In today’s nation, it’s almost difficult to ignore the plethora of compelling ads and ads that pervade our modern culture. Commercials have been so ingrained in the American societal structure, from advertisements to magazines and even news stations, that it is impossible to tell whether they affect society or the other way around. The question of how much influence advertising has on American values, especially those that use mass-mediated photographs, is often contentious, with numerous opposing viewpoints. What is undeniable, though, is that advertising is at the forefront of all commercials. Commercial media, through the mass-mediated images it employs, sells not only goods and services but also dreams, perceptions, illusions, and a false consumer ideology.
The prevailing perception of the American culture is that it is individualistic and consumerist with socialization via the media playing a fundamental role in the socialization of this culture. The only media supported by advertisers in the USA is that which advocates for consumption (Croteau & Hoynes, 2013, p. 69). Advertisers regularly inspire consumers to keep up with their purchasing since this increases their profits. In the process, advertisers elevate the values of consumption and wealth acquisition to lofty standards thus ensuring they are the benchmark that everyone seeks to attain (Croteau & Hoynes, 2013, p. 179). This messaging influences the transformation of the American society into one that hinges on consumer-capitalism with a false belief derived from the ads that it is possible to buy happiness (Croteau & Hoynes, 2013, p. 179). However, since this is untrue, a deceptive and ultimately harmful consumer ideology that glorifies materialism arises.
According to Schiller, the images that we view as consumers usually go on to become the foundation on which we base our everyday decisions and thus determine our behavioral patterns (Argusfest, 2012, 01:16-01:44). The images even define our perceptions of the world and our relationships with our loved ones. The influence exerted by these pictures thus ultimately ends up distorting our perceptions and with them our worldview. For example, the glorification of hedonism peddled by the photos in those advertisements advocates a worldview that sacrifices collective values and instead insists on individualism and private life (Croteau & Hoynes, 2013, p. 179). Thus, our perception of what matters we should prioritize ends up being clouded, which in turn, leads to the emergence of a new consumer culture that places the pursuit of individual interests ahead of the collective good.
Another thing sold to us by the mass media through the images that permeate the advertisements we see is illusions of perfection. Bill Moyers posits how photo retouchers located at Hy Zazula’s studio carefully retouch photos to ensure that they fit in with the mass-media created idea of perfection (Argusfest, 2012, 06:44). The eye bags and the wrinkles on the model’s neck are all eliminated before the ad appears for public consumption in the Revlon (Argusfest, 2012, 06:57-07:00). However, we as the consumers are oblivious of the behind-the-scenes editing that takes place, and hence we perceive this illusion to be the truth. The manipulation of reality inherent in these actions is, according to Stuart Ewen, a form of a persuasion strategy to get the consumers to buy into the advertiser’s story and thus boost consumerism (Argusfest, 2012, 10:35-10:40). For example, women will go out in and spend significantly on the items being marketed using the Revlon Model’s retouched pictures in the belief that they too are capable of achieving this. However, they ultimately end up hollow and disappointed because they fell victim to cleverly crafted ideas that successfully provoke the intended reactions.
According to Mark Miller, the consumers are not provided with an opportunity to scrutinize these images because they only flash before their eyes (Argusfest, 2012, 00:50-00:59). However, during this flashing, a lasting impression has already been imprinted on the consumers’ minds. Neil Postman explores this concept even further detailing how nobody bothers to interrogate whether the young father and his daughter who are seemingly enjoying eating their McDonald’s cheeseburger are really happy (Argusfest, 2012, 05:28-05:40). Nobody questions whether there is any truth to what has been expressed in that image. The effect of this lack of scrutiny, which if adequately conducted would help to expose the deception underlying the photos, is that it exacerbates the situation and leads to the consumers actively pursuing unattainable ideals.
As Rochel Udel mentions, women increasingly look towards the magazines for templates that they can use to reinvent themselves and engage in the recreation of their images (Argusfest, 2012, 22:10-22:24). The women look to these magazines because of the erosion of their roles and the substitution with the images that dictate the appearance of perfection. Even in the advice columns of these publications, there are routine suggestions of which makeup brands to use, which when combined with the images on the magazine covers is a hint that the use of those products will result in that outcome (Croteau & Hoynes, 2013, p. 182). However, in doing this, the mass media is deliberately peddling an illusionary reality because they know attaining the standards of the edited images is unrealistic. The unfortunate consumers who are unaware of this truth then end up being caught up in an endless cycle of purchasing products without any tangible results, which serves to promote the primary goal of advertising, which is the creation of a consumer culture.
Dreams are another item that commercial media sells to the gullible consumers through the advertising images. The globalization of the American media culture through Hollywood films and television programming means that a global audience consumes the ads and their accompanying photos (Croteau & Hoynes, 2013, p. 182). Thus, these images end up creating a frame of reference through which the consumers define the USA. America appears to be some sort of dreamland whereby it is possible to buy anything one desires (Croteau & Hoynes, 2013, p. 183). This dream lifestyle ends up exerting an influence on young adults and teenagers worldwide who want to live out the make-believe life they see on screen. However, this is detrimental to them because it amounts to living a lie, and it creates a hollow culture founded on the quicksand of media-created dreams.
Conclusively, it is evident that the mass media has a pervasive and global influence on consumer perception and behavior and this is attributable to the images employed in the advertisements. Advertisements exist everywhere from magazines to televisions and even posters, which renders them an integral and unavoidable part of our lives. Whereas the primary purpose of these advertisements and their accompanying images is the promotion of consumer culture, the ads end up selling other things such as dreams and illusions, perception, and deceptive ideologies.
Argusfest. (2012, July 26). Consuming Images (Bill Moyers documentary from 1990 about the public mind and the media culture) [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Rso4QX_VEI&t=29s
Croteau, D. R., & Hoynes, W. D. (2013). Media: Industries, Images, and Audiences. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.