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Janus 83 - Advertising and Global Culture (1)

Janus 83 - Advertising and Global Culture (1)

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Advertising and Global Culture
By Noreen JanusFrom Cultural Survival Vol 7 Issue 2 Pp 28-31 1983
No one can travel to Africa, Asia, or Latin America and not be struck by the Western elements of urban life. The symbols of transnational culture - automobiles, advertising, supermarkets,shopping centers, hotels, fast food chains, credit cards, and Hollywood movies - give the, feelingof being at home. Behind these tangible symbols are a corresponding set of values and attitudesabout time, consumption, work relations, etc. Some believe global culture has resulted fromgradual spontaneous processes that depended solely on technological innovations - increasedinternational trade, global mass communications, jet travel. Recent studies show that theprocesses are anything but spontaneous; that they are the result of tremendous investments of time, energy and money by transnational corporations.This "transnational culture" is a direct outcome of the internationalization of production andaccumulation promoted through standardized development models and cultural forms.The common theme of transnational culture is consumption. Advertising expresses this ideologyof consumption in its most synthetic and visual form.Advertisers rely on few themes: happiness, youth, success, status, luxury, fashion, and beauty. Inadvertising, social contradictions and class differences are masked and workplace conflicts arenot shown. Advertising campaigns suggest that solutions to human problems are to be found inindividual consumption, presented as an ideal outlet for mass energies...a socially acceptableform of action and participation which can be used to defuse potential political unrest."Consumer democracy" is held out to the poor around the world as a substitute for politicaldemocracy. After all, as the advertising executive who transformed the U.S. Pepsi ad campaign"Join the Pepsi Generation" for use in Brazil as "Join the Pepsi Revolution" explains, mostpeople have no other means to express their need for social change other than by changingbrands and increasing their consumption.Transnational advertising is one of the major reasons both for the spread of transnational cultureand the breakdown of traditional cultures. Depicting the racy foreign lifestyles of a blond jetsetter in French or English, it associates Western products with modernity. That which ismodern is good; that which is traditional is implicitly bad, impeding the march of progress.Transnational culture strives to eliminate local cultural variations. Barnett and Muller (1974:178)discuss the social impact of this process:What are the long range social effects of advertising on people who earn less than $200 ayear? (Peasants, domestic workers, and laborers) learn of the outside world through theimages and slogans of advertising. One message that comes through clearly is thathappiness, achievement, and being white have something to do with one another. In
mestizo
countries (sic) such as Mexico and Venezuela where most of the population stillbear strong traces of their Indian origin, billboards depicting the good life for saleinvariably feature blond, blue-eyed American-looking men and women. One effect of 
 
such "white is beautiful" advertising is to reinforce feelings of inferiority which are theessence of a politically immobilizing colonial mentality...The subtle message of theglobal advertiser in poor countries is "Neither you nor what you create are worth verymuch,
we will sell you a civilization
(emphasis added).But global culture is the incidental outcome of transnational marketing logic more than it is theresult of a conscious strategy to subvert local cultures. It is marketing logic, for example, thatcreated the "global advertising campaign", one single advertising message used in all countrieswhere the product is made or distributed. This global campaign is both more efficient and lessexpensive for a firm. Thus, before the intensification of violence in rural Guatemala, forexample, farmers gathered around the only television set in their village to watch anadvertisement for Revlon perfume showing a blonde woman strolling down Fifth Avenue inNew York - the same advertisement shown in the U.S. and other countries.Transnational firms and global advertising agencies are clearly aware of the role of advertising inthe creation of a new consumer culture in Third World countries. A top Israeli advertisingexecutive says,Television antennas are gradually taking the place of the tom-tom drums across the vaststretches of Africa. Catchy jingles are replacing tribal calls in the Andes of LatinAmerica. Spic-and-span supermarkets stand, on the grounds where colorful wares of anOriental Bazaar were once spread throughout Asia. Across vast continents hundreds of millions of people are awakening to the beat of modern times.Is the international advertiser fully aware of the magnitude of this slow but giganticprocess? Is he alert to the development of these potential markets? Does he know how touse and apply the powerful tools of modern advertising to break into these vast areas of emerging consumers despite the barriers of illiteracy, tribal customs, religious prejudicesand primitive beliefs? How great is the potential, and how promising are the prospects of the pioneer industrialist, marketer or advertiser who will venture into this vast TerraIncognita? (Tal 1974).Increasingly advertising campaigns are aimed at the vast numbers of poor in Third Worldcountries. As one U.S. advertising executive observes about the Mexican consumer market, evenpoor families, when living together and pooling their incomes, can add up to a household incomeof more than $10,000 per year. He explains how they can become an important marketing target:The girls will need extra for cosmetics and clothes, but Jaime needs date money and, of course, something is going into the bank to send Carlito to the university. Once all day-to-day expenses have been covered there will come the big decisions that changelifestyles from month to month.First will probably be a tv set. Nobody can visit Latin America and not be shocked at thenumber of antennas on top of shacks. And once the tv set goes to work the Fernandezfamily is like a kid in a candy store. They are the audience that add up to 5W hours of viewing a day. They are pounded by some 450 commercials a week. They see all the
 
beautiful people and all the beautiful things. And what they see, they want. (Criswell, 27October 1975)Since an important characteristic of transnational culture is the speed and breadth with which it istransmitted, communications and information systems play an important role, permitting amessage to be distributed globally through television series, news, magazines, comics, and films.The use of television to spread transnational culture is especially effective with illiterates. GreyAdvertising International undertook a worldwide study of television to determine its usefulnessas an advertising channel and reported that:Television is undisputedly the key communications development of our era. It hasdemonstrated its power to make the world a global village; to educate and inform; toshape the values, attitudes, and lifestyles of generations growing up with it. In countrieswhere it operates as an unfettered commercial medium it has proven for many productsthe most potent of all consumer marketing weapons as well as a major influence inestablishing corporate images and affecting public opinion on behalf of business. (GreyAdvertising International, 1977)What do we know about the impact of transnational culture on Third World cultures? Personalobservations are plentiful. Anyone who has heard children singing along with televisioncommercials and introducing these themes into their daily games begins to see the impact. Thereare more extensive analyses as well. Pierre Thizier Seya studied the impact of transnationaladvertising on cultures in the Ivory Coast. He notes that transnational firms such as Colgate andNestle have helped to replace traditional products - often cheaper and more effective - withindustrialized toothpastes and infant formulas.By consuming Coca-Cola, Nestle products, Marlboro, Maggi, Colgate or Revlon,Ivorians are not only fulfilling unnecessary needs but also progressively relinquishingtheir authentic world outlook in favor of the transnational way of life. (Seya 1982:17)Advertising of skin-lightening products persuades the African women to be ashamed of theirown color and try to be white.In trying to be as white as possible, that is to say, in becoming ashamed of theirtraditional being, the Ivorians are at the same time relinquishing one of the most powerfulweapons at their disposal for safeguarding their dignity as human beings: their racialidentify. And advertising is not neutral in such a state of affairs. (Seya 1982:18)He also mentions that advertising is helping to change the Ivorian attitude toward aging, makingwomen fear looking older and undermining the traditional respect for elders.The consumption of soft drinks and hard liquor points to another social change. Traditionallydrinks are consumed only in social settings, as evidenced by the large pot where they are stored.Yet, the advertising of Coca-Cola and Heinekens portrays drinking as an individual act ratherthan a collective one.

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