“Shadow of the image”

January 5, 2011 at 4:35 pm (Marketing)

We are exposed to at least 1500 ads per day. They’re everywhere; in the streets, on the television and radio, in newspapers and magazines. Their purpose is to provide information and entertainment, but the ripples of their influence are far reaching, ranging from social to political issues. As we float about in an ocean of mass media, waves crash over us leaving grains of sands in hidden and abstract places. It is safe to say their effects are cumulative and are engrained in our subconscious; nevertheless, they are evident in the way people act, dress, and think. When it is said, “we live in the shadow of the image” truer words were never spoken.

Karl Marx wrote in 1867, “The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an ‘immense collection of commodities'” (Marx 1976, p.125). It is not enough of course to only produce the immense collection of commodities” they must also be sold, so that further investment in production is feasible. So, at the end of the 19th century, industrial capitalism invented a new institution: the advertising industry. The function of this new industry would be to create a culture in which desire and identity would be merged with commodities.

There has never been a propaganda effort to match the exertion of advertising in the 20th century. More deliberation, endeavor, originality, time, and attention to detail had gone into the selling of the massive collection of commodities than any other campaign in human history to change public consciousness. One indication of this is simply the amount of money that had been exponentially exhausted on this effort. Advertisers are selective when it comes to the desired attitudes to be encouraged, promoting some while ignoring many others. This supports the previous claim that advertising does more than reflect the surrounding culture. For example, the absence from advertising of certain racial and ethnic groups in some multi-racial or multi-ethnic societies can help to generate problems of representation and identity, especially among those ignored, and the almost unavoidable impression in commercial advertising that a great quantity of goods leads to happiness and fulfillment can be deceptive and frustrating.

Even today, some advertising is deliberately wrong. It is not that advertising says what is clearly false, but that it can twist the truth by implying things that are not so or withholding significant information. As Pope John Paul II points out, “in both the individual and social levels, truth and freedom are inseparable; without truth as the basis, starting point and criterion of discernment, judgment, choice and action, there can be no authentic exercise of freedom.”

An example of the hold that advertising has on society is when one takes the war on Iraq into consideration. The Western press depicts the Americans as democratic saviors encouraging feelings of patriotism towards their army and administration. This however, also produces a racial prejudice against the Middle East, portraying them as barbaric and backwards.

At the turn of the millennium, competition for consumer loyalty, facilitated by the outflow of new technologies, sky-rocketed. With the growth of large media corporations, which are encouraged by globalization, regulatory permissiveness, and the need for technological convergence, firms look for new and bold means to promote their products. Advertisers are encouraged to be more insistent and media is encouraged to be more promotionally oriented. According to surveys of Super Bowl viewers, in 1996 only 2% watched the game exclusively for the commercials; in 1998 the figure was 7%; in 2002 it was more than10%(McAllister, 1999; Taylor, 2002). Much of the reason for this increased popularity may be the publicity that Super Bowl commercials receive. The news media play up the hype of Super Bowl advertising with pregame anticipatory stories and post game analysis focusing on the commercials.

Stuart and Elizabeth Ewen noted that, “The history that unites the seemingly random routines of daily life is one that embraces the rise of an industrial consumer society. It involves explosive interactions between modernity and old ways of life. It includes the proliferation, over days and decades, of a wide, repeatable vernacular of commercial images and ideas. This history spells new patterns of social, productive, and political life.” (333) In their excerpt,” In the Shadow of the Image” they provide an example of how unconscious the effects of ads can be. They talk about a female named Maria Aguilar , and how after reading a poster the claimed, “The pain stops here” she barely noticed that she would later swallow two New Extra strength Bufferin tablets. They go on to mention a girl who dedicated her afterschool time to working in a supermarket so she could afford a pair of label jeans so she could, “fit better.”

Our ideas of what is socially accepted is dictated through mass media and advertising. The most obvious effect is on body image. A century ago it was very desirable for a woman to have a full figure, now it is considered ghastly. “The media have been criticized for depicting the thin woman as ideal. Some argue these images create unrealistic expectations for young women and cause body dissatisfaction and disordered eating.”(Holmstrom) In Beirut for instance, pictures of political figures dominate specific areas. In Dahia pictures of Sayed Hassan Nasrallah are frequent signifying the community there rally behind him and are loyal supporters. But in Qraytum pictures of an opposing party leader, Rafic Hariri and his son Saad are posted almost everywhere. This example demonstrates the power if imagery in Lebanese society. Lebanese society is characterized by an urge to show off their wealth and prestige, despite the fact that some of these egocentric figures have no wealth (Thank God for fake Gucci!) Labels are as important as politics. Girls try to show off their Fendi bags as boys show off their nice cars and expensive watches. This is because they understand, through the wide variety of images presented on the streets and on the television, that it makes them more desirable and up to the standards of celebrity figures. For instance Nancy Ajram advertises Cola, so it becomes the majority’s preference. Pictures of Elisa wearing vogue sunglasses inspire many other females to wear the same thing.

With little doubt, media is a dominant influential force. It seems to be invading our lives from every direction striving to leave its mark on society. In today’s society advertising has a profound impact in regard to people’s values, especially the way they choose and behave. It is a molding factor that shapes our lives. Advertising, like the media of social communications in general, does act as a mirror. But, like media in general, it is a mirror that helps shape the reality it reflects, and sometimes it presents a distorted image of reality.

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1 Comment

  1. moeakar said,

    i actually read a couple of articles a couple years back discussing the influence of media and mass advertising on the public. people eventually tend to fixate, be it concious or subconsciously, on everything that is broadcast to them and they are almost immediately obliged to divert their attention on that point regardless of their current situations. what i admired about this piece is that you actually took the time to recollect on Marx and pope John paul II knowing fully well how significant their influence extended to the global eye. its no secret that the lebanese people continually strive to attain or at the very least mimic the social statuses of their celebrity counterparts, however it never hurts to remind people how potent the advertising industry can be in executing its desired objectives with percision. it really is a powerful tool and i doubt anyone can say it better than u did in ur piece D. u did it again:

    Mind = Blown 😉

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