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The Influence of Advertising

This paper deals specifically with the influence that advertising has in developing countries and relies on “Advertising and Global Culture” by Noreen Janus and “International Advertising in Developing Countries” by Megan VandeKerckhove.   My thesis for this paper is that international advertising in developing countries is ultimately destructive for the peoples of those countries, and it goes about this destruction in three important ways:  the destroying of traditional cultures around the world, the placing of importance on consumerism, and the creating of feelings of inferiority in people who live in developing countries.

Destruction of Traditional Culture

Advertising by large Western companies in parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America is widespread and becoming more popular by the year.  Janus notes that companies like Pepsi, Marlboro, and Revlon are large and have a high degree of influence in many developing countries and that the “transnational culture” is a “direct outcome of the internationalization of production and accumulation promoted through the standardized development models and cultural forms” and that the goal is to “eliminate local cultural variation” (Janus).  In other words, the fact that people all over the world are buying the same pop, same cigarettes, and watching the same TV shows and reading the same magazines means that there is less difference between people in different parts of the world than there was before heavy advertising of these products.  Megan VandeKerckhove quotes Dozier and Lauer in her essay, saying that “the effect….to annihilate a people’s belief in their names, in their language, in their environment, in their unity, in their capacities, and ultimately in themselves” (VandeKerckhove).   I had the opportunity to visit Guatemala when I was younger and, to give an instance of people being influenced by advertising, people in the town I went to were much more likely to go to the McDonald’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken – if they could afford it – than to buy local food from the street vendors around the town square.  There was very clearly a sense that the American food was somehow better than the local Guatemalan food.

            An ad that helps to demonstrate this one of the images chosen to promote the latest GI Joe movie, Retaliation, which came out last summer.  One of the images in its advertizing campaign showed a clip from the movie of a military tank flying American flags crashing through a desert on a war mission.  The ad does not make it clear which country the tank is charging through, the but show of force  and Western military strength is clearly implied in this image and in the movie itself: the flip side of this is to imply that non-Western cultures lack strength or are to be dominated by their Western counterparts.   When I saw this movie in the theaters, I heard a couple of younger students, who looked like they might have been in middle school, talking about the movie in terms of  the American military “kicking butt”, so this message of  the dominance of the American military was very clearly brought home to them.

Importance of Consumerism

Companies that advertise in developing countries are not only selling products: they are selling the idea that buying things and accumulating as many goods as possible will make life better for people.  Janus points out the Pepsi changed their slogan in Brazil from “Join the Pepsi Generation” to “Join the Pepsi Revolution” and that “a ‘consumer democracy’  is held out to the poor around the world as a substitute for political democracy” (Janus).  In short, advertising is telling people in some of the poorest countries on earth that money can by happiness, and VandeKerckhove notes that the effect of all this advertising has “resulted in different expectations and measurements of happiness and success” (VandeKerckhove).  A good example of this kind of advertising is one of the Coca-Cola ads on their official website.  It’s tag line is “family, friends, and Coca-Cola: recipe for a great meal” and goes on to say that “for pizza night, a family feast, or a picnic on the sidelines – Coca Cola is always at home with your favorite meal”.  The picture shows two large glasses of Coca Cola being poured out on a picnic table: in the background is a smiling, white, well-dressed woman in front of a very comfortable-looking home.  What they seem to be saying is that if you buy Coca-cola, it will make you and your home more attractive and your family happier.  In other words, it is saying that if you buy their product – if you consume – you will have a better life.   I have a cousin who was addicted to shopping and went very heavily into debt to fund a lifestyle of shopping that she could not really afford, and this is getting to be a problem even in wealthy countries like the US – people feeling dissatisfied with their lives and wanting to spend their way out of their unhappiness.

 

Creating Feelings of Inferiority in Developing Countries

            In all the Western-style advertising that comes through the television, radio and magazines of developing countries, Janus notes that “one message that comes through clearly is that happiness, achievement, and being white have something to do with one another” (Janus) and that for people of color, whether they be Asian, Africa, or Hispanic, the reverse side of this message is also clear: that because they are not white, they are not as good as the people they see advertised by the multinational corporations.  This can create feels of inferiority and VandeKerckhove also notes that with all this heavy advertising “culturally specific identity is replaced by a consumer identity that redefines the individual in terms of products”   (VandeKerckhove).    An advertisement that points this out is the new Loreal, Paris campaign for “Advanced Haircare” products: the bottles of the hair products are shown in a brightly lit against a dark background, similar to a fashion show catwalk, and images of women with long, beautiful hair  are played throughout the clip.  All these women are white and very fair-skinned and fair-haired, and the emphasis on Loreal being from Paris underlines what Janus talks about in her article: that being beautiful and sophisticated means being white, and from a Western center like Paris.   To  use another example from my own personal experience, when I was visiting Guatemala, I was often stopped on the street by natives who had not seen many Caucasian people in person, and children would often come up to me and touch my face or my hair, because I am very fair-skinned and have light hair.  It was, in many of the places I visited there, very clearly considered to be a good thing to be so light-colored.

In conclusion, it is important to understand exactly how widespread Western advertising is is developing areas of the world and what kind of effects this advertising has on the people who live there.  The effort that advertising has put on destroying many important parts of native cultures, the importance that it puts on the need to buy and accumulate material goods, and the feelings of inferiority advertising can create are all negative aspects of the trend towards globalization.  They should all be kept as part of the discussion of international advertising and its effect on all of us.

Word count is 1236

1.“Transnational culture” is a “direct outcome of the internationalization of production and accumulation promoted through the standardized development models and cultural forms” and that the goal is to “eliminate local cultural variation” (Janus)

The “transnational culture”  we have today  is the result of companies trying to encourage similar consumer behavior throughout the world and to discourage any kind of difference from one culture to another.

  1. “the effect….to annihilate a people’s belief in their names, in their language, in their environment, in their unity, in their capacities, and ultimately in themselves” (VandeKerckhove).

Advertising can destroy the parts of a person’s culture that helps to give them self-esteem and define who they are.

  1. “a ‘consumer democracy’ is held out to the poor around the world as a substitute for political democracy” (Janus)

Advertising gives poor people a choice on what to buy, but cannot replace the need for political choice.

  1. {Advertising} “resulted in different expectations and measurements of happiness and success” (VandeKerckhove).
  2. Advertising makes people feel differently about how they define ideas like “happiness” and “success”.
  3. “One message that comes through clearly is that happiness, achievement, and being white have something to do with one another” (Janus)

Paraphrase: Advertising promotes the belief that being white is a prerequisite of being  happy and successful.

“Culturally specific identity is replaced by a consumer identity that redefines the individual in terms of products”   (VandeKerckhove).

Paraphrase: Advertising does not define people by who they are but by what they buy