Commercials, Propaganda, Subtexts and Reprogramming Society
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The purpose of commercial advertising has always been to modify society, to make its members desire and buy a product. When you think about it this very much parallels what systematic propaganda by government and movement attempt to do.
In the 1950’s soap suds were sold as an indicator of the cleaning capacity of the postwar generation of new detergents. That mostly happened because industrial chemists had created designer detergents that provided more and longer lasting suds, that was sold as a good thing. And when matched up with advertising it convinced their purchase by June Cleaver. Ok, this admittedly resulted in a generation of sudsy water pollution in the rivers of New Suburban America, and huge profits for new and improved detergents.
I don’t see this as entirely bad. The advertising worked, the awful obvious views of suds covered waterways easily convinced people that detergents were the problem and Rachel Carson was right. The success of the suds advertising pointed a blazing searchlight back to where the problem lay. That led to the demise of sudsy phosphated detergents and generally better water treatment.
In 2021, corporations haven’t changed, and commercials/marketing are nothing if not more sophisticated than they were in the 50s and 60s. To meet the current demands for the broadest possible consumer base, as well as to signal their desires to sell to groups of consumers who don’t look like Beaver Cleaver’s or Whitey Whitney’s iconic models of the suburban mom, the MAd Men have moved to include all manner of racial, gender, and ethnic actors in their ads. That effort is easily understandable in terms of its benefit to Capitalism. Everyone is equal in their need for the benefits of whatever the corporation is selling. Just look at the advertising, the narrative is obvious. Score one for equity and the free-market I suppose.
A challenge for corporations is that although essential to marketing and sales, advertising isn’t cheap. It frequently runs between 12% and 21% of the cost of retail consumer products. Every version of an ad is expensive to produce. So advertisers are pushed to be efficient in their messaging. Still, corporate desire to appeal to all groups is undeniable. Although having as many versions as there are social identity groups becomes a burden that’s economically inefficient.
The solution isn’t many ads one for each consumer identity, it’s one ad which includes many identities. Actors from different identities play the varying roles within one ad, and if the roles of identities steer clear of demeaning stereotypes of the identities, the ads project social inclusion and even suggest roles for identities often overlooked in broader society. This is generally a good thing, stretching the status quo and its list of life possibilities.
If efficiency and virtue are good, more of both in a single commercial are clearly better. Not surprisingly some marketers have acted to include more efficiency and much more virtue signaling. These things don’t come by mistake, but they usually layered in as subtexts to be read by people looking for messages that rest inside the message.
Once broadcast, these ads passively record in ‘the cloud’ social change occurring in our present, including the effect of movements/pushes for social change. The record tracks growing pervasiveness and the rate of success of that change. Interesting bits of evidence for current and future sociologists, industrial psychologists, marketing profs, etc.
Currently, rather as they did with the early notion of sudsy detergent being better than soap, the corporations’ nessages are getting a bit out in front of society. Their ads push into fictional realms that don’t yet quit fit American society as it now actually is. They are creating visions not just of their future satisfied customers, but of a future society.
No matter what they are advertising, from auto insurance to dzelicious polish dogs, the caste of their commercials can be theatricly situated in families and relationships framed as multi-racial, differently gendered, etc, thus making more opportunity to efficiently market corporate goodness and corporate diversity outreach alongside the value of their products.
So along with the propaganda-like practice of repetition after repetition after repetition to convince consumers to desire products and services not yet in our reality; corporate marketing departments and media producers who buy the ads are undeniably simultaneously marketing repetition upon repetition upon repetition, of a model of a future social reality whose diversity glows as bright as the last moment of predawn.
No one has given corporations the right to shape our futures, I believe they have simply stumbled into it. Will we grow into that reality? Maybe, maybe not. Socially responsible corporate behavior is always uncertain. But if you sit through the ads you’ll see the revolution is in fact televised, it’s not on the news, but embedded in our commercials.
Ending the pandemic needs a shot in the arm.
February 4, 2021 at 5:46 PM #400822ThouArtThatParticipant
- Total Posts: 4,543
None of this is new, just ever more sophisticated as adverting tweaks our desires (dopamine) and fears (adrenalin). Before the underlying biochemistry was understood, the baseline human behavior was well known and then codified into how to manuals of an earlier age.
