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CONSUMER CULTURE ESSAY

  1. 1. TOP14413816 The following essay is going to analyse how the consumer culture in a capitalist system uses or creates identities, the ideologies that surround certain identities and the ways in which these impact branding and marketing. A particular advertisement, “Choose Beautiful” by Dove, will be examined in the essay, as the essay will specifically focus on the female identity and Dove is a popular and preferred brand among women. The structure of the essay will be firstly describing the keywords of the questions by using relevant academic theories, secondly giving answers to the questions, afterwards portraying the mentioned advertisement and finally analysing it. First of all, “a consumer culture is a commodity culture, - that is, a culture in which commodities are central to cultural meaning.” (Sturken and Cartwright, 2001, p.198) In other words, as Celia Lury stated in her book, consumer culture is a specific form of material culture - the culture of the
  2. 2. TOP14413816 appropriation or usage of objects and things. (2011, p.9) The consumer societies appeared in the framework of modernity, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century with the growth of mass production, following the Industrial Revolution and with the unification of people in large cities. In a consumer society, the individual is faced with and encompassed by a huge variety of goods, and the qualities of those goods alter regularly. (Sturken and Cartwright, 2001, p.191) Moreover, the term identity is concerned with the supposed uniformity of an individual or of a social group, always and in all situations. However, the relatively current, anti essentialist discourses about identity highlight that identities are socially created, and suggest that they are established in specific historial and social contexts, that they have to respond to the variable situations; thus they are exposed to constant change and rearrangement.(Bennett et al.,2005, pp.198-199) “Ideologies are systems of belief that exist within all cultures.” Sturken and Cartwright define ideology as the extensive but
  3. 3. TOP14413816 essential, common set of ideas and values through which people live out their intricate relations to a variety of social structures. The most significant feature of ideologies is that they seem to be given or innate, instead of an element of a system of belief created by a culture, with the purpose of operating in a specific way. (Sturken and Cartwright,2001, pp.21-22) Marketing can be comprehended as “the management of the means of consumption.” Management is understood as an expansive procedure that tries to guarantee that the means of production are utilized in a logical way - in terms of capitalist economy, this indicates confirming that they are used in a way that can produce surplus value. In terms of marketing, this requires establishing a market. Marketing practice entails information - information gives an interface that marketing can take action. (Arvidsson, 2006, p.43) In other words, the marketing discipline has come to contribute actively to the production of markets, by way of using information concerning the market - both about competitors and
  4. 4. TOP14413816 especially about consumers. (Lury, 2004, p.14) Branding can be primarily defined as “a process by which commodities are given an explicitly self-promotional form.” (Lury, 1993, cited in Moor, 2007, p.2) It develops into an apparent power in the arrangement of production in industrial countries in the second half of the nineteenth century, and grows in importance over the subsequent one hundred and fifty years. (Lury,2004, p.15) Branding, as an industry, is a crucial system in providing the steady working of a universal capitalist economy. In public discussion, it generally performs as an indicator of the rising commodification or marketization of ordinary life, and of a specifically merciless and Western ruled form of globalization. (Moor, 2007, p.1) Finally, according to Raymond Williams, advertising can be described as “the official art of the modern capitalist society” and “it is what ‘we’ put up in ‘our’ streets and use to fill up to half of ‘our’ newspapers and magazines”. Advertising is a dominant element of the capitalist business system, it is a source of money for a variety of general communication,
  5. 5. TOP14413816 and it is not only concerned with selling goods and services, but also with educating people about individual and social values. (1999, p.421) In short, “advertising is one of the primary means through which [this] exchange of goods is promoted.”(Sturken and Cartwright, 2001,p.191) The consumer culture in a capitalist society uses or creates identities in various ways. Within the circumstances provided by the consumer culture, self-identity is not just comprehended in connection with possessions, but it is in fact formed as a possession. Consumer culture is an origin of the modern belief that self-identity is a sort of asset, cultural source or belonging. (Lury, 1996, p.8) The commodity self, a term created by Stuart Ewen, is used to illustrate how people’s selves and subjectivities are shaped and mediated through their consumption and utilization of commodities, such as cars, clothing and cosmetic products. (Sturken and Cartwright, 2001, p.198) In a consumer culture, it is recognized that women are most inclined to conduct the
  6. 6. TOP14413816 consumption act and to buy most of the products, thus the character of the consumer is shaped as a feminine one. (Lury, 1996, p.121) Therefore, the use or creation of the female identity is prominent in a consumer culture. Advertising, as a fundamental element of marketing (Sturken and Cartwright, 2001, p.198), is also one of the most significant means in the construction of identities conducted in a consumer culture. Advertising invites consumers to consider commodities as fundamental instruments through which to project their personalities. (Sturken and Cartwright, 2001, p.198) It presents a world of fantasy to consumers and persuades them to think that they can achieve this life. In this way, as argued by Sturken and Cartwright, advertising makes people create commodity selves and work to obtain the features that are attributed to particular goods by using them. (2001, p.214) “Women are both objects or signs of representation in advertising and the market for the majority of the products advertised.” Therefore they are situated at two points of the commodity
