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Vincent de Vries The Making of an Iconic Image Mid-Term Paper

In western societies people are confronted with advertisements every single day. Whether you stay in and watch television, take the subway or go to school, there are always channels through which advertisers try to sell something to you. Sut Jhally, in his article 'Advertising of the edge of the apocalypse', explains that these advertising is a mechanism created by our capitalist society to sell commodities that already have been produced. The sale of these commodities yields profit for capital owners, who in their turn will produce new commodities. If this circular movement does not work, our capitalist system will collapse. 'Capitalism therefore has to ensure the sale of commodities on pain of death' (Jhally, 2000). To make sure that there is a demand for the produced commodities, capitalists started advertising their mass produced goods in the late 19 th century. According to Jhally our current culture is based on consumption, we perceive that the accumulation of goods and services will make us happier. He however believes that this process is bad for our society. The main field of study we use to investigate how our capitalism works is economics. There is no single view on advertising within economics. In general it is perceived as wasteful and a loss of resources for a couple of reasons. There are two ways in which you can use advertising: informative and competitive. Informative advertising tells the consumer about the product and tries to convince him that this product is something that he wants and needs. An example for this was the introduction of the iPod, iPhone or the iPad, no one knew what it was, but after the release everyone wanted or even needed one. As Steve Jobs put it 'A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.' In general this is not perceived as being wasteful, since it informs the consumer

about a new product, and since information is valuable it is not wasteful. I will come back to the point whether creating wants for people who did not wanted it beforehand is wasteful. Competitive advertising tries to persuade people to buy a certain brand of product over another one. That is for instance what Apple did with their Mac advertisements about ten years ago. They wanted to show consumers that a PC, made my manufacturers as IBM, Dell and HP, was dull, boring and slow and a Mac was fun and playful. In general this is seen as an unnecessary cost to society, since it just raises the overall cost of the product while not adding any value, society as a whole does not really care for instance whether people drink Coca-Cola or Pepsi, but still millions are spend on advertising. A good example of this is the tobacco industry, where bans on advertisement cut the costs, and increased profits for the tobacco companies, since they did not longer have to engage in an advertising war. In a sense this theory makes all advertising economically wasteful, since every consumer can spend their income only once, and all products are competing to get a part of that income. This makes it really hard to distinguish whether an advertisement is informative or competitive. This theory also implies extra costs for society. For-profit organizations or companies spend far more money on advertising than non-profit organizations. Advertising creates a desire to spend a greater part of income on certain products, but since a dollar can only be spend once, this inflicts costs on society, since this will make the demand shift from investing in hospitals, public schools, or giving out social welfare, to private consumption. It also shifts are need for a clean and sustainable environment to consumption. As Jhally puts it 'The market appeals to worst in us (greed, selfishness) and discourages what is best about us (compassion, caring, and generousity).' This all shows that economic theory tends to agree with the view of Jhally, that in general advertising is not something that is beneficial for society. I do not agree

however with what he concludes from this. He beliefs that advertising makes people so narrow-minded, that they will just focus on themselves as individuals and lose track of the bigger picture, most importantly the environment. He sees advertising as an important cause for global warming. In my view advertisements do influence people, but not to the extend that Jhally wants us to believe. Of course, the existence of commercials and billboards will tend to make most of us consume more than we would usually do, since they bring our attention to products. In the end although, we make our own decision whether we do or do not actually buy the product they are promoting. The ads do not make us buy commodities, we, ourselves, make the decision whether or not to buy them. As said before, Jhally believes there is a direct link between advertising and consumption. Advertising however is just a tool used by the economy and society we live in, a capitalist one. And yes, it is true that consumption and the accumulation of capital, money, play an important role in our every day life. A too important role, according to more and more people. This can be seen for instance in the creation of the 'Occupy'-movement. Because of that urge to accumulate capital, earn money, the bigger picture can easily be overlooked. I would agree with Jhally if this were his point. But I see advertising as a mere instrument that appeared useful to people wanted to sell their products. I do believe that people still think about larger societal issues. This can even been seen in advertising. More and more companies want to show that they have a green image, that their products are sustainable and that they do not exploit people. That would not have appeared if people themselves did not start caring about what is happening to the environment. In this way advertising is influenced by society, instead of society being influenced by advertising. This shows me that people still have common sense and that they have not become consuming zombies, fueled by the commercial messages they see all around them. By saying this I do not neglect however, that the environmental issues will

