January 30, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 67  

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Advertising: playing on our insecurities?

By Megan O’Toole
Gazette Staff

Advertising: it’s always in our faces, whether we’re watching TV, reading a magazine or waiting for the bus. Today’s Western culture is suffocating under a thick, unyielding blanket of blatant commercialization.
There’s a reason for this phenomenon: simply put, advertising pays.

The more in-your-face and the more novel the strategies are, the more attention advertising garners. Inevitably, when a product earns a place in the spotlight, all the hard work and dollars (often millions) that were put into the ad campaign become worthwhile as consumers flock to buy the latest product.

The fashion and beauty industries rely almost completely on the power of the ad. Just flip through the glossy pages of any fashion magazine — Cosmo, Vogue, Glamour, Marie Claire — and you’ll find that the majority of space is devoted to advertisements for products that promise to make women look “younger” and “fresher”; makeups and creams that guarantee to instill the buyer with more confidence and sex appeal; and new fashions that appeal to trend-seeking women.

Do the products actually live up to the high standards set by the advertisements? Or is the entire advertising business contingent on the concoction of believable lies? Let’s face it: no product can change who you are, despite what marketers would have you believe.

You’ll never look like one of those perfect supermodels who look at you from behind layers of airbrushing and lighting tricks — not even if you spend $50 on a new Lancôme foundation compact. Drinking Budweiser beer will not make you cool, nor will it send the ladies flocking to your door. Paying to see J.Lo’s latest feel-good movie will provide nothing more than a temporary, and often disappointing, escape from your daily drudgery.

To clarify the disjunction between what ads promise and what their products actually deliver, let’s take a quick look at a few of the more prominent ad campaigns kicking around these days:

McDonalds’ “urban culture” ads: McDonald’s has shifted their angle from family-centred propaganda to the “hipness” associated with urban culture. Rap music, ghetto references and a focus on hip urban youth — what does this have to do with food? Nothing, because their food is just piles of grease that will only make you fat. So, why the angle? Simple: to open the door to the youth market and equate consumption with “cool.”

Lifestyles condoms’ cartoon ads: A cartoon man, shirt open, pedophilic smile on his face. Two cartoon girls, scantily clad, hanging off the rather creepy-looking individual. Connotations of partying, sex and specifically, the magical world of threesomes. Caption: “Who said you can’t have it both ways?” Clearly, this is geared toward the insecure male with its land-mine of unmerited sexual references. Can purchasing condoms guarantee more sex? No. Does Lifestyles want you to think so? Damn right.

Garnier’s “ideal beauty” shampoo ads: A recent ad for Garnier Fructis anti-dandruff shampoo shows a beautiful, flawless woman embracing a tuxedo-wearing man with his back to us. All we see are his shiny locks — and the woman’s magnifying glass, which she is using to inspect his jacket for dandruff flakes that are not there (because after all, this guy uses Garnier). The suggestion? That using Garnier can make you so attractive that you’ll instantly fall into a fairy-tale relationship. The reality? The ad is designed to increase consumers’ self-consciousness and superficiality.

Skyy Vodka’s retro/surrealist ads: Computerized images of picture-perfect ’50s girls posing in suggestive outfits while drinking Skyy Vodka. Need we say more? More importantly, can the Vodka deliver? No, but in large quantities, it can certainly make you act like a fool and do things you may not — and often would rather not — remember. But that just doesn’t sell as well, does it?

With limited space, it’s simply impossible to cover the thousands of destructive and fraudulent advertising campaigns that run rampant today. So for the time being, we’ll end with the following advice: be an active consumer and be aware of the advertising around you. Don’t believe what marketers throw at you, because more often than not, ad campaigns are founded on fiction, designed to affirm and intensify our insecurities.



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