Saturday, October 12, 2013

If it's not broken, why fix it? -- Maybe advertisers should take their own advice

                  These days, socially responsible advertising seems like a myth; an urban legend at best. Do a Google search of the keywords and you'll be hard pressed to find many, if any examples at all. As Jean Kilbourne states, advertising is "the most powerful educational force in society." (Killbourne, 121) Intended to sell you a product, it ultimately sells you other, intangible things. It sells you ideas of normalcy, sexuality, and sucess. Many advertisments are made to make you feel physically, emotionally inferior and broken, leaving you with the desire to purchase a product to fix yourself. Women are repeat victims of this style of advertising, and it's wrath is easily detectable if you speak to any woman. This viscous cycle seems irreparable, but it doesn't have to be.

                    Making people insecure, and selling them  a product that leaves them worse off than they began is easy for advertisers. And more importantly, lucrative. Capitalism is an important factor in this system. People have to make money, and whats better than easy money? But there are ways of working with this economic structure without  perpetuating racism, sexism and other damaging ideals.  In Gloria Steinem's Sex, Lies, and Advertising she recounts her process of putting together a magazine that tried to maintain socially responsible content and advertising. In the magazines struggle to find advertisers, car makers were one of the many reluctant participants: especially U.S. car manufacturers. When Ms. (the magazine) featured  Honda, a foreign car makers ad featuring rack and pinion steering, the publication received fan mail from readers. "Detroit never quite learned the secret of creating intelligent ads that exude no one and then placing them in women's magazines to overcome past exclusion." (Steinem,114)

          People respond well to  nondepreciating, inclusive  advertising. The proof is in the numbers. Whether marketing executives choose to ignore the numbers is a different story. When approached by Virginia Slims to advertise their cigarettes, Ms decided to give it a try.  When the readers responded negatively, sending critical letters, the magazine complied and got rid of the ads. The corporation subsequently removed all of their brands ads from the magazine. It would seem logical to pay attention to the input of the customer you're trying to sell to, but businesses seem more comfortable with shutting their eyes and ear and pulling the same tactics.

 Advertisers prey on women because they are easy targets. In the current power structure, they are easily commodified. Kilbourne lists multiple examples of how this power structure is portrayed in advertising. Whether it's dismembering parts of the women's body to display her as an object or positioning her in a subservient manner, damaging stereotypes of women continue to be perpetuated through this medium.

Advertisers are in the business of making people insecure. Whether they're telling you you're too thin or too heavy, they're telling you that something is wrong with you and you need to change it.  Aesthetic standards change, but ad tactics remain the same. 

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