In this essay I will examine the advertising strategy of Benetton and the criticisms of their campaigns. Before speaking about Benetton I will discuss advertising and communication theories generally. There are different ideas about the function of advertising.
1 / ADVERTISING THEORIES /
Advertising theories are a complex subject, I cannot explore every aspect. This is why I have decidedto focus on three key points : persuasion, perception and ethics in advertising.
By nature, advertising is neither neutral nor objective. Advertising informs, entertains and sells. Occasionally, it even inspires. If advertising is about selling, then persuasion is how we get there. To create advertising that engenders persuasion, it is necessary to have a properly focusedadvertising strategy.
Where is the boundary between persuasive and manipulative advertising ? In some cases, ads are called persuasive rather than manipulative. Persuasion seems to be too large a term to include also the characteristics of objectionable advertisements. In common usage, persuasion includes situations in which the behaviour of desire is produced by means of rational argument. Accordingto Tom Beauchamps, persuasion is a process which includes a mixture of influences, with coercion and manipulation. He defines the former as « a deliberate and successful attempt by one person to manipulate another person by appeals to reason to freely accept beliefs, attitudes, values, intentions, or actions. »
( Tom L. Beachamps, (1984) manipulative advertising ). As this definition suggests,Beauchamp sees persuasion as a form of manipulation.
II. THE EFFECT
Some studies have tried to detect differences in the impact of the media on different age groups, on different sexes or between different media. Some of the research into the effects of the advertising examined the change of attitudes of people, values or behaviour provoked following exposure to advertisements. In generalthe optimistic research argues that the media reinforce rather than change a person’s prior attitude and are capable of satisfying a plurality of needs. In addition, audience members are held to be active and involved in their understanding of the media and are not , as has been thought, totally passive. Clearly personal interpretation plays a big part when we see an advertisement, according toour personal perceptions and our experiences. There is no law that says we must receive an ad’s meaning in a uniform manner or in precisely the way intended by its producer. People can respond differently to different ads according to their language, imagery and mode of address.
Many critics of popular culture claim that the real impact of the advertising is on the cultural climate of society.For example, there are indications that the language and the values of advertising cover a variety of forms of communication in modern society.
Some values as love, friendship, pleasure, happiness and sexual attraction form the basis of advertisements.
The shift of meanings and values and the debasement of ordinary language has brought about what Fred Inglis calls « a distortion in symbols andestablished meaning like love or warmth or friendship or indeed success and possession » (1929) and Williams (1974) argues that there has been a « mutual transfer » between the formulae of commercials and those of separate programmes.
Discussion of advertising’s cultural effects is not a new phenomenon. As early as the 1930s, the literary critic F.R Leavis accused advertisers of corruptingfeelings, debasing language, exploiting people’s emotional needs and fears and encouraging greed, snobbery and social conformity.
The language used by advertisers shows that they think of people as targets on which to make an impact, rather than as human beings.
III. ETHICS IN ADVERTISING
The advertisers who practise the manipulation are not a « universal model » or all our advertisements...
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