Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The "Magic" of Advertising

In "Advertising: the Magic System," Williams brought up the idea that is "impossible to look at modern advertising without realizing that the material object being sold is never enough" and this is the "cultural quality of its modern forms." When we buy products, we are buying much more than the product itself. Williams gives an example of beer--we would willingly buy it regardless of whether or not it makes us look "manly, young in heart, or neighborly," but the cultural pattern attached to beer serves to validate it in our minds as a product that is (for the most part) positively associated with social and personal meaning.
Upon reading this passage, I immediately thought of the Old Spice commercial as another example of advertisements as perpetuators of cultural meaning.  Attached below, the original/most common Old Spice commercial advertises the product as the manliest toiletry of them all. The commercial features a "Man [that] Your Man Could Smell Like," one who is fit, handsome, charming, and above all, clean. The commercials easily appeal to both genders because men are led to believe that the product will help them achieve the status and image that they want and women are shown a model of what they should see as the ideal man. Additionally, the advertisement has a light, comedic tone that entertains viewers and its style and the deep voice of its spokesperson have become unmistakable identifiers of the product. The video currently has 43 million views and it has spawned tons of parodies all over the web. Needless to say, Old Spice hit an advertising jackpot. Even more so, it succeeded in creating something that extends beyond its original purpose and demonstrates the lasting effect of advertising tactics that adhere to and reinforce cultural patterns.
To see cultural patterns so embedded in our reception of advertisements is not surprising at all. With popular television shows like Mad Men, which unveils all the dirty details of the advertising industry, we are fully aware of our role as targets because we see depictions of how advertisers formulate plans and ways of capturing our attention in everyday media. The consequences are unclear--are we just accepting this manipulation of our consumer habits as necessary and even entertaining at times? Even if we resist, is there anything we can effectively do to stop it?


  1. Ashley, the first part about beer makes me think about all the low calorie beers. Isn't the Coors Light slogan, "Man up and grab a cold one"? As in you need to be manly to drink Coors Light. Another one I keep seeing is for Wild Turkey, a whiskey drink. The man in the commercial is portrayed as "Manly" and can only have the most manly drinks. (Here is the link if you want to watch it).

    Are they advertising to so called real man or are they trying to project the image to aspiring real men that this will get them over the hump. Its crazy to think how much thought goes into advertising. Ashley, good thoughts at the end on the effects of advertising.

  2. Ashley, I think you made some good points in your post. The Old Spice Man commercials have definitely hit an "advertising jackpot" like you said but I think it's interesting to note why it's funny, because that is really what makes it memorable. I think the main reason it's humorous is that it is so outrageous. The way the man goes from the bathroom to the boat to being on the beach (on a horse) is so unrealistic that it is poking fun at advertising itself. I think consumers these days are more apt to advertising schemes and the way the product is portrayed to make it seem like its use is life changing. I totally agree with your point that "we are fully aware of our role as targets" and I think advertisers themselves have caught on, so now they are making commercials so blatantly targeted. I just wonder if advertising like this, even though it became popular on the internet etc, is effective in selling the product, or do people take the commercial at face value and laugh at its ridiculousness and not even buy old spice?

  3. I think this is one of my favorite pieces because I think Williams touches on some interesting points regarding the role of advertising in our lives. I think that once we understand the bottom line behind advertising the way we look at ads just isn't the same. Nonetheless, our desire to maintain status is perhaps exactly the same. I like how Melinda mentioned the point of "we are aware of our role as a target". To a certain extent I think this is true. But I think that part of the reason of why advertising is so successful at influencing our social hierarchies and status is because of our own "unawareness".
    When I read your post, I recalled a very interesting book I read once titled Buy-ology by Martin Lindstrom, a world- known advertising agent, he often found a strong relationship between the emotional insecurities and subconscious reasons of why people purchase the products they do. Like Williams explains advertisers attack our vulnerabilities with the promise of always offering more but in reality products are endless.

  4. Great example, Ashley, and useful comments. Everyone seems to be worrying over the level of awareness or consciousness we have of such advertising strategies, and whether or not that helps us to avoid or mitigate their effects. Does it help if we invite ads in with a wink and a smile instead of blank acceptance?

    A few things about the Old Spice campaign here: a) it would be interesting to compare these ads with older campaigns for the same product (if I remember correctly, the older Old Spice ads were very traditional, so these new ones might be trying to tap into a younger, more hip audience); b) is "stylin'" at work here? Does it matter that the model/spokesperson is an African-American male?