“Advertising may be described as the science of arresting human intelligence long enough to get money from it.” – Stephen Leacock Garden of Folly (1924)
Advertisers have paraded their products with individualistic, religious, and simple lifestyle qualities. This technique, although effective, is ironic. Advertisers sell products by enveloping them with these values that, paradoxically, if that value were actually practiced by the discerning individual, the ad would not be successful.
Individualism has become to be understood as one’s self-expression and self-reliance – the ability to be independent and powerful. The counter to individualism is conformity. An Adidas ad promotes individualism with Muhammad Ali running while a narrative states there are those that listen to everybody else and those that listen to themselves. The ad concludes soberly that there are few that do the latter. The cultural value of individuality, self-actualization, and independence is the selling value for the product. Adidas aims to be conceived as a product that individuals, champions, and independent thinkers and believers purchase. Yet, the paradox is that the more people buy (which is the aim of the ad) the more homogeneous the brand – the more homogeneous the more conforming.
The ad narrator states that ‘there are those that listen to others and those that listen to themselves.’ Then it concludes that few do the latter in a salute to free thinkers. However, the ad’s goal is for others to listen to its sales pitch, which would not be considered freethinking in practice.
In advertising nothing is sacred. Ikea has associated their organized bedrooms as bringing ‘peacefulness’. They consider their products either inspirational or inspiring. One ad depicted a woman meditating in a Zen Buddhist position on an Ikea mat surrounded by Ikea products. Her mind meditates on Ikea products. The ad embellishes a type of eastern religious lifestyle while the products piggy back as necessary items to create this meditative mood. Ironically, Zen Buddhism and many other eastern religions condemn materialistic lifestyles and material accumulation. Despite Buddhist monks’ claim that the only way to be truly happy is to have no want, the glaring contradiction in this ad may not be apparent to the traditional urbanite.
If the consumer was to put into practice the principle behind the inspiration for these ads, individuals would not be buying. The manipulation of conflicting ideas is a sophisticated type of consumer reverse psychology.
Probably the most paradoxical trend is that of the hippie, opt shop style clothing that has become an ultimate paradigm in corporate drives for profits. Ben Bagdikian states in his book Media and Democracy (1984/2000) on page 187:
“In the 1960s the psychedelic style in art and clothing, created by hippies as antiestablishment statements, was adopted almost at once in advertisements… as a way of placing inviting and novel garments on old sales pitches.”
The overall look and associated identity is there but not the principle or practice. The irony of purchasing antiestablishment clothing from establishments is a demonstration of society’s ostensible nature. The buying into identities and projecting an appearance is the underlying fuel of thought that runs a consumerist society.
When the overall aim is bottom line and the general practice is profit than anything is justifiable even if the principal behind a value is in conflict with the motives of the company, as long as it is not in practice, then corporations will trivialize and commodity them. Buyers beware.