Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Advertising as Religion

 In the text “Advertising as Religion: The Dialectic of Technology and Magic,” Sut Jhaly states that Karl Marx’s predictions of society have proven to be true.  Marx believed that material items would corrupt human relationships as a result of capitalism and advertising.  In order for an item to thrive in capitalism, it needs to be advertised, promoted, and sold.  In today’s society, material items can make use feel a certain way about ourselves, interact with others based on the things we own, or interact with others through certain things that we own.  Although superficial, people can relate to others who own the same items or brands as them.  Jhally mentions older non-market societies and how people in those times people also had a connection with the goods that they used.  It seems as if it is natural for humans to connect with their physical belongings; however, in the older non-market societies people produced their goods themselves.  Therefore, their connection was more direct and intimate.  Today, there are so many products and brand names that advertisers have to compete with one another in order to have their product sold even if it means tricking the consumers.  Advertisers claim that the main purpose of advertising is to provide consumers with options in order to make the right choice in their purchase.  However, the real function, Jhally states, is to make people feel good and focus on what the public wants to hear.  It is true that that often times we don’t have enough time to look at every item on the shelf in close detail to make sure it is the best product, in which case advertising certainly stays in the back of our minds often times causing us to choose the brand name we have heard before.  Advertising allows people to justify the choices they make when choosing a particular brand because the ad proves that it does works or is worth it.  Jhally declares that it is similar to religion in the sense that people use religion to justify their choices as well.  Another similarity between the two is the act of worshiping.  In religion, people worship their own God or higher power and in a capitalist society, people worship their physical belongings.  This reminds me of an email my mom sent me:


  1. Leily, your post reminds me of the "feeling good" theory that Jhally talks about. Advertisers are focused on created a pleasurable experience and don't consider including information. Feeling has replaced information in today's advertisements because it is more effective. In some cases you don't really need what you buy and advertisers know this. So they're more likely to appeal to consumers in different ways in order to make them feel like they do need their product.

    I always get this feeling around Black Friday. Most of the shopping I do is because it gives me some sort of satisfaction not because I need it. I think it's because I feel like I am saving money, so why not buy it? It really is all psychological.

  2. I agree that shopping has become psychological and "retail therapy" is such a good way of showing how the "feel good" theory is subconsciously playing out in our society. People actually go out and seek pleasure from shopping and consuming. Before, bartering and trading was probably a necessity for survival but like Cynthia says, now it's not for need but more for pleasure. The advertising messages that purchasing "certain" products will result in such feelings have created an atmosphere that the act of purchasing almost any item will bring pleasure.

    But at the same time, when we create things by hand today, we feel very proud of ourselves: sewing our own pillows or other DIY projects. There's a sense of satisfaction there as well. I think the "direct and intimate" relationship we have with what we create results in a natural sense of pride. Maybe with mass production and the lack of need to create our own things, we're replacing that kind of feeling with shopping but because the relationship is less intimate and less satisfying, it seems more superficial.

  3. In many ways, I agree that we do use advertising as a means of justification. For instance, I don't really care what deodorant I buy, but when I go shopping I always buy Old Spice because it is the one that sticks in my head. But if you look at shampoo and conditioner, there aren't any that are prominent to me (they're all relatively equal). So I tend to switch it up. Why do I show distinct behavioral difference in these two products. Part of it is due to the message each ad campaign has constructed in my mind. Now I wouldn't say I worship Old Spice or really any product, but that might be because I'm not a very spiritual individual. But I disagree when it is said that we worship products. I mean people will commit harm to others on a societal scale for having a difference of opinion on religion, but it would be quite unrealistic for war to break out over whether a Mac is better than a PC. In many ways we treat products like religious icons, but at the same time these consumer icons have a very different meaning to us than say a cross does.

  4. Interesting post, and comments (I love the link you provided, Leily, of what "social" face-to-face interactions often look like nowadays, that is, face-to-screen). How sad!

    A few responses: Cynthia, isn't it funny that we think we're "saving" money by spending? To me, that seems completely nonsensical, but the retail industry has us convinced. Anne, I think more and more people are looking for that connection to product that comes with either making it yourself (e.g. canning or knitting), or getting it from someone you know, like a local artisan, rather than a big-box store. Have you checked out the Maker Faires? And Chris, point well taken about the differences between religion and advertising, though I think for some people Black Friday or Cyber Monday probably made more of an emotional or lifestyle impact than organized religion. Talk about theft and reappropriation of meaning....