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Selling More Than Just A Product Essay, Research Paper

Selling More Than Just A Product

Advertisements for various products are seen everywhere a person looks?on billboards, in magazines, on television, and countless other places. What draws the consumer into the advertisement?the actual product, the display of the sensual woman as she drinks a glass of milk, or the muscular man sporting a Ralph Lauren blanket as a loincloth? These types of advertisements display unlikely depictions of men and women to society. Today, advertisers use the influence of gender and sex to sell various products to consumers, resulting in unrealistic expectations of men and women to society.

According to Vernon Fryburger, author of the book The New Age of Advertising, ?The most important job for advertising is to ?make a sale? for a product or a service, and to do so it must clearly establish a rapport with its audience, which means that it must consciously stay within relatively narrow bounds of acceptability in terms of language, visualizations, and general background and frame of reference? (15). Advertisers use many different strategies to sell their products to consumers. They spend over 200 billion dollars per year attempting to get the attention of consumers and to influence their decisions. An average person views 250 advertisements every day and over two million advertisements by the time they are twenty-five years of age (Baran 278). When advertisers are working on campaigns, they think about what the consumer wants and needs to see in order to purchase the product. More often than not, attractive, seductive-looking individuals are chosen for ads (Percy and Rossiter 1-5). When advertisers are preparing ad campaigns, they will usually discuss women and men can be

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profitably pictured (Goffman 25). An example of how advertisers show how women can be profitably pictured can be seen in many Guess? advertisements. Guess? has published advertisements implying that girls can use their sexuality to free themselves from parental constraints (Moog 156).

Versace is yet another example of how sexuality and sexual-orientated ads are used to sell their products. In a recent advertisement for Versace Blue Jeans cologne, a nude male is seen in a waterfall-type scene. Oddly, this advertisement is selling cologne, but the focus is on the portrayal of the nude male body in the advertisement, not the cologne fragrance. Numerous ads show one thing, but mean something entirely different. Another example of this is from a Seagram?s ad where an attractive woman is seen dancing with a man. The ad says, ?Seagram?s 7 gets things stirring.? The couple isn?t really laughing and carrying on, as seen in the ad itself; they just look like pictures of store mannequins instead of real people (Moog 60). The Seagram?s ad communicates the message that by drinking this particular alcohol, attractive people will be drawn to you, which will result in that person having the time of their life.

Most advertisers feel that by using sexually orientated or seductive ads, the product will be sold much quicker. When consumers see these portrayals of men and women along the street, staring down at them from billboards, or on the television screen, consumers desire to be like the individual in the ads, because this will bring happiness into one?s life, success, sex, and much more by sporting a particular name brand of clothing, wearing a new perfume or cologne and such. ?By giving consumers an attractive picture of the products available to them, advertising motivates them to buy,? stated Courtland Bovee and William Arens in a study conducted for ad objectives and ad planning, in addition to consumer behaviors (11). Another idea that consumers grasp is that by using a particular product that promotes dieting, cosmetics, clothing, etc., the consumer will become like the people in the advertisement themselves and so much more if they

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use this product, which is entirely false. Consumers feel that if they do not use this ?wonder? product, they will be forever ugly, out of style, or fat.

Much has occurred since the 1970?s era. Today, advertisers break all of these ?relatively narrow bounds,? mentioned by Vernon Fryburger, by putting risqu? language into the ads themselves, questionable frames of reference and visualizations, and sometimes flat out disgusting portrayals of men and women. After the Woodstock generation, ad agencies across the nation were in a world of hurt. The agencies came to the realization that what they needed was a new marketing technique, which was image transformation (Meyers 14).

Image transformations of genders are not only seen throughout ads in print, but also in ads on television. Gender representations throughout primetime are dissimilar from those of either daytime or weekends. Throughout primetime, females are more likely to be revealed in ranks of power and in locations absent from the household as opposed to the daytime. Males, on the contrary, are more likely to be represented as a father figure or spouse and in family units throughout primetime than they were on weekend segments. Primetime can consequently be signified as the ?marked? class, because it does not overuse typecasts, which are when characters are cast in roles that require characteristics similar to those already possessed by the performer. Certainly the primetime ads in this illustration were established to symbolize a more stylish and unbiased depiction of gender. Ads are not arbitrarily strewn all over the broadcast segment, but differ along with the age, sex, and social situation of the viewers the promoter is likely to connect with (Griffiths 1-3).

