Thursday, November 17, 2011

Contemporary Problems, My Response to Chapter 7

Chapter 7, Advertising, Consumer Cultures, and Desire       

Dealing with ethical issues in this chapter, individual opinions, choices, and desires
But also trying to go beyond that, to understand the objective frame of capitalist society
The system has a logic that does not simply respond to ethical argument
We must understand and respond to the way it is, whether we want to profit from it, or change it

Naomi Klein, No Logo, (2000) – more than ten years ago
Sections: No Space, No Choice, No Jobs, No Logo
Writing from the perspective of a young woman, response to the branded consumer culture around her
Moving beyond a struggle with identity, self-image, even beyond culture-jamming:
       Wants to understand the system, its factories, $2/day wages, and the corporate power behind it
No Space: “brand identity is waging war on public and individual space” (5)
Corporations move in to colonize space and time in schools (ads, sponsorships, research chairs), e.g
       Soft drinks contracts in universities; Stanford’s Yahoo! Chair in Information Technology, etc.
       But academics also unable to publish negative results in drug tests: Dr. Nancy Olivieri, at UofT
Key tool is brand image, “the core meaning of the modern corporation” (5), and synergy
1988, Kraft purchased for $12.6 billion, 6 times value of its material property: difference = “Kraft”
Brands like Tommy Hilfiger or Virgin have never actually manufactured anything but their image (24)
Brands able to link disconnected things: Gap ads and swing dancing, Rufus Wainwright CDs, etc.
The Air Jordan brand means a basketball team, Nike shoes, entire ‘retail experiences,’ movie Space Jam
Marketing closes down the space of alternative expression, becomes our only culture
Identifying trends early, hiring ‘cool hunters’ and ‘change agents’ to find and spread new images
Mining black urban culture in particular, ghetto-preppies: not even irony or attitude can redeem it
Identity politics, e.g. race and gender issues mean the left is often looking inward
Capital going global, penetrating every product, surface and experience in life
       “class fell off the agenda,” and we need a return to questions of power and ownership

No Choice: brand bombing, massive investment to displace all competitors in an area
       A&P in the 1910s; Wal-Mart today; suburbs and malls gut downtown core of cities
Mergers especially in entertainment; Viacom owned both Paramount Pictures and Blockbuster video
Same company owns Harry Potter books, movies, and Time magazine when it put Harry on the cover
Also enables easy censorship of unfavorable reviews, contrary opinions

No Jobs: best section, gets to the reality behind the images and the imaginary we live in
From Wikipedia:
The imaginary, or social imaginary, is the set of values, institutions, laws, and symbols common to a particular social group and the corresponding society.
“The social imaginary...[is] the creative and symbolic dimension of the social world, the dimension through which human beings create their ways of living together and their ways of representing their collective life.” (Charles Taylor, On Social Imaginary)
The imaginary is presented by Lacan as one of the three intersecting orders that structure all human existence, the others being the symbolic and the real
Product manufacturing contracted, ‘outsourced’ offshore, “export processing zones,” low wage ghettos
Philippines, e.g.: Cavite, a 682 acre complex, gated, guarded, no logos on buildings, 50,000 workers,
52 such zones there with 500,000 workers, doubled since 1994 (all figures as of 2000)
Mandatory overtime, 13 cents/hour, no union or benefits, vs. $15/hour jobs replaced in global north
Branded work in retail in Canada: uniforms, strict procedures, long split shifts at all hours
Temporary contract teachers the vast majority in most universities (esp. YSDN), knowledge factories

No Logo: last section about the opposition: culture jamming, use their own brands against the system
Guy Debord, French Situationists of the 1960s, and esp. May-June 1968: détournement
Flow through urban and private spaces, re-represent it, alter it, and use it more freely
And Adbusters: “feels like an only slightly hipper version of a Public Service Advertisement” (293)
Predictable parodies, sees the problem as mass desires
Conclusion: solution lies in self-organizing workers inside factories, in workplaces
Imagine a global labor charter of rights, building a movement that targets corporations                               and the profit motive itself
(Imagine a world in which the creation of class difference is as unthinkable as slavery)

