Sunday, December 1, 2013

On Advertising and Consumer Capitalism

On Advertising and Consumer Capitalism: Let's relativize these two concepts for a minute. That is, put some distance between them and our "postmodern" selves. Why is advertising important? In a way, it's the "nexus" of commerce and culture. And it's the primary funding vehicle for delivering cultural content, whether that content gets delivered via the radio, television, or internet. Perhaps advertising is also the main reason why many people aspire to live by the values of middle-and-upper-class life. Advertising, therefore, has a homogenizing effect in this regard. But one must dig deeper into the industry's history to uncover its elitist origins. When the ad industry professionalized in the early 20th century, many of the "ad men" had upper-class backgrounds with Ivy League educations. Consumer capitalists needed these ad men to connect the products they were selling to the customers they wanted to buy them. Thus, it became the ad man's job to manipulate consumer demand by creating a kind of "anxiety" within the customer. This anxiety, according to historian Roland Marchand, became the basis from which certain products could be sold. Take the above Listerine ad from the 1920s for example. It's constructed to make you believe the seated woman is unpopular because she has "bad breath."

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