Monday, 28 January 2013

OUGD401 - Advertising Essay

'Advertising doesn't sell things; all advertising does is change the way people think or feel' (Jeremy Bullmore). Evaluate this statement with reference to selected critical theories (past and present).

The purpose of advertising is hard to define as it is used in many different ways. The contexts of advertising are continuously changing and adapting depending on the change in society and politics. However the underlying purposes of advertising have always remained. It is a fair argument that advertising is, essentially used to provoke feelings and emotions towards a product or subject matter. This emotion is then manipulated into convincing the consumer that buying the product is the resolution to the new (or old) problem.

Like most forms of design, advertising covers a broad range of audiences. Advertising may be concerning family, lifestyle, gender, travel, almost anything is advertised in some form. This makes it difficult to define its purpose into specifics. In many modern-day cases: the bigger the audience the better. Contemporary advertising has become highly advanced and easily accessible able due to development in technology. This again, has a high impact on the purpose of advertising. Commercialism and consumerism appears to have become greedy and competitive.

Judith Williamson uses a non-biased approach towards the nature of advertising. She makes many key points about the relationships formed within advertising. Her observations of advertising tend to focus around the concept of context, content and purpose within an advertisement. Williamson believes that the obvious function of advertising is to sell rings to us, but also 'to create structures of meaning.' (Williamson, 1995, pp11-12). Concept is crucial in terms of understanding an advertisement. If there is a weak concept, the advertisement will lack the visual engagement, which it needs in order to generate a strong emotional response. Williamson concludes this by stating 'For even the 'obvious' function of advertising - the definition above, 'to sell things to us' - involves a meaning process. Advertisements must take into account not only the inherent qualities and attributes of the products they are trying to sell, but also the way in which they can make those properties mean something to us.' (Williamson, 1995, pp12) This begins to suggest the importance of emotional interaction in order to achieve a strong drive of human behavior.

Another commonly used advertising method is to recreate the context of a product to human-like emotions, moods or attributes. Williamson, again, supports this claiming '…advertisements have to translate statements from the world of things, for example, that a car will do so many miles per gallon, into a form that means something in terms of people. Suppose that the car did a high mpg: this could be translated into terms of thriftiness, the user being a 'clever' saver, in other words being a certain kind of person… The advertisement translates these 'thing' statements to us as human statements; hey are given a humanly symbolic 'exchange value' (Williamson, 1995, pp12). This is a good explanation of how advertising works to develop a relationship with its audience and the way that feelings are generated in order to sell a product. Something as simple as a car mpg can begin to mean a lot to someone if it is sensationalized into making them seem like a particular type of person. Willamson continues; 'Certainly advertising sets up connections between certain types of consumers and certain products; and having made these links and created symbols of exchange it can use them as 'given', and so can we. For example: diamonds may be marketed by likening them to eternal love, creating symbolism where the mineral means something not in its own terms, as a rock, but in human term, as a sign. Thus a diamond comes to 'mean' love and endurance for us. Once the connection has been made, we begin to translate the other way and in fact skip translating altogether: taking the sign for what it signifies, the thing for the feeling' (Williamson, 1995, pp12).

'Successful advertising appeals both to the head and to the heart, to reason and emotions.' (Beatson 1986). Beatson and Williamson's theories about meaning and context when buying a product support one another. The three elements - heart, reason and emotion, are required to work together to form ideas, justification and meaning when buying a product. Sean Brierley refers to two main advertising methods categorized and systematized in the 1920s. These are 'reason-why' and 'atmosphere' advertising techniques (Brierley, 1995, pp139). The 'Reason-why' theory supports Williamson's observation of the importance of meaning when buying a product. Brierley suggests that in order for a product to appeal to the target consumer, they must be able to find legitimate reasons for doing so. He explains that 'Reason-why' was designed to stimulate demand by constructing a reason for purchase, such as helping to save time, being modern, or being socially acceptable' (Brierley, 1995, pp139). Reason-why ads help consumers define one product from another. Certain advertisements would include reasons within imperative slogans to help consumers make an easy decision. This is ironic however because the effectiveness is then altered when another company decides to use similar tactics.

Fig. 1 is a perfume advert for Boss Nuit - a new fragrance for Hugo Boss. There is a photograph of Gwyneth Paltrow to the left presented in a beautiful, elegant and sophisticated manner. To the right of the advertisement, there is an image of the product alongside the catchphrase 'THIS WILL BE YOUR NIGHT' The phrase itself combined with the use of capitals suggests an assertive, 'bossy' tone. The phrase is intentionally ambiguous; it claims this will be 'your' night. As there is no indication of who 'you' is, the advertisement essentially addresses all readers. The statement is also unclear as to what exactly the night will consist of. Due to the minimal amount of information given, the connotation of this advertisement suggests that it is referring to looking like Gwyneth Paltrow, when in fact it is simply selling a fragrance. This advertisement, like many others concerning cosmetics, focuses mainly on forming a connotation of 'buy this product and you will become beautiful'.