From my thesis:
Sut Jhally, The Codes of Advertising (1990)
In The Codes of Advertising, Sut Jhally [suggests that ] satisfaction is relative, a socially and historically determined standard, and consumption norms show immense variation, historically and geographically (17). This leads him to the question of the exchange of material versus symbolic values. Jhally insists that all needs and use-values are subordinated to exchange-value, including what he terms “symbolic utility” (17)… Advertising has become one fulcrum of the balance between functional and symbolic values, if only because its sheer predominance within all other media makes it the single most important source of information about what looks good, what is hot, or what is right—in short, what symbolic utilities and values are available. Advertising, one could easily demonstrate, spares little time on information about the material qualities and measurable benefits of a product. Only in exceptional cases does government regulation demand certain facts, such as revealing the active ingredients in home remedies, or that cigarettes kill. (In both these particular cases, regulation came only after long struggles against two of the most profitable and heavily advertised industries in history, from Lydia Pinkham to the Marlboro Man.)… Advertising is the very material industry concerned with creating, disseminating, and reinforcing symbolic, not material, values.
Economic exchange involved in the seemingly uncommodified act of watching media
In advertising-supported media, (magazines, television, internet) audience is the commodity
Vs. older business models: pay for content, or subscription: early books pre-sold this way
As ads increased, publishers and broadcasters sold numbers of readers and viewers to advertisers
The material product only a vehicle for reaching audiences: demand by businesses for
       audiences of consumers vastly greater than individual demand for particular information
People lured into looking by disposable, cheaply generated content
Jhally: ads are capital goods, investment made to ensure the reproduction of capital
Their product is the real value of brand image: usually well-crafted and extraordinarycreativity with word and image far higher, than the generic editorial material around them.
Also argues that watching media is a form of working (Jhally 1990: 73 ff.):
       viewers are paid to watch ads, in the form of pleasurable entertainment
Viewers are hired solely to produce surplus value, surplus watching, i.e.
       watching the ads as well as the show.
Like surplus value in offices and factories, this value becomes the property of the investor.
Jhally also refers to this process as rent, the rental of audience time
[In my opinion: Jhally is correct when he talks about ads as rental, an expense paid in expectation of greater return, but not when he argues that viewing is paid work. More accurately, the watching audience is a raw resource, another form of rent. Viewers as viewers, are a free, natural material that fuels the media industries generally.]

Jean Baudrillard, “Advertising,” from The System of Objects (1999, original 1968)
Ads are “pure connotation;” we don’t believe specific, actual claims, but we do believe in advertising
Enjoy its “logic of belief and regression” (167); the idea that society is for your needs and pleasures
We know advertising lies, we are just happy that it addresses us, it needs us
Can’t simply refuse it: we all must participate in global consumer society
Produces “not just goods but also communicational warmth,” a sense of parental giving through ads
Also produces idea of choice and freedom, something “regressive and inessential,” hence necessary
Separation from control of our own labor, alienation, frees us—to be pure, infantile desire
Images are our reward; but they only lead to other images, no final meaning or reward or value

“There is a profusion of freedom, but this freedom is imaginary; a continual mental orgy, but one which is stage-managed, a controlled regression in which all perversity is resolved in favor of order. If gratification is massive in consumer society, repression is equally massive—both reach us together via the images and discourse of advertising, which activate the repressive reality principle at the very heart of the pleasure principle.”
Reality principle: defer gratification, repress immediate impulses and pleasures = civilization
Vs. Pleasure principle: immediate gratification, act on impulses
For Baudrillard, reality, in the form of pragmatism and order, is the dominant binary in Freud’s pairing of the reality and pleasure principles


  1. Rashik Patel

  2. Because our society has become so strongly driven by branding, advertising and the desire to be a part of that society and to fit in. When you hear the word “brand”, what comes to mind? It’s likely that the most successful brands come to mind, as a designer, I immediately think of Apple. How did Apple become such a successful brand identity that is easily recognized across the globe? Apple has become successful based on their ability to feed the idea of “desire” to us, the consumers. As a company, they are aware of who their primary target market is, and they have taken that information and used it to their advantage through the way they market themselves. There are numerous other successful brands that are easily recognized by their identity, different companies communicate to the consumer in different ways. Many clothing brands sell a lifestyle to the consumer, if you purchase our products you will be socially accepted and fit in. Our society has become so strongly driven by the consumer’s desire to fit in. Some forms of advertising are being aimed at a much younger audience, starting with children’s movies to brand identities such as Hollister. Children are being exposed to the idea of a “perfect life” at such a young age through tv shows and movies. When these children grow into young teenagers, clothing brands smother them with different ideals. Advertising’s primary focus is to illustrate the benefits of purchasing their product, therefore putting a great deal of focus on the idea of desire.

