Nowadays, the media often presents idealized images of life in America, which may make the viewers feel inadequate and underachieving. As one of the marketing institutions, advertising is compelling in this regard. In an attempt to sell a product or a service, it shows the consumers how their lives could be improved if only they incorporated a particular brand in their lifestyle. It seems that both upward and downward comparisons are possible as consumers grow aware of their position in the hierarchy. The question arises as to how consumers can mitigate the negative impact of advertising and become more content with their lives. This paper explains why focusing on family, and interpersonal relationships might be the best way to handle dissatisfaction.
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Idealized Images Leading to Dissatisfaction
Individuals often feel intense unhappiness and dissatisfaction with their own lives as they observe idealized images used in the media and advertisements. Richins states that this phenomenon occurs for at least a few underlying reasons (594). First and foremost, advertisements do not depict real life in all its diversity. It is hard to find an ad that shows a house that is not upscale, elegantly furnished, and not precisely accessible by the middle class. Another example is the appearance of the models – both men and women represent a small segment of humankind. Not only are they “professionally” beautiful and picked for their genetic makeup, but they also work with stylists, photographers, and videographers to make the right impression on the viewer.
Post-production specialists make sure that advertisements appeal to the viewer and all flaws are edited out to keep everything picture-perfect. Aside from that, the media purposely avoids showing the ugly, unpleasant, and challenging parts of life. It is hard to believe that a stunning model promoting a hair product can ever have a bad hair day. Similarly, a smiling, happy family eating cereal for breakfast cannot have fights and conflicts. It is easy to see how these materials can create a striking difference between the imaginary world of advertising and the viewers’ “boring” life.
Another reason why people may experience feelings of sadness after watching media materials is that they are literally manipulated into feeling this way. The job of a good marketing specialist is to create a need in the consumer, especially when it comes to products that do not fit the definition of a bare necessity. A consumer that is happy with their life will not be seeking out new products and services and, therefore, will not make a producing company any profit. Advertisements set artificial goals for the viewers and make their lives pale in comparison to the perfect world in which professional actors and models live.
Evidently, an average person may not be aware of what is happening behind the scenes. For example, he or she may not be knowledgeable of a wide range of technologies that are used to make a beautiful advertisement. According to Richins, marketing specialists try to engage as many sensory receptors as possible (598). Firstly, they create a visually appealing picture, for which they are ready to go to any length. Food is manipulated with chemical compounds, lighting, and composition to look more appetizing. Clothes are often tailored to fit the models – something that a regular person will not get to enjoy and because of which they might have body image issues.
Secondly, the right sound is added – the soundtrack prompts the viewer to make an emotional connection with the false reality of an ad. As a result, the viewer contemplates a realistic but much better world than the one they believe in and feel utmost dissatisfaction with their current lifestyle.
Considering what has been said, one may assume that advertisements have a detrimental effect on all the viewers. However, as Richins states, it is not valid: human reactions to idealized images vary greatly (600). The author explains that the association a person draws between the viewed material and their own life is more complex than expected. It is easy to oversimplify the process of persuasion that is realized through marketing tools and strategies. Basically, when viewing an advertisement, a person receives an intricate, multilayered message. It is only reasonable to expect a complex response to a complex stimulus. This is precisely the reason why some people are more malleable, and others are more resistant to the power of advertising.
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To understand why people react differently, it is essential to become familiar with the mechanism that lies in the foundation of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Comparison is defined as a process when a person finds similarities and differences between two comparable objects and makes a value-based judgment. Comparing things is not the only natural: it is inevitable. People live in a society where they have to moderate their goals and aspirations to fit the norm, whatever it may be.
Every person fears rejection and ostracism to a certain extent, which is why people use images from the outside world to navigate society and change their behavior. In this process, they may discover that in some aspects, they are better than others, and in other elements, not so much. This proves that comparison goes in both directions – it can be reassuring (downward comparison – others are worse than me) and depreciating (upward comparison – others are better than me).
Indeed, a person can try to reduce the discrepancy between them and the ideal world propagated by the media. Yet, it is easy to see how it can make a person race and compete relentlessly to reach the goals that were not even their own, to begin with. Marsha argues that there are healthier ways to deal with pressure. Firstly, an individual might want to be more reflective and set their own criteria of quality life. For example, if he or she knows that they do not need a car with their current lifestyle, luxury vehicles from advertisements will not make them lose their sleep.
Another way to handle the feelings of dissatisfaction is through complete rejection of the ideals perpetuated by advertisements. This requires a realization that actors and models do not live their best life and the promoted products and services are not the end-all-be-all of happiness. One way to go about it is to be more realistic about one’s own life and become aware of its definite perks such as personal accomplishments, loyal friends, and loving family.
Interpersonal Relationships as a Cure for Discontent
One thing that needs to be understood with regard to image processing is that it relies on the individual value system of every viewer. Richins explains that for an image to be taken seriously, it needs to be relevant to consumers (599). The researcher shows that there are several zones corresponding to customers’ reactions to an image: rejection, acceptance, and non-commitment. The first two depict improbable life events and outcomes and life circumstances similar to those of the viewer, therefore, not deriving any particular reaction. Non-commitment advertisements, on the other hand, are in line with the consumer’s priorities and demonstrate a slightly better version of their life.
Considering the aforementioned theoretical ideas, it is possible to put forward at least two hypotheses. Firstly, viewers might want to revise their priorities and decide for themselves what they see as valuable in life. The more self-awareness they have, the easier it is going to be for them to resist distorted media images. Shifting attention to family and friends might do just that. Loved ones may play a significant role in supporting a person when he or she feels down.
For example, a person might feel discontent about the state of their life after being exposed to airbrushed, perfect media images. In this case, family and friends will help him, or she realize that the life he or she is leading now has its own share of happy moments and downsides. Besides, through human interaction, one may learn that there are two sides to each person: the one they show to the world and the one that they keep concealed. This realization might help them see actors and models as ordinary people with ordinary problems. As a result, in conversations with close people, one may realize their own strengths and virtues.
The second hypothesis is that people might feel more content if they are exposed to realistic advertisements depicting family values; those might be subsidized by the government. At present, some brands decide to be more personal with the viewer and bridge the gap between the imaginary and natural world. They show touching and motivating moments with family and friends, to which every viewer can relate. Arguably, supporting the new kind of advertisement might be helpful in handling self-image issues in people.
The American people are notorious for their attachment to material belongings and persistent desire for more. Indeed, search for pleasure and the urge to make one’s own life better are all-natural human tendencies. However, what often drives humans to excel, gain recognition, and accumulate wealth is comparison, competition, and envy for others. A common phenomenon in today’s world is a feeling of dissatisfaction because of the idealized images that the media feeds the viewer.
Consumers realize an apparent discrepancy between their life and the dream world created by advertisers. As a result, they make an upward comparison and feel inadequate about themselves. It is argued that one way to handle consumer discontent is to help them change their priorities regarding their life and self-image. Probably, one of the best decisions one can make is to pay more attention to their loved ones and seek their support. The government can make a contribution by subsidizing social advertisements promoting family values.
Richins, Marsha L. “Social Comparison, Advertising, and Consumer Discontent.” American Behavioral Scientist, vol. 38, no. 4, 1995, pp. 593-607.