Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Advertising as Religion

I found Jhally’s article, especially his ideas about Advertising as Religion really interesting. We’ve talked a lot about advertising creating an experience for consumers in order to make them feel like they need the product, and that “the function of advertising is to refill the emptied commodity with meaning”(221). In today’s world, where religion is often being replaced by other ideas, advertising can create that awe-inspiring vision for a person that needs to fill a void. Sometimes the consumer may not even know they have a void until they see an advertisement, but with proper marketing techniques the producers can trick the consumer into thinking they need to buy something to make their life better. This all reminds me of a documentary called “What Would Jesus Buy?” in which a famous activist who goes by the name of Reverend Billy, goes on a campaign to stop the “shopocolypse” that is world is facing. Reverend Billy uses religious themes to shock people into taking a step back and to question whether they really need a product, where it was made, under what conditions etc. Jhally brought in a quote by Jesuit scholar John Kavanaugh who argues, “advertising is part of a gospel based upon the commodity form –a world where people are identified through the things they consume as well as being dominated by them”(226). Today in a consumer-based world, advertising is only reinforcing the idea that people need what they are buying. People like Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping use the same techniques that advertisers use to sell products, sensationalizing etc., to try to dissuade people from over consuming. Below is the trailer to “What Would Jesus Buy?” it’s a pretty entertaining and interesting documentary. 


  1. Every time we talk about advertisement, the first company that pops into my mind is always Apple. Apple is the perfect example for virtually all the concepts of advertising, from "feeling good" to filling the void, to meaning filling.

    Taking it's most recent advertisement of the iPad mini as an example,,

    before its introduction, I never realized the importance of being able to hold iPad in one hand. What makes Apple's advertisement amazing is all its ad's are about function function function. The commercial also presented the product in a very majestic way.

    Aside from the religious association, Jhally makes another unprecedented (at least) point, that the capitalist society has emptied all the meaning out of the product and the goal of the advertisement is now to refill the meaning. What I have always thought the purpose of advertising is actually to present the original meaning of the product to the mass or desired audiences. It can be argued, that not all products are meaningless without advertisements.

  2. I agree with Lucy, Apple's advertisement is definitely a great example. It often makes you feel the need to have its newest product, and the chances are you watch the ad on your old product (which still functions pretty well) and go desire to upgrade it... !

    And I would match Apple's advertisement with the "Idolatry" stage according to Jhally, though the brand itself is more like "totemism". Take the iPad mini ad as an example, the product is always the center and sometimes the only thing you are seeing (since the background is white and empty). The functions introduced in the ad, (the meanings filled in the ad) make you adore the product... it persuades you in the way: You will feel good if you have it!

    But just like Milanda and the video questions in the post: do we really need the product? and just imagine how many waste we have made by consuming! we are definitely persuaded to buy way more than what we really need. It really makes me wonder how long will the ads succeed in keeping us so irrational buying products before we come to realize the serious problems we have.

  3. Melinda, great idea to share the trailer for What Would Jesus Buy? (the latest tongue-in-cheek Morgan Spurlock film). I haven't seen it, but I'd be curious to watch it now. I love that the font used in the trailer is clearly that loopy, golden lettering that Disney uses to advertise all of its classic films.

    As for Lucy and Yiting, and Apple, I think it's really important to consider Apple's present brand dominance within a broader historical perspective. I grew up in an era dominated largely by Microsoft and PCs, in which Apple was at first the interloper and then the "cool" rebel alternative. Now, I think, the tables have largely turned. Perhaps there will be a third competitor we cannot yet foresee, that will bump Apple from its throne.