With today’s unprecedented growth of consumerism as a common lifestyle, advertisement has moved far beyond its initial definitions. According to scholars, the very idea of advertising appeared centuries ago with the rapid development of goods exchange where the proposal for the product must have been convincing enough to sell it for a certain price (Mendelová, 2018). Gradually, such a perception extended to the states with feudalistic relations between residents, making it crucial to represent the product most attractively. However, the absolute leader or even legend in terms of advertising culture has always been the US. According to the researchers, American history throughout the years has been focused on commerce relationships within the state to develop the patterns of capitalism and outside the country to achieve a certain reputation in terms of foreign affairs (Mendelová, 2018). Bearing in mind these ambitions, the US has become one of the most dissonant states in the context of social relations.
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According to the historical data, the history of American advertisement in such an environment could be marked by the four major developmental stages:
- Origins, industrialization, and development;
- Professionalization, consolidation, and redemption;
- Manipulation, creativity, and organization;
- Digital advertising, algorithms, and “dataveillance” (Mendelová, 2018, p. 6).
Such a division of advertisement development is quite closely related to the social development patterns within the state that somehow gave the culture of advertisement a particular form (Solomon, 1988). If to take a closer look at the modern patterns of advertisement worldwide, it becomes clear that the vast majority of visual content is nowadays aimed at creating an image of equity and universal respect. However, how such an impression is created are far from being equal, as they are specifically tailored for each segment of a divided society. Hence, while seemingly bearing the same semantic load, each advertisement conveys the information in drastically different ways.
In order to examine this phenomenon more closely, the advertisement for “Action against Hunger” will be considered through the prism of its recipients’ social and individualistic peculiarities. When looking at the visual ad for the very first time, it becomes clear that the major target audience for such a call for help includes people who are:
- Actively interested in charity and communication with non-profit organizations;
- Aged 20 and older, implying a relatively stable income rate and autonomy in the decision-making process;
- Empathetic to other people who find themselves trapped in poverty or disease.
For an advertisement to achieve success among the target audience, it is of crucial importance to appeal to some strong human emotions in order to plant the ad’s idea into their mind. It is also necessary to examine the environment at the time of ad launching so that the message could potentially resonate with the emotional triggers common for the audience. When observing the following advertisement, it is absolutely clear that the call for action is aimed at helping people who suffer from hunger. However, while hunger has always been a major issue for a considerable number of the world population, the current precedent to its rapid development, COVID-19, has become a tool to draw the recipient’s attention. Specific emphasis should be paid to the word “pandemic” used in the movement’s hashtag. This lexeme currently bears an explicitly negative connotation in the minds of the world citizens, thus triggering an even higher emotional response to the message.
Another explicit impact of the following visual content could be noticed when paying close attention to the text’s background. The empty racks have nowadays become not only the symbol of hunger but also the reference to the worldwide panic due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This panic, being the most significant herald of the world crisis, can be considered a “monster,” that serves as an embodiment of the people’s fear and uncertainty (Cohen, 1996). In a way, this depiction of emptiness has become the visualization of these monstrous thoughts that drive people through the time.
Hence, from these assumptions, it might be estimated that while having a truly altruistic intention, the following advertisement works under manipulation principles. This implicit intention can be explained through the prism of cultural peculiarities. Developed nations like the US are subconsciously taught the fundamentals of supremacy over other states, while the competition is also encouraged between the state residents. While it seems at first that the advertisement should resonate with a pure desire to help others and make this world a better place, many people respond to this statement with their inner monster. This monster, shaped by culture and surroundings, makes people do good things out of a desire to feed their ego and enjoy their ability to be better than someone else. Such a perception of altruism has become one of the major flaws that destroy today’s society while appealing to one’s inner savage, leaving a few people to pursue their good intentions. In fact, it might even be assumed that advertisement aimed at promoting goods and services, also manages to encourage the evil it evokes in people.
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The following conclusions potentially lead to the genesis of a discussion mentioned at the beginning of the essay. While the advertisement is generally perceived as a means of persuasion people, no one pays proper attention to its representation in the communication between fellow humans. When building a relationship between people, individuals tend to create a visual image that resonates with the feelings of others in order to hide the true intentions of this communication. Such a process somehow engages people in a play they are aware of in advance. Just like the empty racks on the aforementioned advertisement, during the conversation, people refer to the monsters that bother others to provoke a certain reaction. Hence, while people perceive advertisement as a cruel deception that manipulates one’s feelings, it is human relations that served as a prime example to the manipulation of a kind. Some might even assume that once people realize this fact, the “monstrous” will be a universal issue no more.
Taking into consideration some general information on the art of advertising and practically philosophical works of J. J. Cohen and J. Solomon, it becomes clear that the slightest example of an ad is a superficial representation of culture. While creating a solid first impression, the advertisement is built upon several layers of reality perception and humanly biased precedents. However, the vast majority of people still refuse to accept the fact that they cannot exist without their monsters who appear at certain times to allow others to look at their feelings from a different perspective. Hence, the world of communication and social exchange will be replete with manipulation and cruelty as long as people do not accept their second nature.
Cohen, J. J. (1996). Monster culture (seven theses). University of Minnesota Press.
Mendelová, D. (2018). The birth of American advertising. Communication Today, 9(2), 4-19.
Solomon, J. (1988). Masters of desire: The culture of American advertising. The Putnam Publishing Group.