As Americans we are exposed to advertisements everyday. People are pressured from every direction by advertisements which exploit their deepest fears, attractions, needs, and desires, shaping their behaviors, goals, and thoughts. They are led into believing false information and promises that are mostly never kept, all for the simple reason of selling the product and making profit. We see advertisements everywhere–in magazines and newspapers, on the radio, on TV, online, in the mail, even over the phone.
These advertisements use the basic ideas of either providing an elite status with the possession of the product, or giving a sense of belonging to a group or community. Since the recent military activity in Iraq and Afghanistan, another ever present idea has been made prominent and that is using patriotism to evoke people’s desires. Americans are persuaded into buying unnecessary items everyday; however, we need to realize that no matter what advertisements say we should purchase items for their usefulness, not to fill voids in our lives, so we can help eliminate the problem we face today of being a materialistic society.
The patriotic theme affecting people’s hearts, minds and senses, is commonly used to manipulate them into buying things. Since everyone has love for their country, using it to sell products is a brilliant idea, but I believe this is a bad practice. It makes people believe they are not ideal Americans, nor are they similar to the people around them if they do not buy that product. The Palmolive advertisement, in Seeing and Writing 2, is a key example, it appeals to the wives of the men at war in World War II (417). On the top of this advertisement there are three medals which contain picture of three different men in their uniforms and the words “For Him” appear next to each picture.
In the lower part of the advertisement there is a woman looking up at these medals and above her head are the words, “I pledge myself to guard every bit of Beauty that he cherishes in me”, and finally in the background there are several faces of women also looking towards the medals. This advertisement is basically communicating to the wives the idea of guarding their beauty, by using this soap, just like their husbands are guarding their country. The ironic fact is that soap cannot make someone beautiful, nor do people lose their beauty if they do not use the correct brand of soap. This advertisement is connecting a heroic and patriotic act to one used for mere beauty, in order to sell the soap.
The Palmolive advertisement was run in 1943, but a more current advertisement which uses similar attributes is Chevrolet and its slogan for its recent line of cars, “An American Revolution.” This slogan is always placed on a blue sky background and the writing is in bold white letters, except for the “E” in “Revolution”, this letter is written in red ink. So when you come across this slogan, not only does the slogan sound patriotic to you, it also appears to be patriotic because it incorporates the red, the white and the blue.
This phrase says to its audience that every American is buying and driving a Chevy car and so should they. Another detail that could be interpreted out of this advertisement is that since the U.S. is currently at war and fighting a revolution against terrorism, a person living in the U.S. can participate in this patriotic revolution by purchasing a Chevrolet. This would be true only if Chevrolet was funding the war, instead of the US government.
Along with this, another advertisement that exploits this concept was the Netzero advertisement run during the time before the elections. In this advertisement the spokesman was running for President under the alias of Candidate Zero. His main goal was to provide cheaper and faster internet to every family and household. In order to get people’s attention, this clever idea was used, and it certainly worked on people like me. Viewers could also connect the advertisement with the actual presidential race and that way the product of the advertisement was stuck in their conscious awareness. The whole patriotic theme is strange because the connection between patriotism and the product does not make the product function better, so why do we feel obligated to pay attention to the advertisement and even purchase that product.
Along with patriotism another concept used widely is the elitism the product brings to people with its possession. As Jack Solomon wrote in his essay Masters of Desire, “We Americans dream of rising about the crowd, of attaining a social summit beyond the reach of ordinary citizens” (1). He is basically saying that Americans want to be better then the people around them and this belief is what marketers feast on, creating status symbols like Rolex, Mercedes, BMW, etc. One advertisement that crosses my mind in terms of using elitism would be the new U2 iPod Special Edition advertisement. This promotes an iPod with a black cover and laser engraved signatures of the U2 band members; everything else is similar to a regular iPod; whereas, the price is $50 more. People are led into believing that the U2 iPod is better than the regular one only because it is endorsed by U2.
Another ironic detail is that a normal iPod itself is a product of elitism, because even though it has similar functions to a Sony or any other MP3 player, it costs $100 more only because it comes with the signature white headphones. These headphones, unique only because an iPod come equipped with them, have made themselves and the iPod a status symbol. Most people only buy an iPod because they want the headphones to show the illusion of superiority and uniqueness. Solomon says, “The explanation is quite simple: when an object (or puppy!) either costs a lot of money or requires influential connections to possess, anyone who possesses it must also possess the necessary means of influence to acquire it” (3). This explains why the white headphones have made the iPod a status symbol, since its shows possession of an expensive item, even though rationally speaking the color of the headphones does not make the iPod function better, they only make it different.
Solomon also talks about another part of the American Dream, in which belonging to a group is important. The Chevrolet slogan connects us to the entire American population; the iPod connects us to other owners of an iPod, and so on. We need a sense of connection and belonging, fulfilling our need for attention and affection. Abraham Maslow, a founder of humanistic psychology, created a triangle in which he placed a person’s needs in the order they needed to be fulfilled and the need for love and belonging was the third basic need. Disillusioned by the advertisements, people try to fulfill this need by buying the products. This proves that using this theme advertisers are able to affect the person on much deeper levels then recognizable, yet by no means does the product itself become more useful.
It is understandable that advertisers need to appeal to people in order to sell their product and that is why they use these tactics, but what is not understandable is while knowing the truth people believe the hoaxes and let advertisements dictate what they are going to buy. People need to realize that products should not be used to fulfill our weaknesses; they should be consumed based on our needs, because companies will keep manufacturing status symbols until we accept that products and items are only materialistic and we can never attain all the luxury items around us. We are scammed into buying false promises everyday, after we realize that we have a choice against it, we can choose not to let advertisements or minor details about the product like the endorsements, or the color of headphones, or the catchy slogan persuade us into buying a certain item.