  3. Advertising has become such a key part in our everyday lives. We are constantly subjected to advertisers and marketers pleas to purchase and consume. It has gotten to a point where one doesn’t even consciously notice these ads as they are placed in newspapers, buses, schools, television, websites, just about anywhere. As a designer we are forced to look at what makes an advertisement successful. What is it about the ad that makes consumers want to purchase. A lot of the reasoning behind this lies with not only the product it is promoting but also the lifestyle and identity it creates. Our desires of what we believe to be a “perfect life” or the old saying “you always want what you can’t have” is what advertisers prey on. These ads not only add value to their product/ lifestyle, but this value may reflect back onto your own life (to make it seem better). The brands identity helps relate it back to the consumer, and create, in a sense, a world of its own. For example, if you own “blank” you will be “cool,” or another describing word. This allows people to categorize themselves and create some sort of power. If they own this certain product, they have more status (or power) then one who does not. This then furthers the desires to consume these products.


  5. I think we miss-understand branding and advertising. It becomes so fluid in daily life that often people blindly discus brands as larger corporations, such as apple. I think brand is more accessible and complex than big corporations making things "cool". We rarely discuss how we interact with advertising and what makes it useful
    (sorry it's a long one).

    Rather than being "we are constantly subjected to advertisers" I think its interesting to try and understand how we (consumers) fit into this equation. Can we change advertising/branding so that we are not "subjected" to it?

    A family friend of mine was talking about her son commenting on a typo at a grocery retailer on twitter, and the retailer responded back to him. Her big concern was that you have to be so careful what you say and that this company maybe would not hire him in the future. With the means to now create we do have to be aware of how we respond to advertising, do we respond to it, can we use it? Should she be afraid of the power of this retailer? Or should the retailer be aware of the power of the consumer?

  6. This might be entirely off the mark, but this is what came to mind when reading this blog post.

    We believe anything. We know advertisements lie, but I think that we would like to believe that they don't. Or that our preferred brand wouldn't. Or something along these lines. I'm not sure why, but we quite literally buy into everything. I think the most astounding example of this scenario is with "health food".

    Are we being deliberately ignorant, or are we really that naive? Unfortunately, I think one of these two options applies to just about everyone. We continuously rely on packaging disclaimers to provide a false sense of comfort that we are making a healthy, ethical choice in our food consumption. Take eggs, for example. "Cage-free" seems to imply to most that the chickens are treated justly, they get to experience sunshine, grass, and even chow down on a grub from time to time. Nay nay. "Cage-free" typically implies that while there are no individual cages, the birds are in a barn with just as much room to roam (none) as before. They are still being de-beaked, and treated like a disposable commodity. This is not meant to come across like an endorsement for a vegan lifestyle, it is simply meant to explain that we rely too much on culturally trendy catchphrases to dictate our consumption. The regulations in advertisement are too slippery for consumers to be able to trust them verbatim.

    "Organic" is another perfectly good example of the power of advertising. Slapping this label on the side of ice cream does not make it good for you. It does not ensure for holistic farming practices. It just means no unnatural ingredients. You know what else is natural and organic? Plutonium. It is not the barrage of advertisements that we need to concern ourselves with—we need to be more concerned with whether or not we believe everything we see.

    As designers, this sneaky devil lurking within the sphere of advertisement and package design is a beast we will most likely face. How do we choose which clients we accept, or which campaigns we get to develop? Particularly as beginning designers, I imagine it will be true that any work will be a blessing. How do we refuse work that we find unethical? How can I justify designing packaging for a product that I feel is duping it's consumers? This is not a dramatic summation, I really want to know the answers.

