bad is it?
  • 27 of all households making more than 100,000 a
    year say they cannot afford to buy everything
    they really need.
  • Nearly 20 say they spend nearly all their
    income on the basic necessities of life
  • In the 50-100k range, 39 and ? feel this way
  • Overall, half the nations richest country say
    they cannot afford everything they need! Which
    half are we talking about?

From Conspicuous Consumption to
  • Veblen argued that in affluent societies spending
    becomes the vehicle through which people
    establish social position.
  • This conspicuous display of wealth and leisure is
    the marker that reveals a mans income to the
    outside world. (wives? Ornamental used to
    display a mans finest purchases).
  • Rich spent conspicuously as a personal
    advertisement, to secure a place in the social
  • Everyone else stood below and watched and to the
    extent possible, emulated those in the class
    above. Consumption was a trickle down process.

Those damn Joneses
  • keeping up with the Joneses was the middle
    class equivalent. Rather than trying to best
    your neighbors you wanted simply to keep up with
  • Consumer satisfaction, and dissatisfaction,
    depend less on what a person has in an absolute
    sense than on socially formed aspirations and
  • standard of living suggests the point the
    standard is a social norm.
  • By the 1970s in the workplace, most employees
    were exposed to the spending habits of people
    across a wider economic spectrum, particularly
    those who worked in white-collar settings.
  • Daily exposure to economically diverse set of
    people is one reason Americans began engaging in
    more upward comparison.
  • The other reason? Advertising.
  • Result? New reference group, not those in our
    social class.
  • People who share lifestyles those who marketers
    target (clusters)
  • The shift to individuality produced its own brand
    of localized conformity

Intensification of Competitive Consumption
  • At a minimum average persons spending increased
    30 between 1979-1995.
  • Economic trend diverging income distribution.
    Sociological trend upward shift in consumer
    aspirations and the vertical stretching out of
    reference groups.
  • Growing income inequality yet more of us aspiring
    to make it.
  • In short, 4/5ths of Americans were relegated to
    earning even less than the people they looked up
    to, who were now earning and spending more.

Competitive Upscale Consumption
  • An accident? Nope
  • The escalating lifestyles of the most affluent
    and the need that many others felt to meet that
    standard, irrespective of their financial ability
    to maintain such a lifestyle.
  • American consumers are often not conscious of
    being motivated by social status and are far more
    likely to attribute such a motive to others than
    to themselves.
  • We have high levels of psychological denial about
    the connection between our buying habits and the
    social statements they make.

  • As the pressures on private spending have
    escalated, support for public goods, and for
    paying axes, has eroded.
  • Also, personal financial pressures have also
    reduced many Americans willingness to support
    transfer programs to the poor and near-poor.
  • Our national discourse is focused on market
    exchanges, not quality of life, or social health.
  • GDP is an increasingly poor measure of
    well-being it doesnt factor in pollution,
    parental time with children, the strength of the
    nations social fabric, or the chance of being
    mugged while walking down the street.
  • Were getting uneasy with this trap
  • After drugs and crime, people see materialism as
    the most serious problem affecting American
  • One 1990s study college students reportedly
    relate far more to commercials and advertising
    culture than they do to history, literature or
    probably anything else.

Communicating with Commodities
  • Lack of desire, like desire, is a social
  • Traditionally consumer desires were prompted by
    exposure to the possessions and lifestyles of a
    reference groupa comparison group located nearby
    in the social hierarchy.
  • We construct our personal identity in relation to
    these social groups, thereby creating a social
    identity. Even those of you who shun your
    associations with these identities can be fitted
    into a category of similar individualists.
  • What people spend both reflects social
    inequalities and helps to reproduce and even
    create those distinctions.

Bourdieu and Habitus
  • Bourdieu and cultural capital
  • Habitus is a habitual condition, set of social
    conditionings, or open set of dispositions. it
    is the mental schema that individuals use to
    process subjectively the objective world around
  • Through the habitus, socially produced tastes
    become what we experience as natural, personal,
    and individualized (that is, just what we are).
  • Consumption patterns and tastes are stratified by
    socioeconomic categories such as class,
    education, and occupation. They are source, as
    well as an indicator, of social differentiation.

Decoding Consumer Meanings
  • Material goods can be read by observers in a
    process known as decoding.
  • The structure of use and ownership of products is
    therefore the underlying foundation of social
    meaning class (and other) inequalities are at
    the foundation of the code.
  • Can ads create their own association with
  • Simmels fashion ever-shifting process in which
    high-status individuals attempt to keep a step
    ahead of low-prestige imitators.
  • Researchers have found what you wear, drive and
    own affect how others treat you.
  • Delay at a green light you are less likely to be
    honked at if you are in a prestigious car. How
    youre dressed? People more likely to return your
    accidentally left change in a phone booth.

