Taking the Myth Out of Adverts - Pt. 1 - Intro

I'm often accused of reading too much into ads; conversely, I find that people read way too little into them. How else to explain people's convoluted desires to satisfy futile needs they wouldn't otherwise have, along with the stubborn persistence of certain stereotypical ideals?

Through this series, I'll try to demonstrate using real-world examples just how and why marketing plays a much bigger role in our lives than any of us would like to admit; it dominates the ideas of all those in developed countries, and impacts on those in developing ones. I'll take a semiotics approach--focusing on signs and our relation with them--to show that advertising is one of the most potent socializing forces out there, and that, given the shallow culture it tends to promote and propagate to its own end, it is in the interest of advertisers to cultivate all types of delusions and negative stereotypes, all in the name of Consumerism (the capital 'C' kind).

Since I barely watch any TV, I actually get a kick out of watching the commercials. They are positively great indicators of the mores of any society - there's so much to learn from them, providing you're willing to read beyond the product's gleam. But TV ads aren't the only interesting ones. These days, it's easier to name the spaces that don't contain advertising in one form or another than doing the reverse. Incredible sums of money go into studying people using highly refined research methods and tools, all with the aim of developing the most efficient ways of conveying a message to targeted members of society through various media.
And advertisers care about one thing, getting the message out there and into our brain, and they'll do whatever it takes. However, no matter what punches they'll pull or what fireworks they'll use to blind us, successful advertisers invariably rely on two things, myth and ideology. And how we are sold these, myth and ideology, through a careful consideration and packaging of symbols and signs sure says a lot about humans...

In a future post, I'll offer an in-depth definition of what I mean by 'myth' in this context and discuss how advertising forges our collective consciousness of reality by reformulating, establishing, exploiting and perpetuating myths and ideologies, which are useful in that they can make particular ideas seem natural. And natural notions are easier to accept and harder to resist, and can therefore give certain social meanings the allure of common-sense truths about the real world. According to Roland Barthes, myths usually serve the ideological interests of 'the bourgeoisie' , which he uses to refer to "the class of people who own or control the industrial, commercial, and political institutions of society, in order that their ownership, power and control can remain unchanged and unchallenged" (Mythologies, 1973: 137).

On a bi-weekly basis (or whenever I get the chance), I'll explore the why's behind why we buy what we buy and live the way we do according to myths which usually have historical and psychological realism that isn't even based on reality, but on convention.

The best way to break these myths then is to remove the impression of naturalness by understanding how the myth is constructed, and how it promotes one way of thinking while seeking to eliminate all the alternative ways of thinking.

Feel free to contribute to this discussion in whatever way you chose. Interest will determine the depth to which I will explore the subject...

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© 2009, Pascal-Denis

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