The standard American citizen will waste over one year of his life just watching television commercials alone. Americans are constantly seeing a plethora of advertisements throughout each day that they become a daily routine, resulting in the ads becoming ?invisible.? So many individuals only come to the realization of advertising when it offends them in some

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way (Baran 290). Several people find advertising in some ways offensive to their religious beliefs, principles, or political opinions. Others find the use of advertising techniques today, that emphasize sex, violence, or body functions, to be in poor form (Bovee and Arens 49). However, by using these techniques, advertisers know that the product that is socially unacceptable by some will be engraved in the minds of teens and adults because of the stir it caused these individuals. Needless to say, by seeing these controversial ads, the product will not soon be forgotten by society.

After consumers purchase this product that is supposed to make them gorgeous, more attractive, sexy, or skinny ?overnight,? they become saddened when they realize that it hasn?t worked or hasn?t made them feel better about themselves. People buy the products because of what they view on the streets, in magazines, on billboards, or on television because they desire to feel and look like the person in the ad; happy, in love, loved by someone, sexy, etc. As a result of this empty feeling consumers have after they have been unsuccessful with the product, some have committed suicide because of their feelings of insignificance or fallen deep into depression. Critics argue that the consumer culture, which is defined as being a culture in which personal worth and identity reside not in ourselves but in the products we surround ourselves with, degrades the persons who reside in it. A frequent advertising tactic for rousing desire and signifying action is to entail that we are insufficient and should not be pleased with ourselves as we are. We, as a society, are either too fat or too thin, our hair calls for a new look, our clothes are out of style, and our partners don?t respect us enough. The only logical explanation is that personal improvement is only a mere purchase away (Baran 296). In her book, Are They Selling Her Lips? Advertising and Identity, Dr. Carol Moog states that ?consumers buy the product unconsciously hoping that they will win the admiration they covet, but since they?re still trying to measure up to somebody else?s expectations, they feel just as empty as ever on the

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inside? (160). Basically, consumers no longer respond to mass-market appeals; they have more individual tastes and are searching for a more individual style. In a nutshell, consumers seek products to fulfill their emotional and even some physical needs (Kahle and Chiagouris 237).

Often times consumers? emotional needs are not fully met after they have purchased this ?amazing? product they had to have so badly. If it does fill their emotional needs, it only lasts for a short period of time and soon wears off, leaving the consumer feeling emptier than before they purchased the product. Advertisers have often associated their products with sexuality, which locks into people?s deepest fears of being detested. They offer these products and images as some sort of ticket to love, when in actuality advertisers are only giving more facades for consumers to hide behind (Moog 146).

Roughly two years ago, the Wall Street Journal declared that in advertising, sex was ?old hat,? meaning that sex was not used very often, substituted, in this period of AIDS and Women Who Love Too Much, by ?the new prudishness? (Ellis 2). So what exactly is this ?new prudishness? that was discussed in the Wall Street Journal? It is new methods used by advertisers to reel in the consumer to buy their products. But the Wall Street Journal said that advertisers don?t use sex near as much as they used to. In this day in age, sex sells and it sells quite well. An example of how sex is still used today to sell products is seen in a Hewlett-Packard ad, a company known for their selling of computers and computer accessories. In this particular ad, a man in his boxers is seated in a chair in front of a desk, holding a pamphlet that he put together for the company. The slogan for this ad states, ?In a small business, it?s just you and your work.? The question that remains is what does this guy in his underwear have to do with computers or printers? Absolutely nothing. Another example of how sex is used to sell is in various Calvin Klein ads. In his ads, women are seen lying naked on the beach in seductive

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poses, as a man is seen fully clothed on the side of the ad. This ad is portraying that the women are waiting for the men to come and take advantage of them on the beach because they are wearing this unbelievable fragrance by Calvin Klein. How can a naked woman on the beach have anything to do with a fragrance? If anything, the water has already washed it off of her.

Sex has been used to sell products for years?this method of sales is not a new idea amongst advertisers today. In fact, about 40 years ago, an ad campaign was launched for the Maidenform bra. This campaign ran for 20 years and consisted of many women of many professions acting out their ?fantasies? or everyday tasks in their bras. These particular ads conveyed women ?dreaming? about being exhibitionistic in body and in their abilities (Moog 22).

