12 March 2010

what's your point?

i was reading this article earlier this evening. perhaps it's a little bit of hypersensitivity since i've worked day jobs in marketing for a number of years, but the whole thing left me with the following thought:

you're right. so what?

i'm all in favour of calling people to task for false or misleading advertising,but the criticism leveled at dove or at nike doesn't deal with that. the criticism in this article deals specifically with the fact that these companies are trying to create a "lack", a void that can be filled by their products. and somehow, to the people writing the article (and countless articles like it), this is objectionable, underhanded, dishonest. well excuse me, but what the hell were you expecting?

there's a great passage in umberto eco's "foucault's pendulum" ("the davinci code" for the thinking set) where one of the central characters confronts his father in the hopes of convincing him to order a series of magazines. in response to the son's eloquent (and verbatim quote from the magazine's advertisement) explanation of the magazine's purpose, the father looks his child straight in the eye and says that the magazine's purpose is the same as that of all other magazines- to sell as many copies as it can. and that, really, is our economic system in a nutshell.

is dove using its "redefine beautiful" campaign as an advertising tool in order to call attention to women's bodies and make them feel as if they need a product to complete their journey to self-esteem? of course they are. and what the hell else would you expect from an advertisement? dove aren't a philanthropic organisation. they are part of a corporation that seeks to make money, increasing amounts of money every year. and, yes, they do that by creating a sense of lacking, by creating a perceived need for a new product in order to achieve a sense of well-being.

advertisements don't work by saying what their product does, or how great people think it is, or how much work has been put into developing it. they work by making you, the consumer, feel as if your life would be better if you were in possession of their product. the sooner we accept that as the basic premise of all advertising, the better off we'll be. we may like to pretend that advertisers are doing something nefarious, something sleazy, by trying to create and sell us our own unspoken desires, but, looked at from a realistic perspective, that's exactly what they're there to do.

rather than pointing fingers, exposing something that should be seen as a basic truism, we should admit that this is what advertising is and that rather than expecting advertisers to strip away the layers that disguise their central purpose, we should make ourselves responsible for understanding what that purpose is. after all, as long as we choose to operate under a capitalist system, that is how our society and our economy grows. chastising the advertisers for presenting their message in a subtle way is like punishing a kid who gets good at a sport by developing a comprehensive understanding of the rules. yes, these guys are masking their ultimate purpose. but it's we, the consumers, who need to be aware of what that ultimate purpose is. we should not be depending on advertisers to spell it out for us.

more than the fact that my job involves spinning the sort of fairy tale that this article derides, i think what i object to here is the implication that we should expect leadership from corporations. i'd argue that instead, we should expect it from ourselves. understand what advertisers do, yes. but also understand that it's their purpose and that the system in which we operate mandates this sort of behaviour. instead of whining that their messages are not obvious, we should be scolding ourselves for not being more critical to begin with.

1 comment:

Martin Rouge said...

I'd say that the argument that any corporate enterprise is hiding it's intent is naive to a sad degree. Advertising is just applied Pavlovian psychology, associating an identity (a brand by modern parlance) with an emotional state; you're hungry, you need chicken. How about getting chicken from the guy who speaks like one? In the case of Dove, their beauty image is different, not because they want to sell you beauty, but they want to sell you happiness. Its not that the women are fat/old/whatever that makes them desirable, its that they project happiness and confidence, not self-awareness. And that's what sells. Most people are very uncomfortable with themselves and their appearance; any product that doesn't use skinny, young models will stand out of the lot, and isn't that the object of the game anyways, to get your brand noticed?

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