and when does Advertising become part of a cultural moment?
can be defined as the sum total of learned beliefs, values and customs
that serve to direct the behavior of members of a particular society.
Advertising, and more importantly great advertising, captures and defines
the cultural moment when it:
Uses shared experiences
"We are more like
our times than we are like our parents." It is well known that people
born over a short and contiguous time period are bound together by their
shared experiences during their 'coming-of-age.' These generational cohorts
form attitudes towards products, music, money, sex etc. in their formative
years and these core values are carried through life largely unchanged.
(Meredith & Schewe, 1994).
When advertising is able to target these cohorts through their shared
experiences it becomes as much a part of their culture. Generation X has
been largely brought up on colas due to large scale commercialism by companies
during their times using their music (rap, grunge, retro) and their experiences
(proms, coming-out-parties). Even as they age, cola drinking will remain
a part of their choices and cola advertising will be as ingrained a part
of their culture as it is today, if it is still done right.
Uses shared Symbols
Both culture and advertising
are symbolic domains, and we attach meanings to these symbols. When advertising
uses powerful symbols from popular culture that holds positive meanings
for us, the ads and the products they sell become as much a part of our
culture as these symbols. The legendary Nike and Michael Jordan campaign
is a case in point. Nike share rose from 18% to 43% in just a decade and
the commercials became a part of our list of most memorable ads. Michael
Jordan was not only the most recognizable athlete in the world but also
a hero to the young boys. He stood for the age old American values of
achievement and success. Michael Jordan & Nike achieved what in ad
parlance is known as STT or " spontaneous trait transference"
from the endorser to the product and in the process Nike Ads defined the
cultural moment. Thanks to the powerful symbolism of Air Jordan.
Becomes the Lingua
While advertising and
culture both share common language and meanings, there are times when
it becomes the language and the meaning. It becomes the lingua franca
for large segments of the society. "Whassup" from the Budweiser
commercials is as much a part of our daily parlance as any of the learned
greetings that we acquired as part of our enculturation. And so are other
popular slogans like "Do the Dew", "Just Do it" and
Advertising's power transcends boundaries and language barriers where
it becomes a 'visual lingua franca.' Nike, Coca-Cola, Harley Davidson
all form a world of symbols shared with the international youth culture.
Consumerism helped largely by advertising is tying the youth around the
world through a common appeal.
Defines new rituals
& cultural roles
When advertising ads
more meaning to our lives through adding customs and rituals it stays
in our minds 'forever' and becomes an inseparable part of our lives. The
De Beers "Diamonds are Forever" was not just an advertising
campaign; it redefined the whole courtship and marriage ritual in America.
Diamonds were just treated as an investment commodity and men gave everything
from minks to automobiles, anything except for diamonds to express love.
De Beers through their mushy, well targeted campaigns using poetic copy
and classical music added more meaning to the values of love and commitment
and a diamond engagement ring became a must for every American bride-to-be.
In fact in Japan where there are no elaborate wedding rituals, except
for drinking rice wine from a wooden bowl, as many as 80% brides are wearing
diamond engagement rings today (Twitchell, 2000).
Becomes a reflection
of the individual
To understand advertising
and culture, we not only need to study people and their environment but
also people and their relationship with the products. To quote from the
book titled 'The meaning of things"-Man is not only homo sapiens
or homo ludens, he is also homo faber, the maker and user of objects,
his self to a large extent is a reflection of things with which he interacts.
(Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton, 1981). Advertising thus is dealing
with a fundamental aspect of human behavior, and integrating the consumer
within a rich web of social status and symbolic meaning. Consider the
relationship between a Harley possessor and his bike. It stands for everything
that the owner does: freedom, individualism, pride of possession and much
more. The individual reflection with a Harley becomes a mass expression
with H.O.G. (Harley owner's group) and an entire group of people is ready
to be identified through its association with a product.
All these processes do not work in isolation though, while a celebrity
endorser can transfer certain relatable values to the product, similar
values can be associated directly with the product through image advertising
(like Harley-Davidson) and still be an ingrained part of our culture.
One can only add that advertising has not only becomes a part of culture
through different ways; it is barely distinguishable from culture today.
Meredith, G. and Schewe,
C. (1994). The Power of Cohorts. American Demographics. December: 22-31.
Twitchell, J.B. (2000).
20 Ads that shook the World. New York. Crown Publishers.
The Book of Gossage.
(1995) Chicago. The Copy Workshop.