When this ad and ads similar to this were published, feminists began to speak up loudly and proudly. In 1963, Betty Friedan, author of the infamous book, The Feminine Mystique, discussed in her book about the American advertising industry and how it manipulated the portrayal of women. She also charged the advertising industry with perpetuating and exploiting the oppression of women through the use of negative stereotypes. Friedan and her followers argued that these ads were clear and tangible evidence of a sexist society. The ads were everywhere and functioned as a frequent public reminder of the oppositions of females (Craig 3). After numerous advertising agencies heard these accusations, they became extremely defensive to the charges made by Friedan and her cronies. However, ?advertisers began to notice this growing wave of feminist objections and major efforts were made to gauge just how influential their ideas were becoming? (Craig 3-4). As a result of her book and its charges towards the advertising industry, the women?s movement grew and eventually led to an all-out campaign of political action against advertisers in the 1970?s (Craig 1).

Countless evaluators say that a large amount of advertising is intrinsically misleading in that it completely and sometimes overtly assures to enhance people?s lives through the

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expenditure of a sponsor?s products. Advertising guarantees health, long life, sexual success, financial success, companionship, popularity, and acceptance (Baran 291-92).

In our culture, we value beauty, kindness, prestige, family, love, and success. As humans, we must have food, shelter, and quite honestly, sex. Advertisers know this and take advantage of the needs they know humans must have to survive (Baran 291-92, 296). On the other hand, it is very simple to differentiate what occurs in the advertisements to what takes place in the real world and presume that ads portray a dolled-up, prosperous description of actuality. However, this does not tell us about the configuration of the advertising world, which is how it is put together (Goffman 22). Vernon Fryburger states that ?advertising is not unbiased or objective with regard to the product or service being advertised; it is a special pleader, hoping to surround its subject with a rose-colored aura of loveliness? (9). Much has changed since Fryburger made this statement. Even in those times, advertising was seen as being very biased and objective. There were hidden messages throughout many ads in that era, which is prevalent in advertisements yet today.

What can be done to prevent these feelings of insignificance? Advertisements as a whole can and should portray a more realistic display of men and women instead of a lie. Sending letters to ad agencies and government officials, in addition to boycotting certain products of things that could possibly bring about these feelings, are only a few suggestions that can be done to prevent this from happening to other consumers. The best thing for consumers to do is to not be silent about this problem in our society, but to take a strong stand in what they believe in. The truth of the matter is that material possessions cannot bring a person happiness, love, acceptance, success, etc. The person himself is solely responsible for that, not advertisements. If people come to grips with this reality instead of the ?reality? depicted in advertisements, life would be

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easier and happier for people, instead of feeling as if they have to live up to the ?standard? set forth by the advertising industry.


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Baran, Stanley J. Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture. 2001 Ed.

Mountain View, California: Mayfield, 1999-2000.

Bovee, Courtland L., William F. Arens. Contemporary Advertising. Third Ed.

Homewood, Illinois: Irwin, 1989.

Craig, Stephen R. ?Madison Avenue vs. The Feminine Mystique: How the Advertising Industry

Responded to the Onset of the Modern Women?s Movement.? Internet, 1997. http://www.rtvf.unt.edu/people/craig/madave.htm.

Ellis, Kate. ?Fatal Attraction, or the Post-modern Prometheus.? Journal of Sex Research,

February, 1990.

Fryburger, Vernon, editor. The New World of Advertising. Chicago: Crain Books, 1975.

Goffman, Erving. Gender Advertisements. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard U.P., 1979.

Griffiths, Merris. ?Craig, R. Stephen (1992): ?The Effect of Television Day Part on Gender

Portrayals in Television Commercials: A Content Analysis.?? Internet, 2001. http://www.aber.ac.uk/education/Resdeg/merris09.html.

Kahle, Lynn R., Larry Chiagouris, editors. Values, Lifestyles, and Psychographics. Mahwah,

New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997.

Meyers, William. The Image-Makers: Power and Persuasion on Madison Avenue. New York:

The New York Times Book, 1984.

Moog, Carol, Ph. D. ?Are They Selling Her Lips??: Advertising and Identity. New York:

William Morrow, 1990.

Percy, Larry, John R. Rossiter. Advertising Strategy: A Communication Theory Approach.

New York: Praeger, 1980.

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