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Advertising: Impact on the Contemporary Society

Berger turns to the contemporary world, focusing on advertising, or “publicity pictures.” These pictures surround us more intensively than any image in history. “Clients do not always take in all of the commercials people see; designers pass them by, they pass us by” (Berger, 2012). Nevertheless, at least temporarily, every commercial client sees us want to purchase something. Clients accept this system’s existence as quickly as readers accept the climate, despite its paradoxes. For example, clients interact with commercials in the present, yet their content nearly always references the history or future. These paradoxes may be ignored since exposure is often rationalized as benefiting the public by educating customers and allowing them to express their choice and freedom fully.

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Berger disputes this concept of “freedom”: in a society that values publicity, individuals are free to purchase but unable not to buy. Advertisements continuously urge us to spend money by claiming that spending money would make us “enviable.” They use people’s jealousy to persuade us that clients will be attractive if clients acquire what they have. Because advertising cannot provide us with the actual pleasures of the product they are selling, they depend on theoretical future transactions that will provide us with a pleasure unrelated to reality. This pleasure might be characterized as the satisfaction of being coveted or glamorous, and it is significantly more metaphysical than the pleasure or use of a tangible object. “Advertising often cites or imitates oil paintings to convey cultural authority or wealth” (Berger p. 131). Cultural worth is supposed to be spiritual, apart from the ugliness of quantitative transactions, but riches define luxury.

Commercials and oil paintings have a deeper connection: they share a visual language that Berger brings to life by replicating oil paintings alongside ads. Similar symbols are used in both works: feminine sexuality, the seas, the exotic Mediterranean, romantic nature. As Berger points out, oil painting is ultimately a celebration of private ownership, making it the perfect forerunner to advertising photographs (Berger p.147). Because advertising can never deliver on its promises, it must offer a romanticized vision of the past. Its marketing visuals utilize prominent icons from art and history to provide legitimacy to its visions of elegance.

The objective of commercials is to make us unhappy enough to purchase something, which explains why the interiors of the wealthy are seldom shown to the public. Advertising feeds on people’s fear of being nothing if clients do not purchase something, supporting the concept that money is the foundation of all human ties. It promises a dazzling future, but it is never realized. Oil paintings may depict affluent, gorgeous, or adored characters, but they lack the current feeling of glamour that comes from being covered by others. Maybe they reified the power with their already affluent audience rather than connecting with the average person.

Advertisements make it appear as if the customer has access to the whole world, but they also flatten it, homogenizing it. In the future or past, it always creates an image of life without strife. The story of an ad is substituted with people’s idea of how clients will feel when clients ultimately possess the object (Berger p.152). This explains why commercials adjacent to significant or serious news articles seem so odd: the world is packed with occurrences that ads are necessarily absent.

With all of these considerations in mind, advertising’s power and impact become abundantly clear: all people’s wants, desires, and social relationships become secondary to its ability to induce consumption. All hopes are collected and homogenized, condensed so that they may be catered to by an advertisement’s manipulation of people’s imagination. This is capitalism’s logic: the only possible satisfaction is indeed the satisfaction of consumers. The chapter uses figurative language to communicate and show the effects that advertising has on contemporary society.


Berger, J. (2012). Ways of seeing. British Broadcasting Corp.

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