Beware of Advertising This Holiday Season

Its that time of year again, the most wonderful time of the year to be exact. Who doesn’t love the holiday season? Houses are decorated with lights, bellies are full of cookies and eggnog, and the streets are covered in snow. As consumers, we flock to plazas, malls, and department stores to buy gifts for our loved ones. Along the way, on billboards, on the radio in our cars, in the stores, and with modern technology on the Internet, television, and our phones, we cannot escape the influences of holiday advertisements. A study conducted by Walter-Smith found that the average American is exposed to as many as 5,000 ads per day. That number is greatly elevated when you include the increase of advertisements published during the holiday season.

Since we are exposed to such a large number of ads, it is important that we are aware of all of their effects, several of which are detrimental. The main purpose of advertisements is to speed up the production and consumption circuit model; therefore, they seek to shape a consumer’s ideas about what they need and want. They create a market for a product by tricking the consumer into thinking they absolutely must have an item, or they won’t be accepted.

In other words, advertisements form a symbolic complex for their product, as explained by Walter Percy, the author of “The Loss of Creature.” They show the consumer the ideal result that he would experience from purchasing a given product. This registers in the consumer’s mind and after purchasing the product, if it does not produce the same result as was advertised, “he will only be conscious of the disparity between what it is and what it is supposed to be.” This can be very dangerous to society. With the help of technological advancements, advertisements in this day and age are greatly doctored and edited. In many cases, it is impossible for the consumer to have the same experience with a product as advertised. When the reality does not match the ideal, the consumer is dissatisfied. In turn, this dissatisfaction leaves the consumer vulnerable to the influences more advertisements, and the cycle continues.

This cycle is the disease our society suffers, known as consumerism. In the dictionary, consumerism is defined as “a modern movement for the protection of the consumer against useless, inferior, or dangerous products, misleading advertising, unfair pricing, etc.” However, I disagree. I feel as though we are threatened, not protected from the side effects of consumerism, advertising being one of them. We need to become aware, especially this holiday season, that as mere consumers, we are disinherited. We are deprived of our title over being. Our only rights are the rights of the consumer, where we are expected to blindly accept the claims made by advertisements. Advertisements make us slaves to the symbolic complex.

I invite you to take a look at those holiday magazines you were sent, the ones with lots of pictures of little kids playing with the season’s hottest toys. Children are greatly subjected to the negative effects of advertisements. Advertisements often greatly exaggerate the quality of their product. If the child who receives the toy is not having as much fun as the little kid they saw in the countless toy magazines he searched through, he too is subject to dissatisfaction. If the child’s real experience does not meet the ideal he has created in his head since seeing the advertisement, he will not have a very happy holiday at all.

Therefore, please be careful this holiday season and be aware of which advertisements your daughter is exposed to. Studies of the popular toy, the Barbie doll, have shown similar effects on girls as the advertisements of the weight loss, clothing, and cosmetic industries have on women. Barbie was introduced by Mattel in 1959 and has remained popular still today. So popular in fact that one Barbie doll is sold every two seconds worldwide. Barbie herself is seen as the platonic ideal of what a teenage girl should be. She is clean, slender, well-dressed, well-groomed, has money to spend, has social status, has great hair, and is sexy but doesn’t have sex. Barbie teaches little girls how to be successful in the world of femininity, because she is advertised as the quintessential, perfect, American teenager. However, many girls forget that Barbie is fake. In reality, she would be disproportional, anorexic, and unable to bear children. Her lifestyle, for many, is unattainable. It is unfair, to our children especially, that we are subjected to the advertisements and negative influences of Barbie when they will only induce a sense of failure when we cannot reach an equal level of perfection?

Next, open up the higher end, department store magazines; the ones with beautiful women and strong men, posing behind little bottles of perfume or next to cars. Although both men and women are objectified in advertisements, unfortunately, women and girls are more subject to the negative influences of advertisements than men. Weight loss, clothing, and cosmetic industries create what is known as “the beauty myth” which is the equivalent of the symbolic complex of the ideal woman. All of the models in these industries’ advertisements are thin, beautiful, and have the ideal features that all women should strive to obtain. In a film called Killing Us Softly, many of these advertisements are exposed. Advertisements showcasing these “ideal women” often undergo five to six rounds of photo shop before they are published. It is physically impossible for a real woman to look like the advertisement. This disparity creates a huge dissatisfaction among women and girls, described by some as “a dark vein of self hatred, physical obsessions, terror of aging, and dread of lost control.” The “beauty-myth” leads to an increase in destructive habits, eating disorders, and even suicide.

Suicide rates peak just after the holiday season because peoples’ experiences fall short of standards, which is considered the first step or the first symptom of a suicidal mind. Advertisements are the main source of creating such high standards. These “idealistic conditions actually heighten suicide risk because they often create unreasonable standards for personal happiness, thereby rendering people more emotionally fragile in response to unexpected setbacks.” I completely agree with Psychologist Roy Baumeister of Florida State University in his argument that “it is apparently the size of the discrepancy between standards and perceived reality that is crucial for initiating the suicidal process.”

Although advertisements are necessary to our culture of consumerism and a significant aspect of our society, I believe that as individuals, we need to regain our sovereignty over their influences and break the cycle of comparing the symbolic complex to reality only to become dissatisfied. When there is no comparison, expectations, or measuring up, there is no let down and certainly no consequences as significant as suicide. Advertisements should serve to simply inform the consumer about a given product, not to exaggerate the quality or service the product would provide. Also, we should be able to choose when and where we want to view ads, not constantly be bombarded by their influences. Perhaps by simply gaining awareness as consumers that we will never be able to match the symbolic complex created by advertisements, we can appreciate a product or an experience for what it is rather than what it is advertised to be. We should seek to extract the real thing from the package, rather than fixating on the package itself, and ultimately we will find satisfaction.


Click to access Measuring%20Up%20to%20Barbie%281%29.pdf

Peoples and Cultures, Prof. Carie Hersh, Lecture Notes
Walker Percy, “The Loss of Creature”
Film: Killing Us Softly IV

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