  7. 7. TOP14413816 exchange cycle at the same time - as a favored symbol in commodity aesthetics and advertising, and the main target market. (Lury,1996, p.135) In terms of ideology, the most significant ideology that surround the identities in a consumer culture is of capitalism. There is an endless request for new goods and the requirement to sell the old ones with new packages, slogans and campaigns in a consumer society. This is comprehended in the same way that capitalism relies on the overproduction of commodities in Marxist theory. The demand to consume products is essential in the ideology of the capitalist society, as it produces more products than the required amount, in order to operate. (Sturken and Cartwright, 2001, p.192) Consequently, as marketing and branding are the some of the primary means that this ideology of the capitalist society functions, they need to be constantly alert, they need to develop new strategies and techniques to grasp the changing viewpoints of the
  8. 8. TOP14413816 consumers, and especially in order to make the products consumed. For instance, when it was acknowledged that people, in the field of self-expression, were emotionally connected to their products; marketing had to move on to these emotional and unreasonable relations, instead of focusing on the belief that people made their choices logically regarding the order of necessities and values. (Arvidsson , 2006, p.59) In terms of branding, global brands such as Coke and Kleenex have to take actions against the “generic use of trademarks” since if a product’s mark become truly global, then it means that the company does not possess it any more and it no longer serves as a commodity that brings profit. (Sturken and Cartwright, 2001, p.228) Dove’s “Choose Beautiful” advertisement, part of its “Real Beauty” campaign, was released in 7 April 2015 and it was shot in five different cities - San Francisco, Shanghai, Delhi, London and Sao Paulo. The video starts by showing a young
  9. 9. TOP14413816 woman standing in front of the entrance of a building, looking in a hesitant way. Afterwards, different women from various cultural backgrounds and ethnicities, such as Asian and Indian, and also from different age groups are shown and throughout the film the women that appear are considerably different from each other in mentioned ways. Their voices are heard in the background as voice-over. Two placards, one with the word “average” and the other with the word “beautiful” written on, are placed above two entrance doors of buildings in different cities. A woman says that they had to choose one of the two pathways to walk, and then different women entering either from the “average” or the “beautiful” marked doors are displayed. Various women explain to the camera which decision they made, and their thoughts and feelings about it. Some of them regret their choice, some of them question it, and some of them are satisfied with it. Towards the end of the video, the question “Beautiful is a great word, so why not see what’s on the other side of that?” is asked, and the video closes with
  10. 10. TOP14413816 the words “#ChooseBeautiful”, and then Dove’s name and logo appear in a white background. In media and popular culture, various elements of feminism have been taken into consideration, however by using concepts such as “empowerment” and “choice”, they are modified and made more individualistic. Then they appear as recent and contemporary ideas about women, as an alternative to feminism – more specifically, as “faux feminism”.( McRobbie, 2009, p.1) In the consumer culture, by the usage of various feminist values and discourses, feminism is used as a tool of bringing in a sense of novelty and vivacity to the products of companies. ( McRobbie, 2008,548) Many advertisements utilise the terminology of empowerment, self-control and self-realization which determine conventional feminism, so as to talk to female viewers that associate themselves with those ideas.(Sturken and Cartwright, 2001, p.225) In the “Choose Beautiful” advertisement, this type of utilisation of feminist values is
  11. 11. TOP14413816 evident. The campaign especially uses the concepts of choice and empowerment, as it indicates that the power to make the decision about their appearance is solely in women’s hands. However, under the guise of this seemingly feminist message, the main purpose of the advertisement is to sell the products that it is promoting, by creating an identification between choosing “beautiful” and choosing “Dove” products. Furthermore, as Angela McRobbie argues, there is a flow of undesirable subversive patriarchalism concealed under the festivities of female independence, in feminine popular culture. (McRobbie, 2008, p.539) In other words, it appears that the anxious field of male approval is substituted with self-imposed feminine standards, as women can make their own decisions now. Thus, patriarchal control remains within the system of self-policing, which requires women to constantly and over and over again judge themselves. (McRobbie, 2009, p.63) Accordingly, in “Choose Beautiful” there is not a presence of patriarchal authority as it is women themselves who decide whether they are
  12. 12. TOP14413816 beautiful or average; however women are challenged to measure, criticize and put themselves in one of the two very limited categories. Moreover, as Winship indicates, advertising has a significant role in the belief that beauty is attainable by all women, if they use the appropriate products, and it is not something that is naturally given to someone. (1983, cited in Lury, 1996, p.134) In this advertisement, beauty is shown as literally only a doorstep away from all kinds of women. However, by making beauty so easy to achieve and asking “Beautiful is a great word, so why not see what’s on the other side of that?” the actual message that is wanted to be given, by encouraging women, is that any women can “choose” to be beautiful, if they simply use the Dove products. In summary, this essay presented a detailed examination about the ways in which the consumer culture utilizes or constructs identities in a capitalist system, the ideologies around these identities and the influences of these on
  13. 13. TOP14413816 branding and marketing, and additionally analysed the “Choose Beautiful” advertisement by Dove. Bibliography Arvidsson, A. (2006) Brands: Meaning and Value in Media Culture. Oxon:Routledge. Bennett, T., Grossberg, L., Morris, M. (2005) New Keywords:A Revised Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Malden:Blackwell Publishing. Lury, C. (2004) Brands: The Logos of Global Economy. Oxon:Routledge. Lury, C. (1996) Consumer Culture. Cambridge: Polity Press. Lury, C. (2011) Consumer Culture-Second Edition. Cambridge:Polity Press.
  14. 14. TOP14413816 McRobbie, A. (2009) The Aftermath of Feminism. London: SAGE Publications. McRobbie, A. (2008) ‘Young Women and Consumer Culture- An Intervention.’ Cultural Studies, 22(5) pp. 531-550. Moor,L., (2007) Rise of Brands. Oxford:Berg. Sturken, M. and Cartwright, L. (2009) Practices of Looking: An Introduction To Visual Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Williams, R., (1999) Advertising: The Magic System. in During, S. (ed.) The Cultural Studies Reader. London: Routledge, pp.410-423.
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