Sample Essay: To what extent do advertisements reflect what society desires?

To what extent do advertisements reflect what society desires? – Jolyne 1T37, 2012

 In a highly competitive economic environment where advertising is used to ensure the survival of a brand, it is no wonder that product advertisements have to reflect societal wants in order to be differentiated. Advertisements aim to enhance sales of products being advertised by enhancing the image of the products to increase consumer awareness, interest and make an impact in society. Successful advertisements will stimulate or arouse the human appetite for a given object of attention to buy and encourage feelings of being deprived if having to do without. To achieve this purpose, advertisements have to target consumers by presenting products in a way that appeals to consumer’s desires so as to create the desire for the product. Hence, advertisements do reflect what society desires to a great extent. However, advertisements also create new desires in consumers and they can do so while reflecting what society desires to get initial attention.

Advertisements heavily reflect what society desires because it plays on human desires to market their product. By reflecting what the product’s target audience really want in advertisements, the advertised good will be seen to meet certain needs and desires. This will in turn arouse the drive to buy. Sporting goods often appeal to our desire to be better versions of ourselves, jewelry advertisements appeal to women’s desire for a Cinderella story and even men today are not spared from such emotional appeals. One example of a wildly successful advertisement that reflected men in society’s desire to be masculine is the portrayal of the rugged, manly Malboro Man in Malboro’s filtered cigarette advertisements. Many other tobacco companies did risk-reduction advertisements for their filtered cigarettes where the advertisements focused on the lower health impacts brought about by smoking filtered cigarettes compared to unfiltered ones but it did not result in a significant increase in demand for them as unfiltered cigarettes were viewed as feminine. On the other hand, Malboro did not focus on the health reductions at all and instead focused on the masculinity of smoking its cigarettes by associating it with masculine occupations. The advertisements featured men in occupations such as cowboys, sailors and soldiers smoking Malboro cigarettes and these were were extremely effective. Sales of Malboro unfiltered cigarettes shot through the roof as the advertisements greatly appealed to men’s desire for masculinity in an increasingly feminized world. This shows that advertisements reflect society desires because this is precisely what is needed to generate desire for buying a product.

Some claim that advertisements, in actual fact, seek to generate new desires within a consumer and do not reflect societal desires. This is especially so with advertisements that aim to appeal to a new segment in the market or introduce a new brand or product. Advertisements generate desire in the products featured by giving the potential buyer a sense of lack, or by associating the product with positive attributes. They do so by showing celebrities using or wearing the product, giving it a “halo” effect by showing attractive models with the product. An example of advertisements  that do not necessarily reflect society desires but generate new wants, is advertisements for life insurance. Most young adults do not think about death so they naturally do not think about the need to be insured. Life insurance companies have managed to create a need for life insurance with advertising that show pictures of children and playing on fear, ask, “If anything happens to you, who will pay for the children’s upkeep?” The advertisement aims to create in the potential buyer a new desire, indeed a new worry about life that can once again be solved by the portrayed solution.

Even if it may seem that ads create new desires, the view fails to consider that ads must first reflect societal wants to even begin appealing to the consumer. It is thus untrue that these advertisements are totally divorced from societal wants. In a fast paced, visually saturated world, it is imperative that ads must connect and resonate with the reader or viewer in order to avoid being crowded out. Advertisements attract attention and interest in the product in the first place through an existing desire and use that to develop desire in the advertised product when consumers see it as the only thing that can quench their desire. Hence, advertisements have to first reflect societal wants in order to create a reinforcing effect on potential buyers and sell products; by reminding consumers of their wants and attracting their attention. After creating awareness of the existing desire, advertisements will then show how the product fit into society and satisfy the desire through familiar and attractive images. For example, Nike’s “Just Do it” ads for sport shoes appeals to consumers’ desires for self-betterment. The logo “Just Do it” reflects society desires for achievement and success which is very much the eths of society today and the sport shoes advertised generates desires for the advertised product itself when consumers associate the realization of personal achievements with the Nike sport shoes.

Advertisements can also be said to reflect societal tastes, beliefs and norms as seen by the constantly evolving messages and images being created for the same product with the constant change in beliefs, norms and tastes. In view of this, it is imperative that advertisements have to reflect societal tastes, as there is a need to stay relevant to fickle viewers of today and to avoid a disjoint between what is seen and what is reality. For example, Coca Cola was advertised in the sixties and early seventies as a family beverage, with the drink served on dinner tables. Today, Coca Cola is predominantly advertised as a youth beverage with teenagers engaging in popular sports while having a Coke.  The change in the way Coca Cola is advertised through the years is thus an indicator of societal norms, seen in its shift from the focus on familial ties to the focus on youth culture today.

In conclusion, advertisements do reflect what society desires to a large extent due to the need to appeal and resonate with the consumer to sell products. Yet, it also has to reflect the tastes, beliefs and mindset of today’s society to keep up with its ever changing face to stay relevant and keep the tills ringing.


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