There is usually an assumption portrayed to consumers that to buy a certain product is to be the best-looking or most powerful person. Another example of this is L'Oreal. The main slogan used time and time again is 'Because you're worth it.' This strongly supports Brierley's 'reason-why' theory; by telling the consumer they are worth it, suggests they should buy this product because they deserve to treat themselves. The direct reference to 'you' implies a non-specific audience, in other words 'everyone' is worth it. Other reasons for wanting this particular product could be based on the imagery of beautiful women featured in the advertisement. One example is a television commercial of Kerry Washington - a well-known, very attractive young woman talking about why she recommends L'Oreal. In the commercial she explains 'I feel most beautiful, when I feel most empowered. For me, being beautiful is really about being in my body confidently, and knowing that I'm worth it, and that I don't have to shy away from who I am or what my gifts are. Beauty comes from knowing who you are.' The commercial is then concluded with the L’Oreal logo above the main slogan 'Because you're worth it.' This particular commercial is so far-fetched that the consumer is not, in fact being informed about the product, but solely about why an inspirational icon approves of the product. This supports Jeremy Bullmore's statement that advertising changes the way people feel without necessarily selling the product. L'Oreal is a well-recognized, successful brand, however if a consumer was watching this commercial, without any existing knowledge of the product, it can be argued that they were being sold the emotion and feeling above the product.

Another L'Oreal commercial featuring Cheryl Cole supports Williamson's theory of giving products human-like qualities but does this by addressing what is claimed in this commercial to be '5 top UK hair problems: Weak, limp, lifeless, dull and straw-like'. All of these 'hair problems' are based upon human personality attributes. a person can be described as weak, limp, lifeless and dull. From a viewers perspective, the relationship between hair and personal feelings about themselves become closely connected. There is an implication that if you are choosing 'L'Oreal Paris Elvive Full Restore 5' your hair will be better than all of these, making you a better person. This also gives the consumer freedom to imagine what they would be like once choosing to use this product. In this example the advertisement does explain what benefits they will get, but instead puts emphasis on what won't be a problem anymore. Ironically, these 'problems' are both generated and conquered within this advertisement. That is, if the audience responds in the intended manner; to buy 'L'Oreal Paris Elvive Full Restore 5'.

Fig. 2 is advertisement for Rain Cosmetics. The photograph is of Alyssa Campanella – Miss USA 2011. The caption placed at the top of the page reads: Be Sexy. Be Seen. Be Different. By referencing to ‘being different, there is a sense of irony. Again, there is no specific audience therefore it can be argued that this caption is targeted at a large audience. This challenges the concept of ‘being different’ because if everyone chose to use this product, they would be doing the opposite. The ‘reason-why’ theory applies here; its suggested that to use this product is to be sexy, seen and different. 

Another strong element, which supports Jeremy Bullmore's statement is the subject of finance within the advertising industry. Most money for cosmetics pays for advertising not not manufacturers. The products themselves cost little to make, yet they can be very expensive to buy. This is because consumers are effectively paying for the image rather than the materials. If an advertisement effectively promotes a product it can be suggested that the price becomes less relevant. 'L’Oréal is among the world’s largest cosmetics companies, with a presence in 130 countries. Its UK and Ireland division is the fourth largest in Europe and fifth in the world, employing 2,500 people in the UK. The company has been in the UK for 75 years, and estimates that 67% of UK women use its products. The company made a key personnel move with the appointment of luxury division managing director Marc Menesguen to the executive committee to handle a new strategic marketing department.' (Brad Insight Top 100 Advertisers, 2011). These statistics show a clear representation of the impact that L'Oreal, alone has on women's choices when buying cosmetics. Although the advertising methods mainly attend to the impact of their products or the feelings generated from choosing L'Oreal above other brands, the results appear to be effective.