Public Opinion (1922) – Walter Lippman
Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923) – Edward Bernays
A Public Relations Counsel (1927) – Edward Bernays
Propaganda (1928) – Edward Bernays
For what it is worth, Bernays is considered the father of public relations. Bernays also had a front row seat to the emerging discipline of psychology since his uncle was Sigmund Freud.
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February 4, 2021 at 9:58 PM #400863SorbishParticipant
- Total Posts: 71
I think what’s different now is the current emphasis in the subtexts of contemporary corporate virtue signaling, and the ironic way that corporations (rather than anti-corporate progressive activists) control the ad time, the geographic reach of the ads, and the composition of their subtexts.
One of the problems, of course, is that due to consolidation of media markets the reach of stream-lined efficient advertisement tends to be much larger than the past and aimed at the centers of viewer-mass. The consequence is ads are aimed at the larger population areas closer to corporate sales outlets, and are distanced from the realities of non-metropolitan areas that the messages nonetheless still reach.
Our nation overall isn’t even closely homogenized; even over distances of 50-60 miles demographics vary widely. And so do the viewers of ads and the realities of those viewers lives.
Consider southeastern WI… The city of Milwaukee is one of the most segregated cities in America, but it IS, is by a whisker, a Black majority city. It is roughly 37% African American/non-hispanic Black. The next largest group is the 35% Whites (non-hispanic), 17 percent Hispanic (all groups) and 4% Asian (all groups).
Yet Milwaukee Co on the whole, is 51% White (nonhispanic), 26% Black (nonhispanic), 15% Hispanic (all groups) and 4% Asians (all groups).
Waukesha (the next county to the west) is 78% White, 4.3% Black, 13% Hispanic (all groups) and 3.5% Asian (all groups).
Jefferson Co, still further west from Waukesha Co, is if neglected, still in the Milwaukee media market, but it is outside the Milwaukee metro.
Jefferson Co is 96% white, 0.3% Black, 4% Hispanic (all groups), and 0.5% Asian (all groups).
Over such heterogenous landscape the contemporary virtue signalling subtext plays differently with regard to its reflection of the reality people on the ground live. Out in Jefferson Co, no matter how open people are to inter-racial families (and people out there are rather more tolerant and more Democratic than the DNC ever gives credit) the reality is that inter-racial marriages fall very much below the current national average, which (for all combinations of race/ethnicity) is 13%-17%. And it’s likely that without significant relocation of African American/Blacks to Jefferson Co, they won’t approach the national average for a long time no matter how the DNC goes on about a majority-minority nation. Inter-racial marriage must be uncommon in Jefferson CO not because of bigotry but because the demographics based math doesn’t give it much chance.
Moreover, out there, the inter-racial relationships and marriages so popular in advertising subtexts is far from reality. And that’s a problem that isn’t fixed by the repetitive nature of the subtext messaging.
The geographic expansion of media, and commodification of commercial advertising that takes place causes the efficient delivery of the subtext messages of virtue signalling to not reflect the demographic patterns of the geographic reach of those messages.
In closing, and bringing this into the frame of politics…
People notice when advertising messaging overlooks them. That’s true of selling cable-service and it’s true of politics. If the advertising says, our company is looking for customers that don’t live lives like you, it fails. Even campaign advertising.
If your message is you are building a majority-minority party where folks from the out-there are what we see as deplorable, the party you build is unlikely to include them.
It’s basic advertising reality, probably as promoted by your reading list.
Ending the pandemic needs a shot in the arm.
February 4, 2021 at 5:46 PM #400823mrdmkParticipant
- Total Posts: 3,023
And we are not talking about Over the Counter (OTC) aspirin here. Here in the Los Angeles air-wave market there maybe 2 to 3 within a commercial break. The Pharmaceutical have the media on a short leash.
Some of these drugs are replacing older drugs which still work. In the past 10 years, many of these advertise drugs were taken off the market because they did not work as stated. Many of these drugs do not cure, they treat the symptoms. All of these drugs need a doctor to prescribe them.
So America, see your doctor, take a pill and watch your troubles go away.
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February 5, 2021 at 1:23 AM #400959snotParticipant
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Adam Curtis’s documentary series for the BBC called “Century of the Self,” as well as his other docs. “Century” traces the history of public relations from its invention by Bernays and through the decades before the series was made.
Curtis is an insightful and wide-ranging free thinker and uses the BBC archive brilliantly. You won’t be disappointed.
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