Create a need. Then fulfill it. That’s the idea behind selling products. Quite simple, really. Sure, there are varying levels of how valuable products and services are to consumers (from health insurance to Sham-Wow!), but the basic principle remains the same. If we didn’t need or want something, why else would we seek out products? Let’s look at toilet cleaner–a necessity in today’s world for clean home living. Most likely, we wouldn’t die without clean toilets, but the social stigma against a nasty toilet is so strong (not to mention the smell) that the product is an absolute necessity for us.
Advertising perpetuates an image or lifestyle (often times unattainable) that consumers continually strive towards by making purchases of products. Such products are portrayed as capable of fixing the specific problem we may be experiencing through repetitious, clever, and/or convincing ad campaigns. But maybe the advertised product that ended up being purchased saved the consumer’s life, as has probably been the case at some point in time (i.e. choosing a Volvo for its reputation of safety over choosing a Honda). Good for the consumer. The campaign worked and can now be further perpetuated for further sales. For the rest of the purchases we make, however, the other brand could have done the same job just as well with less money spent. Yet the persuasiveness of Volvo’s campaigns on their emphasis and obsession with safety is enough for many to cough up the extra dough with little thought. Their purchase has become more of an act of ‘feeling’ than ‘thinking’. Thus is the magical art of branding.
The relationship between media and consumer is a two-way road. This process has been summarized excellently by Sut Jhally, who refers to this phenomenon as ‘partipulation,’ wherein society participates in its own manipulation. We demand gossip magazines with images of beautiful, though photoshopped, people. We purchase beauty supplies and cars and watches that we believe will position ourselves as better off than those without such products. A brand such as Rolex doesn’t tell the time any more precisely than other watch. A BMW won’t get you out of traffic any faster and you probably won’t ever get the chance to drive it as fast as you want on a crash course (as is so typically shown in such car commercials). Brand loyalty gets people to cough up thousands more than is necessary. Sociological phenomenon? Societal dysfunction? You bet.
Welcome to advertising.