  7. To stray away from commenting on the ideas of branding itself in this chapter, I think the language used in the discussion of branding itself is rather illuminating. This article summation uses the terms struggle, waging war, brand-bombing and the like to discuss branding and corporations. If we reflect upon the capacity for language to influence thought (think semiotics/semantics in linguistics) then perhaps we are a generation that has learned to have a negative attitude towards the corporate sphere. With all the critical capacity we have amassed as a result of our education and reading thus far, could we not perhaps come up with a more neutral language to discuss these ideas in? Is branding inherently negative? While there are undeniably elements of exploitation and pervasiveness/saturation I think there also elements that are positive such as ingenuity, new modes of communication, construction of new forms of cultural capital and symbolism and the capacity to use the power and capabilities of corporations as means of subversion.

  8. I find Jhally’s claim that ads are capital goods to be immensely interesting. It’s a bit hard to fathom how materialistic he makes advertising seem. By saying that audiences are paid to watch, it completely strips us all of any humanity, and any freedom that we have. I agree with your note, Brian, in saying that audiences are ‘rented’ rather than paid for, because we do have a freedom to watch these advertisements. I can always change the channel during commercials, I can always close a magazine, or be wary of what I’m reading at all time. But do I? I’d like to say yes, but a lot of the time, I don’t. I am, like many others, subject to believing all the falsities that are projected on us. As Baudrillard may say, it could be because I feel like it needs me to function, or it could just be because I’m completely gullible. From reading this summary, and other people’s responses one instance where this happens for me, are artists – embarrassingly enough, in particular, boybands.

    Boybands are essentially an exaggerated advertisement for the ideal man. They grab 5 or more boys, and tell them to act out characters that every teenage girl would love to date. Everything about each member- their personality, their demeanor, their looks, are created, and molded to fit what every teenage girl wants in a guy. Every thing they say and do on TV shows, are manipulated into a character that they were given when they started out. Each member is targeted towards a different style of guy, so as to attract as many teenage girls as they can. Boybands have definitely died out here in North America, but over in East Asia, they are as strong as ever. With these boybands, most of them don’t even produce their own music. They literally are only playing a character – and everything believes it to be true. I’ve come across many fans – typically teenagers – who are completely in love with their favourite member of their favourite boyband, and have without a doubt believed every single word that comes out of their mouth. I even find myself believing a lot of it, until I actually step back, and think about it all in context, reflect on the amount of time that I’ve put into wasting my time reading gossip and magazine articles that are mostly all completely fake. I sulk in a corner for a day, but then my favourite member will say something like, “ I love all my fans. Without you, I’d be nowhere!” Then I go right back to believing everything all over again. It’s a vicious cycle.

    So I can understand where Jhally comes from when saying that the audience is paid to watch, and their return is entertainment, specifically with this form of advertisement. However, there is always a point in someone’s lives where they realize that it’s all fake, and they stop following it, and believing in it - whether it be moving on in life or finding a real boyfriend. So I definitely do agree that we do have the freedom to not be subjected to advertisement and watch it out of pure enjoyment, although it is extremely difficult to avoid.

  9. While corporations are colonizing space, time, and schools, no one is exactly fighting back. Worse still, many people endorse the brands of the corporations partially because of highly successful advertising. Why else would people debate whether Coca Cola or Pepsi was better? Why else would people wear large, flashy logos, or flaunt their allegiance to Apple products? A desire, a need, even, has been successfully burned into people's lifestyle and there is not much being done to fight this.

    When factual information is colonized like the case of Dr. Nancy Olivieri, people do fight back because of the massive ethnical ramifications. Allowing deadly substances to be labelled as "safe" is revolting but where there is large amounts of money and politics involved, these things are made permissible. It may be easier in some ways to simply let it slide, but allowing such a lie to be published was obviously a far heavier burden on Dr. Olivieri. Although most instances of corporate colonization are not nearly as difficult, most people still remain quite passive, even lauding the advertised notions of corporations (Apple fanatics, anyone?).

    Most people buy clothes and gadgets not out of true necessity but because they are attempting to accumulate status, cultural capital, and some kind of self-worth through their purchases. Corporations push insecurities onto us, then offering salvation through their products. Even so-called acts of charity are really calculated moves to improve their brand image, and ultimately their profit. The quality of products now available have worsened considerably because businesses are fully aware of the fact that clothes are bought to be shown off, then forgotten in favour of next season's "must have" trends.

    Brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Virgin have been extremely savvy in being able to market a need for their products through the production of brand. Creating that kind of ambiance and status associated with a product produces a profit. Countless times, I have witnessed people say that an item was clearly of high quality but only because they based their judgement on the price tag. While it is true that items of high quality are more costly to produce because of the materials, labour, and skills involved in their production, items are often marked up in price in order to trick the ignorant consumers. Sadly, most of people are ignorant—but by no fault of their own since most are never taught.