Whether they are found in a newspaper, magazine, TV commercial or from multiple sources, advertisements have the potential to impact a person's whole lifestyle. This could be to the extent where they become a further form advertisement in their own right. Subjects such as social status and class can begin to be defined or justified through wealth for example. The best-known brands are able to charge incredibly high prices for their products because they are believed to be the best. It is arguable that advertising is the source, which begins to trigger these beliefs. A product may seem cheap if the advertising is of poor quality or made on a low budget. Although this product may be more reliable, due to the associations with low cost, some target audiences may lose respect or appeal for a product. Williamson references to lyrics from the song 'I can't get no Satisfaction' by Mick Jagger and Keith Richard:

'Well he can't be a man 'cause he doesn't smoke
The same cigarettes as me
I can't get no
I can't get me no

(Jagger, M and Richard, K from 'I can't get no Satisfaction',1965)

The reference to this example is clear and precise when trying to interpret the confusing effect of advertising on a consumer. It is ironic however that the lyric suggests that his specific type of cigarettes make him more of a man than anyone who choses another type of cigarette. Therefore he is, effectively, advertising his preferred choice. The irony here though, is that he is then claiming he is not completely satisfied. The competition in adverting causes status, wealth and lifestyle to cross over one another. This could arguably make it difficult for consumers who are continuously concerned about finding the 'best' products. In society most things attempt to claim they are unique, better or even best. If a consumer is paying a large amount of money, they will expect a good result. As the definition of a 'good' product is then hard to define, this particular target audience could be satisfied to put trust in the value of a product. If the product proves to be successful, the consumer will feel inclined to proceed with further decision-making in a similar manner. This refers back to the focus of cosmetics advertising that spending good money, on a good product, has the potential to make people feel positive.

The involvement of finance and emotion within determining a consumer’s choice to buy a product can be related back to Brierley's reference to the 'Reason-why' advertising technique. He mentions a later version of 'reason-why' advertisement used in the 1920s, which was developed in 1950 by US agency boss Rosser Reeves. According to Brierley 'This too was based on 'rational' consumer decisions, but more explicitly tried to find an essence to advertising' (Brierley, 1995, pp140). Rosser Reeves specified that 'each advertisement must make a proposition to the consumer… Each advertisement must say to each reader: 'Buy this product, and you will get this specific benefit… one that the competition either cannot, or does not, offer.' It must be unique - either a uniqueness of the brand or a claim not otherwise made in that particular field of advertising… The proposition must be so strong that it can move the mass millions, i.e., pull over the new customers to your product' (Reeves, 1961)'. Reeve's theory outlines the main justifications for attitudes towards advertising. Consumers find comfort in knowing the benefits of a product before they buy it. In terms of cosmetics advertising the benefits usually include looking beautiful and to feeling good; arguably two factors which the target audience - women buying beauty products, are aiming to achieve.

In conclusion it can be argued that the purpose of advertising is hard to define into whether it simply sells things or instead just changes the way people feel. This is due to the wide variety of reasons and contexts in which averting is used. The nature of advertising is both persuasive and influential on the target audience, some more than others. These techniques are there in order to generate a set of feelings and emotions from the intended consumer. Therefore, on the one hand, Bullmore's statement is correct. On the other hand, it can be argued further that these emotions are essentially aimed to be generated only as a method of manipulating or convincing the consumer into thinking these feelings should lead them towards an answer - to buy a certain product. If a consumer feels that they are missing a certain quality or factor in their life they may be motivated by effective advertising such as a shampoo advert which suggests happier hair, and, essentially a happier person.

The power of advertising depends on the knowledge and understanding of the relationship between what the consumer wants and the key reasons they want it. If a product becomes well known, it is usually supported with good advertising sources and methods. Many products in modern-day put a lot more money into their advertising than what it would cost to make the product alone. Similarly, consumers appear willing to spend a large amount of money if it means they are gaining their desired results. Advertising is the bridge between what a product actually is compared to what a product would like to be seen as. Therefore it can be suggested that advertising does sell a product, but without the process of competing for the sale their would be much less drive to do so.


Brierley, S. (1995) 'The Advertising Handbook'  London: Routledge. pp139-140

Williamson, J. (1995) 'Decoding Advertisements - Ideology and Meaning in Advertising. London: Marion Boyars. pp11-14

Insight, B. (2011). The UK Top 100 Advertisers 2011/ Cosmetics & Toiletries/ L'Oréal UK [Internet] Available at: Last accessed 26th Jan 2013.

kwashingtondotcom (2009) Kerry Washington L'Oréal Commercial - 'Because You're Worth It' Available at: Last accessed 25th Jan 2013

L'OréalParisUK (2009). Cheryl Cole TV ad for Launch of L'Oréal Paris Elvive Full Restore 5 [Internet]. Available at: Last Accessed 26th Jan 2013.

(fig.1) Gwyneth Paltrow Hugo Boss [online] (updated Monday 30 July 2012) Available at: Last accessed 27th Jan 2013

(Fig. 2) | Rain Cosmetics, LLCRain. Cosmetics Ad with Miss USA [online] Last accessed 28th Jan 2013

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