Advertising in the Dollhouse
Barbie was very disgruntled when she woke up in the dollhouse. Everything smelled of vinyl and was so obliteratingly shiny, she had to wear sunnies indoors. Her stomach, despite its negligible size, was gurgling like a sewer monster, and Ken wasn’t going to do any cooking. He was too busy admiring his abdomen and, quite frankly, assumed that food grew on hotplates.
Worst of all, Barbie was devastated to find that she had no genitals.
Here’s us, in the funhouse, with make-believe lives fashioned from dress-up destinies. Product placed in ad breaks and pop-ups underneath sponsored sky, and scored to jingles we forget we hum. Just flies, captcha’d, and buzzing between screens.
If you don’t see yourself as a statistic in our incredibly pervasive advertising culture, regard the following.
Advertising comes in a variety of forms, but it’s safe to say we’re bombarded with it. Once we leave our homes or consume any form of media, our senses inevitably face a barrage of commercial artillery.
It works first and most obviously by raising our awareness to the product or service in question. Far more insidiously, it seeks to instill a need in you or I to spend money, often with the premise that you’re somehow empty or unfulfilled until you’ve done so.
Here we are then, walking receptacles for manufactured needs.
Correlations are made between the product and an abstract, desireable sensation or attribute. Love. Respect. Class. Cars bring confidence. Posh scents sort beaus from beasts. Real men buy your beer, because creatives at the agency thought up a blokey thirty-second sight gag with breasts in it.
The scary thing is that it happens without us knowing. Sure, we won’t run to the shops then and there, but we’re alert to it. So we’ll have Coke instead of cola, Kleenex instead of tissues.
We’re told what to want, what should make us feel good. By the method we’re ghettoized into target groups, into self-stereotyping demographics. One wonders who we’d be, if we weren’t told what to buy.
Things are made further humiliating to us, the consumer, in the case of celebrity-endorsed products. Think that an ordinary mammal whose face we happen to recognize can then attach it to a product which usually, they’re not qualified to comment on, and then swipe a suitcase full of cash, the cost of which comes back to us when we reliably fall for it and spend our money. There is the added damage of raising a generation of people to believe that Brangelina is something worth being concerned about. This is a funny foible in our behaviour, except in cases where we spend our money on entirely useless products. Remember when athletes endorsed pseudo-scientific ‘power balance’ bands?
And Oprah Winfrey.
It’s also worth considering these traps occur outside the commercial sphere. Anorexia itself is not an entity capable of making a profit, but still manages to buy plenty of screen time on catwalks around the world.
Regard that studies have repeatedly shown how seemingly objective perceptions like taste and memory are manipulated by unconscious prejudices. Scientific skepticism is a healthy choice for one’s intellectual lifestyle, in that it enourages the questioning of one’s own assumptions and the various through-lines of logic we tread, better equipping us to deal with the onslaught of commercial persuasion.
Call me idealistic, but what if more rational consumers make industry respond in turn? What if we spent our money on merit alone, and stopped falling for the crude psycho-vandalist voodoo that’s sometimes tantamount to begging?
Taking a different tack, it might be prudent to undress ourselves of these artificial needs and figure out what the end game is. What do we really need? Because under our designer labels and all that affectation, we’re still just naked.
[Feature image: Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by photobeppus]