Advertising and Identity

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Assuming that consumption plays some role in identity, critically evaluate the contention that, a powerful, popular advertisement is just as meaningful as any news story.

As stated by Will Rogers (1924) “One ad is worth more to a paper than forty editorials.” In today’s age, this has become a statement that masses of people now stand for. There is no doubt that advertisements are considered to be some of the most effective forms of marketing and communication. Adverts are regarded to be central strategic tools for any company to market and promote its products, as they have the power to communicate a certain kind of message to consumers, which any other text or news story may or may not have. Let us take a very simple example where you see a small advert with a catchy line for the brand Ralph Lauren, on your ‘facebook’ homepage. At first, you may not pay full attention to the advertisement and will possibly return to the more promising activity of browsing on facebook. However, next time while crossing a Ralph Lauren store, you might consider it reasonable to enter the store and have a look. Like in most cases, before you know it, you will be walking out with a few bags! The question: did the advertisement you saw have any role to play? The answer: yes. It planted a seed somewhere at the back of your mind. This, as I believe, is the powerful nature of advertising. It has learnt to play with and enter the human mind in subtle ways, further manipulating the choices and preferences of the consumer. This paper will further look to evaluate the effectiveness of these adverts, by focusing on the contention that consumption plays a role in identity.

In order to understand the link between consumption, identity, and advertising, it is important to gain a background on advertising perceptions and theories. On one hand many believe that advertising is a non-personal form of communication, that is, a one-way communication without personal contact and dialogue. However, some traditional theories of communication beg to differ by stating that advertising is very much a two way process of communication between the makers and the consumers. [Hartley & Pickton, 1999]. Gordon and Ryan (1983) identified four main types of consumers of advertising: sophisticated critics, uninhibited appreciators, careful deliberators, and suspicious rejecters. [Shankar, 1999]. Each of these groups of people interacts and perceives an advert differently. What this implies is that advertising is extremely subjective. The same advert can mean much more to one individual whereas to another individual it may be just as meaningless. There may be many reasons for this. According to Kotler (1988), consumers in the world may be exposed to almost 20,000 adverts in a day. [Hackley & Kitchen, 1999]. Sometimes, when these uncountable communications do not give a straight meaning, different types of people will attempt to attach a self-meaning to these ads. This in a way means that there is a segregation or fragmentation in the process of communication. The language and taxonomy, the kind of message being delivered, the intention of the message, as well as size of the audience, are just some of the factors that need to be kept in mind when thinking of integrating the communication process. Hence, integration is considered central to the consistent perception and evaluation of advertisements. [Hartley, & Pickton, 1999].

The early theorists saw communication as a process of doing things to people. However, when advertising theories were rethought and further developed, the focus was more on ‘ what people do with advertising’ rather than on ‘what advertising does to people’. [Shankar, 1999]. This in simple terms meant that it is not only what the advertisers tried to source in the message; equal weight age is given to how the reader perceives and interprets the meaning. This shows that there are two extremes to the advert: the author, who creates the advert text,...
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