Advertisers Sell More than Products
We all have needs; from eating to job security, love to the feeling of belonging. Advertising uses these needs to appeal to us, using our insecurities to persuade us into buying their products. Abraham Maslow, a well known psychologist created a pyramid that shows all of our basic needs. Safety, belongingness, love, and esteem are the needs he uses in his symbolic pyramid. Advertising uses these basic notions of what we really want, showing us how to fill a void that hasn’t been satisfied. In Persuasion: Reception and Responsibility by Charles U. Larson he talks about how “people have various kinds of needs that emerge, subside, and then reemerge” (158). Advertisers sell us clothing so that we belong; they sell us sex so that we fill our very basic need of creating life. Using these very basic needs, they stress what we should consider to be vital in our life.
They start by selling us beauty. Beauty that cannot be achieved by how we are, but by using the right lotions and make-up to level our skin, evening out our skin tone. Susan Bordo a professor, lecturer, and author, wrote Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body believes they start out by smoothing “out all racial, ethnic, and sexual ‘differences’ that disturb Anglo-Saxon, heterosexual expectations and identifications” (25). You very rarely will find dark skinned women in a commercial or women without high cheek bones and a thin nose in a print ad. These are expectations that are seen everywhere with most of the women we are led to believe to be ethnic are really partially white. It is true that you will see ethnic women on the runway but when it comes to ads, they want their main consumers to see what they are led to believe is perfection.
The brand that is sold to us to show what beauty is does not only change what race we should be but how small our pant size must be as well. The latest studies say that normal women are 5’4 and weighs 150 pounds. Most models are 5’7 and weight 115 pounds. The difference between reality and perception relates to the impact of advertising. Jean Kilbourne an activist and author of Cant Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes The Way We Think And Feel writes how “these images…contribute to the body-hatred so many young women feel and to some of the resulting eating problems, which range from bulimia to compulsive overeating to simply being obsessed with controlling one’s appetite” (135). Even though they do not show a direct correlation between ads and eating disorders many studies show it is the person affected that use those images to set unreasonably high standards for themselves.
Although this may not be one of the most harmful lies that advertising exploits, it is one of the easiest to find without digging deep into the hidden agenda of an ad. The Campaign For Real Beauty by Dove shows slightly larger models in their underwear stating “New Dove Firming. As Tested on real curves” (see ad #1&2). This might be a step in the right direction to changing how the world views heavy people, but the products they are pushing are firming lotions. Going into more detail on what basic needs are shown most in advertising, women are told to rely on others for how their self-worth is at any moment. Kilbourne states that, “Girls are supposed to be both innocent and seductive, virginal and experienced, all at the same time” (145). You will find we are told to believe that if a man finds us to be sexy we are far superior to anyone else. They will use the common catch line “get noticed” to show that if you wear this pair of shoes, you will have every guy in the room asking for your number. A recent ad in More Magazine shows a woman in a short dress wearing a pair of high heels; it reads “Ever think you’d see ‘beautiful’ and ‘heels’ in the same sentence?” The ad continues at the bottom of the page, “Jergens Ultra Healing Moisturizer actually heals dry skin so even your roughest parts get noticed” (see Ad # 3). This is a simplistic reason of why to buy a product, not to get rid of dry skin, but to have nice legs and feet so that you catch men’s attention.
Sexuality of women is highlighted to sell products to men as well, the most memorable are always the alcohol adds that have women throwing themselves at the guys that are drinking a certain beer. Or an ad for Maker’s Mark that reads “Your bourbon has great body and fine character” it makes sure to change the font size on great body, before adding “I wish the same could be said for my girlfriend” (see Ad #4). This is part of a string of ads that use sexuality, sports, social acceptance, and wealth to sell products. Kilbourne believes that “we are often offered a sexual relationship with the products themselves” (87). What was formerly something between a man and a woman is now between a man, a woman and all of the products that they are led to believe makes them attracted to each other. This would be why marriages tend to fail, couples fall in love with the products in the relationship not the actual people in it.
Advertising in the end idealizes everything in our life; it makes our bodies in need of change at every moment, and makes our sex life seem to be the most important part of our romantic relationship. When it comes down to the real life aspects of a relationship, most people are led to believe that a product is capable of having a relationship with them. Ads leave us empty and hungry for more, not knowing that what we need is to connect with real people and real life. The disconnect from society that we feel will only be healed if advertisers change their motives, but to do so they must find a way to not degrade and belittle all of the people that buy their products.
***I wrote this paper around this time last year, thought it was worth it to be posted. If I can I will find the ads I mentioned.