be resolved without any struggle. It is very possible that we might have to give up some of our consumption in order to create a sustainable society, but this is a question that will not be answered in the branch of advertising. In the above I focused on the macro-economic implications of advertising and how that influences society, but of course there are other ways in which society is influenced by advertisements. Like I said before, I do believe that ads can influence people, but also that in the end people will make their own decisions. This is because advertisement has been a part of human life for far longer than the 19 th century, when mass production started. Maybe not in the way that we think of advertising right now, a company trying to sell his or her product, but certainly in other ways. Wikipedia defines advertising as 'Advertising is a form of communication used to encourage or persuade an audience (viewers, readers or listeners) to continue or take some new action.' An example of a branch that in general is not regarded as an institution that uses advertising is religion. I see for instance strong similarities between advertising and the Roman Catholic Church. They wanted as much followers as possible, so they build churches to impress people, told stories and interpretations from the Bible to inspire people, and they used icons and statues of Biblical figures to remind people of the Church. Companies nowadays use branding to sell products. It is not necessarily about the commodity or product itself they are selling, but about the experience of having the product. According to Jhally it creates a 'dreamlife' of our desires and tries to sell that dream to us. Since our society is becoming less and less affiliated with religion, these dreams are becoming a surrogate for Roman Catholicism. People like dreams, since they make it available to escape from every day life into a state of happiness. When Jhally talks about happiness he shows some strong evidence that material things are not the things that make us happy. What is more important to us are friends, romance, free-time, autonomy and self-esteem. The problem however with his reasoning

is that he sees material wealth as a substitute for personal social wealth. He believes that by capturing the things that makes us happy and turning them into products we will work more and harder to be able to consume those products, instead of investing in our social life. This can be seen as a referral to Marx' notion of false consciousness. I do not agree with this since I think that people will not be influenced that much by branding that they will abandon their social life in order to be able to acquire merely material wealth. Again, we are influenced by advertising, but it does not rule our life. Actually, because of advertising products, have become more valuable, not just for their useful value, but because of what they represent as well. This may not apply to everyone, but to some it certainly does. People, who consider a certain product part of their dream life, will become happier while consuming that product, because of the dreams it represents. This is again very related to religion as well, which has no tangible value, but does have intangible value. This is also reflected in the value of companies with popular brands. Their market value is higher than the tangible value. Because of this you might argue that in fact advertising is not economically wasteful as I said before. The value it creates is simply not tangible, but does exists in the minds of the consumers. I do not see how this cannot be convivent with actual social life. The question however remains whether advertising is a good thing or a bad thing. It is very hard to find a conclusive answer. One might argue that we become more dependent on the products we buy and therefore lose our skill of making individual decisions. According to Marx this will lead to more influence of the capitalists, the business owners, over the common people, or that people lose track of the bigger picture in society. On the other hand branding does create a lot of value for a lot of people and might be even more efficient than actually giving out more goods, because it is relatively cheap to reach a lot of people. I am afraid I cannot answer this question in full, I do however believe that is very important that people keep thinking for themselves. As long as that

happens I cannot see advertising do much harm to the world as we know it.

Bibliography Backman (1968), Is Advertising Wasteful?, Journal of Marketing, Vol. 32, No. 1, January 1968, pp. 2-8. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1249188

Jhally (2000), Advertising At The Edge Of The Apocalypse, The advertising and consumer culture, Routledge, pp. 416-428

Jobs invterview by Reinhardt (1998), Steve Jobs on Apple's resurgence: Not a one-man show, Businessweek, http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/may1998/nf80512d.htm