Advertising images confront us in our everyday lives in an attempt to persuade us to consume their products. They are one of the most important cultural factors moulding and reflecting our life today. They are inescapable and the main aim of any company is to be ‘top of mind’ and on the consumers ‘shopping list’. However, Dyer argues that we usually take adverts for granted because they are so pervasive, but many people claim that they are one of the most important influences in our lives. Advertisements depict a general social image and message in their sales pitch. Dyer argues that the advertising media has the ability to “shape and sometimes change a persons behaviour, opinions and attitudes” (Dyer: 73). He also comments on the fact that an advert sometimes “promotes general ideas and beliefs” (Dyer: 73).
The primary function of advertisements is to introduce us to a wide range of consumer goods and in its simplest sense, advertising means “drawing attention” to something (Dyer: 2). Adverts present images of “things to be desired, people to be envied, and life as it ‘should be'” (Sturken and Cartwright: 2001). A key characteristic of photography within advertising and marketing is the enhancing and altering the meaning of lifeless objects.
This then turns them into commodities and companies then use advertisements as a way to entice the viewer into believing what their lives could be like if they were to buy these commodities. This is what is known as “commodity culture” (Sturken and Cartwright: 198). Here commodities are “central to cultural meaning” (Sturken and Cartwright: 198). By buying a certain product, the consumer can be a part of a certain lifestyle and all that goes with that. People are “constructed” through their “consumption and use of commodities” (Sturken and Cartwright: 198). They argue that through these commodities we present ourselves to people around us.
“Advertising encourages consumers to think of commodities as central means through which to convey their personalities” (Sturken and Cartwright: 198). If one wants to become something, they must consume these products. Advertising images allow us to envisage a place where we could get to through consuming these products and creating a new improved lifestyle for ourselves. Photographs are cultural products, which create ideas that then become dominant in society.
The images have an ability to project “a look, an image, a world” (Ramamurthy: 170) and by consuming these products, adverts show us a way to escape from the ‘real world’. Advertisements therefore create new identities that are portrayed to viewers as something, which they are able to consume. The idea of living a new lifestyle is a way that advertisements persuade us to consume. Products become ways to literally buy status in the external world. Commodities are given qualities by adverts that portray a status that could be achieved through consumption. Advertising could even be said to be able to sell lifestyles.
It is seen as very difficult to resists the general social images and messages presented by advertisements. There is an overt sales pitch in all advertisements which appeals to consumers for example one could make friends by drinking the right beer or get a look more attractive by using a certain type of hair product. By consuming products, buyers are shown that is a way where one might fit in and avoid becoming a social outcast and adverts use this to persuade us to consume. Adverts ultimately influence some of the general views, values and beliefs of societies.
“Advertising uses particular codes and conventions to convey messages quickly and succinctly to viewers” (Sturken and Cartwright: 206). The adverts aim to grab the viewers attention and present a new lifestyle to them. They persuade us to consume by adding familiarity to a product. “One of advertisers’ primary strategies is to turn a product into a recognisable brand” (Sturken and Cartwright: 206). We then begin to know and relate to products through this brand and want to own the product. “Advertisements speak the language of transformation”(Sturken and Cartwright: 212). Adverts promise to improve our lives and satisfy our needs. They present us with enviable glamour figures that have “perfect yet attainable bodies” (Sturken and Cartwright: 213).
Advertisers assume that “any body can be persuaded” to consume if the right techniques are used. Dyer argues that this is quite a narrow view and although it is, all people have needs, wants and desires that products might fulfil. People want goods to improve their style and status and advertisers can easily find target audiences who they can persuade to consume certain products. Children are “particularly vulnerable to persuasion and propaganda” (Dyer: 75) and are therefore targeted to then relay their want for the product back to their parents.
There are differing types of advertisements, which are used to make us consume. The first is a simple advertisement that is usually found in special interest magazines and where there is just a straightforward relationship between the supplier and the consumer. Hall and Whannel in Dyer also suggest a few other types of adverts. The Compound advert uses a subtle approach of persuasion and mainly concentrates on using images to entice consumers. These can be used in ‘easy reading’ magazines where an advert may contain some simple information about where the product may be purchased from, but this is accompanied by a stunning image.
When this type of advertising is used to persuade us to consume, it is hoped that the reader would associate the “product” with the “total impression” (Hall and Whannel in Dyer: 89). The next form of advertising used by companies in that of Complex. Here there is an emphasis on the presentation of the luxury and status that the product will provide. A background image will take over and the product merely merges into it. This is mainly used on more expensive consumer products and has been used in a variety of Rolex adverts. There is a concentration on imagery for example a secluded beach, rather than the product itself.