Friday, March 5, 2010

Fight the Power of Advertising

Jean Kilbourne’s introduction “A Girl of Many Parts: The Making of an Activist,” discusses gendered media representations in advertisements, audience interpretations of these advertisements, and the social context of representations and interpretations. She explains how advertising images devalue women and focus on impractical beauty standards. The goal of advertising creates an emotional relationship and connection among advertisements, products, and consumers. Creating a false emotional attachment to ads and products is similar to what happens in an addictive relationship (Kilbourne 27). The way an alcoholic relies on a drink for false fulfillment, the consumer relies on a product. Kilbourne explains, “Advertising, an enormously important part of our culture, contributes mightily to the climate of denial in which relationships flounder and addictions flourish. I will also argue that these two consequences are related: disconnection (loss, rejection, isolation, abuse) especially in early life, drives many people to addiction, which in turn makes authentic connection impossible” (Kilbourne 26). If consumers deny this addiction, then they continue to substitute products as coping skills and human connection. The earlier in life and more frequently it is denied, the more authentic connections consumers find with a product. Consumers must recognize an advertiser’s profit making goals and actively resist the temptation to contribute to materialism and conspicuous consumption.

Kilbourne asserts the “problem of addiction” cannot be resolved in a corrupted cultural environment (30). This environment is difficult to navigate. The advertising representations are made in a culture where corporations seek profit, not women’s liberation (Kilbourne 30). If a magazine advertisement depicts a woman as a sex slave, domestic goddess, or entrepreneur, the advertisement remains as the company’s attempt to increase profit. Companies can sell a lifestyle, but not a fulfilling one. Advertisers make false promises about products; consumers buy into the promises, and make false connections with the products and promises.

Kilbourne asks us to examine our personal actions and find a time where we have used a product to suppress unwanted emotion, or produce a desired feeling (28). Examining my own lifestyle and actions, I am embarrassed by my past, but consoled as well. My current relationship with the media makes me feel more empowered. Before I truly began examining my “relationship” with products, the attachment I had with brand names was disgusting. In the past, I had particular brand names I associated with myself. If I did not own or wear what I thought represented me, I felt selfless or as if something was missing. I still feel what you wear can help represent how you feel on a particular day, but I do not think it should tell the story of who you are. Color and pattern can help evoke a certain mood, but not explain my wonderful spiritual self. I do not have those selfless feelings as I grow older and more become self-aware, but I still have daily requirements.

The products I consume do not define my person, but they have become an addictive substitute. I am referring to cigarettes and a daily cup of Starbucks coffee. My addiction with cigarettes began at time when I lost the personal connections I once knew and felt comfortable with. Cigarettes became a connector between other smokers and myself as a common ground. I actually met one of my best friends smoking outside the dorms at my old college. The advertisements did not lure me in, but the product’s substitution for feeling lonely stuck with me. I am no longer lonely, but I am still smoking seven years later.

My second daily requirement, Starbucks coffee, holds the same status of being both a connector and repressor. I go to coffee shops to either study, connect with other people, or repress my feeling of being tired and dreading work while drinking coffee. However, I laugh at the products’ advertisements. Starbucks tells me I am doing something for conservation. They explain, “I’m doing my part,” “have been for tens years,” and I should be “proud of myself” (Figure 1). It’s actually posted on the bathroom wall. Honestly, the message made me feel good once, but then I consciously thought, “If I forget my own cup, I create trash and that is not very earth friendly. Also, Starbucks has only been open in this area for about three years, I started frequenting the shop about two years ago, and so doing my part for ten years is impossible.” Recognizing the connection between advertisements and their message is important. Products advertised can ultimately become addicting. Understanding the messages advertisers send is necessary, as they are profit-making ventures. Products cannot support emotional wellbeing.

Kilbourne, Jean. “Deadly Persuasion: Why Women and Girls Must Fight the Addictive Power of Advertising.” Introduction. A Girl of Many Parts: The Making of an Activist. New York: The Free Press. 1999. 17-32. Print.
MacDonald, Chris. You Are Starbucks. The Business Ethics Blog. Created 09 July 2009. Accessed 17 September 2009.