When Spending Becomes You
  • Clothes, cars, watches, living room furniture,
    and lipsticks are well-known purveyors of social
  • Furnaces, mattresses, bedroom curtains,
    foundation powders, and bank accounts are not.
    Whats the difference?
  • We use the first list, visibly, the others we
    dont. Competitive spending revolves around
    socially visible products.

  • When only the rich bought from designers, logos
    were unnecessary. The market was so small so
    participants could identify a designer clothing
    by style.
  • When the market broadened, to get their moneys
    worth in terms of status, the middle-class
    purchaser needed to make sure that others knew
    what they had boughthence, the visible logo.
  • Logos indicate our status and our identity to
    those around us. We are what we buy.

Who spends for status?
  • In cosmetics example, women with higher education
    levels and higher incomes did more status
  • Urban and suburban gt rural
  • Caucasian gt African American or Hispanic
  • Compulsive buyers are more status oriented
  • People who are more materialistic value their
    possessions more highly.
  • Those who score highly on materialism scales
    report lower personal well-being, unfulfilled
    psychological needs, insecurity, fragile
    self-worth, and poor relationships than those who
    dont score highly on materialism scales.

Personal Identity
  • While most experience these tastes as just being
    themselves, they are actually being a lot like
    everyone else.
  • Personal identity does not exist prior to the
    social world, it comes into being with it.
  • Ex higher the status of a brand, the more
    closely people associated their self image with
  • It is when traditional markers of identity and
    position begin to break down that spending comes
    to the fore as a more powerful determinant of
    social status.
  • Worth noting a significant number of branded and
    highly advertised products, there are no quality
    differences discernable to consumers with the
    labels removed and
  • Variation in prices typically exceeds variation
    in quality, with the difference being in part a
    status premium.

Ah, plastic
  • Debtors pay an average of 1,000 a year in
    interest fees alone.
  • Credit card link is Pavlovian
  • Adding the MC logo causes people to spend more.
  • Credit card tips tend to be higher than cash

  • See-want-borrow-and-buy is a comparative process
    desire is structured by what we see around us.
    Our reference group.
  • Where you stand relative to those with whom you
    compare yourself has a significant impact on your
  • Americans have a psychological resistance to
    admitting and recognizing the extent to which
    they follow the lead of others.
  • The further away from those better off than you
    the more you save! (almost 3k a year).
  • The millionaires next door? How do they do it?
    They never change their reference group!
  • The more education a person has, the less they
  • Whatever your income level, your comparative
    position has a major effect on your saving.

(No Transcript)
Our old friend TV
  • The more TV a person watches the more they spend.
  • Likely explanation? What we see on TV inflates
    our sense of whats normal. The lifestyles
    depicted on TV are far different from what the
    average Americans with few exceptions, TV
    characters are upper middle-class or rich.
  • Studies show the more TV a person watches the
    more likely they are to think American households
    have tennis courts, private planes, convertibles,
    maids and swimming pools, the proportion who are
    millionaires, have had cosmetic surgery, belong
    to a private gym, suffer from dandruff, bladder
    control problems, gingivitis, athletes foot and
  • The inflated sense of consumer norms promulgated
    by the media raises peoples aspirations and
    leads them to buy more.
  • Correlation between debt and excessive TV Merck
    Family Fund poll, those who reported that they
    watch too much TV rose steadily with
    indebtedness. 56 heavily in debt also said
    they watched too much TV.

  • When TV was introduced it led to an increase in a
    particular crime larceny.
  • In one study each additional hour of TV watched
    led to spend an extra 208 a year.
  • TV and social pressure in ones daily life are
    interchangeable sources of consumer upscaling.

A Denial
  • We live in denial of our spending habits.
  • 1992s actual 182 billion in debt was thought to
    be a mere 710 billion.
  • Not paying attention is also common.
  • Denial also helps navigate the moral conflicts
    associated with consumption.

  • Americans give their children more in pocket
    money than the worlds half billion poorest
    adults earn each year.
  • The Emulation process never ends Growth is the
    goal in our economy and our economy is built on
    consumer spending.
  • Beneathindeed drivingour system of competitive
    consumption are deep class inequalities. Not
    everyone became (or still is) middle class.
  • The standard answer to the amount of money a
    family of four need to live in reasonable
    comfort has been 1,000 2,000 more than
    whatever the median family income happens to be.
  • Luxuries of yesterday have become necessities
    today (cable TV, cell phone, computer, internet).

Irrationality of it All
  • If we measure our satisfaction by how well we are
    doing compared to others, general increases in
    affluence do not raise our personal satisfaction
    (as mounting evidence shows).
  • Why do we participate then? Psychological
    factors, and both social and economic forces keep
    us in the system.
  • Technology how fast does it improve?
  • With widespread adoption it becomes a necessity
    even if we forgo it.
  • New products promise freedom but often feel
  • The built environment demands a car.
  • consumer choice is subject to social,
    infrastructural, and market constraints.
  • Earning to buy turns into buying to keep earning.
  • Have you ever noticed how much you want it before
    you have it but once you have it it means very
    little to you?
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