    Alternative expression, through very well oppressed, will probably never go away for as long as there is dissent among the public. While some may pursue it simply to be "cool" and "different," the true rebels still seek to find their own way. Small as they may be, it is still vital that these groups exist because it provides opportunities for change. If everyone consented the homogenizing mainstream cultures of their time, societies would come to a standstill as people simply accepted and internalized contemporary ideologies.

  10. I was interested in the notion of social imaginary and its connections with the concept of ideology (which was discussed at length in the blog post about chapter 10). It seems as if both of these notions are fundamentally the same: a set of values, beliefs, institutions, laws and symbols which serve as driving forces behind the behaviour of a certain social group. Reading further about the social imaginary, seemed, in a way, underwhelming, as if what I was reading should be an obvious part of culture. It seems that behaving according to an ideology does carry a more negative connotation than behaving a certain way according to personal values. Both serve essentially the same function besides perhaps, in some cases, the motive. While one may strive to do good in the face of God, almost all social groups have integral codes of conduct which prescribe appropriate behaviour and reason for doing so. Therefore, one may very well argue that ideology and social imaginary are different terms to describe the same thing.

    Both of these concepts work in a way which is similar to, but without the physical presence of, an institution in that they shape, limit and prescribe the behaviours of those within them. Branding also works in this way in that many brands prescribe lifestyles, align themselves with certain values and produce certain kinds of subjects in the same way that the social imaginary, ideologies and institutions do.

    Just like in branding, images play a central role in social control of members of ideological groups as well as secular societies - from the crucifix to the Marlboro man, these images are icons which produce meaning depending on their context. For members of that ideology, meaning produces more consistently from subject to subject compared to an “outsider.” Although post structuralists would argue that meaning is not inherently in an image, the social interactions within social imaginaries, ideologies and institutions teach its members certain meanings which are associated with the images, but are produced by the viewer. I wonder about whether, without ideology, social imaginaries and institutions, meaning would be significantly harder to communicate visually. Without the social rules which connect values to objects, references would be unclear and therefore the practice of design would be significantly more difficult, as it is heavily reliant on references. Would meaning be produced in other ways? Would icons even exist, and if so, would they be useful as means of communication? I wonder, actually, if society would be able to operate without these social structures (whether elective or mandatory). I suppose these structures are helpful for the designer in doing research, as they pose certain limitations on visual material available to construct meaning and limitations generally make design easier, in my opinion. How must designers respond to these social structures? Does every designed message have to either reference or directly challenge meaning created through the social imaginary or ideologies?

  11. The current state of our modern, North American society is moving swiftly into an image based, emotional and experience oriented culture. Liberated from the industrial revolution, people are becoming bombarded by products every day and there is no longer public social space completely free of advertising or some sort of connotative imagery.

    It is now a "dream" society that we have evolved into where the form of the object or the feeling we receive from it is of greater value than the function of the object. Referring back to Klein's No Logo, all the difference in the world is made through branding. If you are wearing or possess something with a prominent logo or brand, or not, or a replica, all these situations produce different emotions by the owner as well as the viewer. If a person is carrying a fancy Gucci purse, than assumptions of wealth and style are denoted by other viewers whether or not they are true. If a person is carrying the exact purse but a replica with an absurd name like Cucci, then other assumptions of thrift and often times is frowned upon by those who position themselves as wealthier, trendier individuals. Whether or not the purse works well as an object of carrying your personal items, just the mere brand of the purse can define the person carrying it.

    We have become accustomed to these brands and logos and often times rely on them to speak for us. That is why we are given this choice of so many styles and brands; we feed capitalism and corporations. Baudrillard says advertising needs us, however I disagree. I think we rely on advertising to tell us what we want. As Professor Donnelly said jokingly during class "clients are idiots. They don't know what they want," we are the clients of the ads. We no longer know what we wants, we are told what we want. Images feed our suppressed desires and we have become over exposed by logos suffocating us from freedom.

    Products no longer carry "real value" they carry reputation, connotation a logo, a feeling, an image. They create for us an experience, a message to the viewer we present ourselves to; the consumer culture.