Advertising as a change agent?

Jan 06 2014, 10:06 IST
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Management students must understand that advertisements have an almost magical hold  over their target audiences and can, therefore, manipulate large parts of the public Management students must understand that advertisements have an almost magical hold over their target audiences and can, therefore, manipulate large parts of the public
SummaryManagement students must understand that advertisements have an almost magical hold over their target audiences and can, therefore, manipulate large parts of the public

not market products designed to make women anorexic or to encourage such a condition. However, the portrayal of women and the feminine ideal in many advertisements can create a norm in the minds of certain consumers which tends towards very slim figures. If such advertisers instead chose models whose proportions matched those of the more typical woman, it could be argued that the cult concerning curve-free figures would change and, therefore, affect the number of cases of anorexia.

When advertising establishes a certain social norm as a secondary effect of its commercial message, one of the solutions is to invest more heavily in media education. The population, particularly children and other more easily influenced groups, have to be taught how to take a critical distance concerning advertising messages. As communication professionals, advertisers have honed their skills in influencing the public. Only by decrypting these methods can people recognise how advertising works.

On the other hand, this basically negative and sometimes almost sinister view of the effects of advertising does not tell the whole story. It can also be argued that advertising has the capacity to exert a positive influence in terms of change. Indeed, advertisements can be used to accompany social change by making messages palatable and accessible thanks to a tone and style that the general public is used to. In this way, advertising is able to reflect a social shift and, therefore, strengthen it by making the message part of product marketing.

An example of this is the relationship and division of labour between men and women. In the past, advertisements showed women in the kitchen or in other family-oriented settings while men were often seen as more active in the world outside the house, particularly at the workplace. Today, in many countries, this traditional view is more or less challenged and is embraced by advertisers. As a result, we are now also shown images of women at work and men at home. They may not have led such a shift in social opinion, but advertisers now play a part in making this new male-female view an accepted part of many societies.

While such a debate on the powers of advertising is likely to continue, a certain perspective needs to be applied. For many, advertisements have an almost magical hold over their target audiences and can, therefore, manipulate large parts of the public. However, research tends to play down the power of

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