Are You Sold? Explore the Hidden Costs & Influences of Ads

Many of us think that we’re not that influenced by ads. We’ve developed our brand loyalty over the years due to in-depth research, careful study and solid choices of the best types of products that meet our needs, right? Um, yeah, sure.

Try these two little quizzes. The first one doesn’t even show you the logo; it just describes it in a couple of words. Can you name the company the logo belongs to? (Note: answers are in the 1st comment.)

A. Swoosh
B. Dripping coffee cup
C. Peacock
D. Golden arches
E. Big red spoon
F. Fruit w/ bite taken out
G. Mountain w/ stars above peak
H. Giraffe head
I. Silhouette rabbit’s head w/ bowtie
J. Red roof w/ name of company below

What about these taglines. How many can you name? Some of these are decades old. (Answers are in the 1st comment.)

1. The happiest place on earth.
2. Must see TV.
3. I’m lovin’ it.
4. Takes a licking and keeps on ticking.
5. Where’s the beef?
6. So easy, even a caveman could do it.
7. What’s in your wallet?
8. Just do it.
9. A diamond is forever.
10. Finger-lickin’ good.

How many of these companies could you identify? How many of these companies do you actually purchase products or services from? Even if you had trouble with some of these, I’m sure there are plenty that you could list. How many people can list whole slew of TV characters or company logos or taglines, but can’t tell you what continent Iraq is on or who the U.S. Secretary of State is, for example?

The point isn’t to make anyone feel embarrassed; it’s to point out how ubiquitous marketing and advertising are in our lives, and how susceptible we can be to their messages, without even knowing it. Our culture inundates us with marketing and advertising every day; almost every where we look, someone is telling us we won’t be happy or successful or sexy or worthy unless we buy what they have to offer.

But, not only do we often neglect to pay attention to advertising’s impact on us and our habits, but we also often don’t consider the hidden messages, suffering, oppression and exploitation that are inherent in many ads and their products and services.

Whether you’re a parent, teacher, advocate or concerned citizen, here’s a little activity you can do yourself (or with your kids, friends, family, students, workmates, etc.) to help analyze ads.

Take one or more (age-appropriate) ads, and ask these questions:

a) What product or service is the ad selling?
b) What deep need or desire is the ad appealing to? (i.e., Does the ad appeal to your desire to have love, happiness, wealth, beauty, friendship, security, etc.?)
c) Who is the intended audience, and what do you suppose their reaction to the ad might be?
d) Who is excluded by the ad? (i.e., what classes, races, body types, gender, etc.)?
e) What suffering, exploitation, or destruction is hidden from view? (In other words, what suffering to people or animals does the production of the product or the generation of the service lead to and/or what destruction to the environment does the product or service cause?)
f) How does the ad affect your personal desires, self image, beliefs, and consumer choices?
g) What would life be like without the product or service that the ad is selling?

Here’s an example that I used in my presentation at the peace and justice conference last weekend (this activity is from IHE).

Here’s the ad. Below are the questions and potential responses. (In case you can’t read the ad text, it says: “Need to lose a little weight before your wedding?”

a) What product or service is the ad selling?

Slim Fast

b) What deep need or desire is the ad appealing to? (i.e., does the ad appeal to your desire to have love, happiness, wealth, beauty, friendship, security, etc.?)

Acceptance, to be loved, to feel good about self, to be thin & fit, to be happy, to get a man.

c) Who is the intended audience, and what do you suppose their reaction to the ad might be?

Women, especially brides-to-be, especially brides-to-be with body image issues. It might also be (to a lesser degree) for men who have certain expectations about women’s body types.

d) Who is excluded by the ad? (i.e., what classes, races, body types, etc.)?

Men, people of color, people who are gay, people without a lot of money.

e) What suffering, exploitation, or destruction is hidden from view? (In other words, what suffering to people or animals does the production of the product or the generation of the service lead to and/or what destruction to the environment does the product or service cause?)

Examples:

Three primary ingredients in the product are:

  • milk = hides the suffering of dairy cows and veal calves, as well as the environmental impact of raising cattle; hides the discomfort of those who are lactose intolerant
  • sugar = hides the habitat destruction inherent with sugar plantations, as well as the frequent worker mistreatment
  • cocoa = hides the connection of chocolate to slave labor/child labor
  • aluminum can = hides the destruction of the environment that comes with bauxite mining, as well as the toxins from the chemicals/dyes used to make the can’s label
  • Unilever = the product is made by Unilever; Unilever also owns Dove (see info about the impacts of palm oil), as well as Axe body spray (well-know for its sexist commercials).

f) How does the ad affect your personal desires, self image, beliefs, and consumer choices?

Self-esteem, need this product to be healthy, thin and loved.

g) What would life be like without the product or service that the ad is selling?

Fine. It’s really unnecessary to my life.

Try it yourself with some of the ads you see. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you become aware of all the messages surrounding you and your family.

~ Marsha

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