Hey advertisers, ‘L’Eggo my ego!’

Advertisers must move past the desire-creation model, to a more human one.

by Jennifer Bissell

Whether youâÄôve seen them towering above freeways or whizzing along on the broadside of city buses, the ads of the Mall of AmericaâÄôs fall campaign have been catching attention. In one, a pair of candy pink lips imposes upon a matching carnation. âÄúHave you been neglecting your awesomeness?âÄù In another, a devilishly good-looking man looks off into the distance, wearing a pair of smashing sunglasses: âÄúInstantly boost your âÄòwhoâÄôs he?âÄô factor.âÄù All nine of the ads are against dark jewel-tone backgrounds. The text is faded, and interestingly, many of the models are faceless, focusing more directly on the products displayed. The depictions ensure any viewer can identify with the ad and place themselves within the scenario. âÄúYes,âÄù many think as the ad suggests, âÄúI have been neglecting my awesomeness.âÄù The designs are captivating; yet, to me, something is wrong when advertisements cross the line from product solicitation to outrightly thinking for us. With its new fall campaign, the Mall of AmericaâÄôs marketing strategy is startlingly clear: Get people to feel good about spending money. Since the American PR revolution, conjured in large part by FreudâÄôs nephew Edward Bernays in the early 20th century, advertising has explicitly based its success on the manipulation of the individualâÄôs desire. It seeks to remove the guilt of consumption and replace this impulse, for better or worse, with pleasure. Take for instance this ad: âÄúThe road to economic recovery may be long. YouâÄôll need shoes.âÄù The message is both fun and clever, but the accompanying photo is dazzlingly ridiculous. It shows a four-inch high heel perched upon a womanâÄôs palm. It has studded leather bands strapped every which way and a mesh-looking fabric underneath. To top it off, the modelâÄôs lipstick matches her nail polish. ItâÄôs utterly yummy. The ad tries to paint the pain-stricken road to recovery in a positive light, poking fun at the hard financial times. Yes, efforts to boost consumer confidence are valuable, and the road to recovery does intimately involve personal consumption. However, advertisements should continue to exercise âÄî or at least promote âÄî some sort of fiscal responsibility. It would be naïve to believe that all ads promoting unnecessary products such as the Chia Obama will disappear, but in this burgeoning green era, and after an economic upheaval that implores upon society the danger of breakneck consumption, the model of materialistic advertising should be retired and replaced with a more responsible and ethical one: humanist advertising, if you will, which exhibits an awareness of its consequences. When asked about the ethical limits of advertising, Professor Dan Wackman of the University of MinnesotaâÄôs School of Journalism and Mass Communication shared this startling insight: âÄúPeople in advertising pay much more attention to legal aspects than ethical aspects. What is improper in advertising is to have false or deceptive advertising âĦ ThereâÄôs some research that indicates âĦ that ad people are often myopic about ethical dimensions; ad people donâÄôt see [ethical issues], and when they do, they donâÄôt talk about them.âÄù Advertising, it seems, is ripe for revolution. âÄúPurse, dress, belt, shoes. Happy, happy, joy, joy.âÄù A model poses wearing a black dress made completely of sequins. âÄúIs that new or did you get more interesting?âÄù A woman poses with a leather handbag in one arm and her other hand on her hip. Why should products and purchases bring us joy? ShouldnâÄôt these emotions be reserved for hard-earned personal success? Or for friends and family? Is buying a purse really going to make me more interesting? I would think learning and gaining new life experiences would do that. Not the procurement of yet another fleetingly fashionable handbag. Obviously, advertisements sell commercialism to the masses, but they have become so ubiquitous that they are beginning to become anti-ads, spurring the viewer toward instant criticism and textual deconstruction. âÄúFall in love with yourself all over again.âÄù Yes, being self-absorbed will make me feel much better about myself. IâÄôll be sure to indulge by purchasing that BloomingdaleâÄôs jacket or the shoes from Steve Madden and jeans from Martin + Osa âĦ not. Now, I would be lying if I said that when I put on a favorite dress I donâÄôt feel an ego bounce. I would also be lying if I didnâÄôt admit to shopping (often). However, the theme of products being a part of us goes too far, and as a part-time humanist, it is quite disturbing. Products are only tools to serve us. They are not us. Right now it seems advertising is on the brink of a new trend, and itâÄôs at least remotely positive. A good example, and one the MOA should take note of, is LeviâÄôs new âÄúGo ForthâÄù ad campaign. In black-and-white cinematography, a sign begins to illuminate âÄúAmericaâÄù in the distance. A montage flashes while a poem by Walt Whitman is read in a scratchy voice. Fireworks explode, a train passes a rundown neighborhood, children play, a businessman is surrounded by an angry mob and a couple is shown in the grips of young love. The ad tells a story of inspiration and loss in America. Of course, it sells the jeans; but more, it highlights the stories of the people as individuals. The ad is uplifting and engaging. This is the kind of advertising that should exist right now âÄî ads that are uplifting, mindful and encouraging. Compare this to one of the latest ads by the MOA. âÄúItâÄôs good to know you can get better looking.âÄù Why point out that we are all inadequate? It isnâÄôt constructive. LetâÄôs use the recession as a chance to grow âÄî a chance to start over and think critically and creatively. No longer should materialism itself be propagated as personal growth, the great American sellout. Advertisers ought to try harder to fit their messages into established human cultural space rather than create a consumption space for insufficient humans to fill. Jennifer Bissell welcomes comments at [email protected].