Advertising And The American Dream
Advertising And The American Dream
Activity: Data Workshop: Advertising and the American Dream
We are surrounded by advertising, which aims not only to give us information about products but also to create and stimulate a buying public with demands for an ever-increasing array of goods and services. Advertising shapes our consciousness and tells us what to dream and how to pursue those dreams. Advertising equates shopping and acquisition with emotional fulfillment, freedom, fun, happiness, security, and self-satisfaction.
And the sales pitch seems to be working. Like no other generation, today’s eighteen- to thirty-four-year-olds have grown up in a consumer culture with all its varied enticements, but they are having a harder time reaching financial stability in adulthood than did their parents. Many young people are finding themselves caught in a difficult job market, with too few positions and too little pay, at the same time they are carrying larger student loans and mounting credit card debt.
In 2017, about two in three college graduates left school with student loan debt; the average amount owed was $28,650 (TICAS 2018). On top of that, more than half of all college students use credit cards (Sallie Mae 2016). Many young people embrace easy credit only to discover that late-payment fees and high interest rates can keep them from paying down their balances. And the appeal to spend more is always there, urging you to buy your way into the American Dream, and perhaps leading you further into debt. So let’s examine where some of this pressure to spend comes from—advertising.
In this Data Workshop, you will analyze some advertisements in terms of the ideology of the American Dream (see Chapter 7). This entails the use of existing sources and doing a content analysis to look for patterns of meaning within and across the ads. See the section on existing sources in Chapter 2 for a review of this research method.
To start your research, find three ads from magazines, newspapers, websites, or television sources. Look for ads that are of interest to you particular age, gender, or other demographic group. In particular, try to identify ads that are selling the idea of the American Dream of wealth, success, or living the “good life.” Examine both the visual (images and layout) and textural (words) elements of the advertisements.
For each of the ads, consider the following questions:
1. What product or service is being advertised?
2. For whom is the advertisement intended?
3. Does the ad “work”? Would you like to buy the product or service? Why or why not?
4. In addition to a product or service, what else are the advertisers trying to “sell”?
5. What are the explicit (obvious) and implicit (subtle) messages conveyed in the ad?
6. How do these messages make you feel? Do they play on your emotions, desires, or sense of self-worth? If so, in what ways?
Once you have examined all the ads, consider these more general questions:
7. What were the similarities or differences among the ads you chose with regard to their underlying ideology?
8. How do the ads represent a particular lifestyle that you should aspire to? How does that influence your buying habits?
9. What types of ads have a strong effect on you? Why?
10. What kinds of pressures do you feel to keep up with the material possessions of your friends, neighbors, or co-workers?
11. Why do you think we are lured into shopping and acquiring material possessions?
If you wish, you may include scans or screen shots of the advertisements you analyzed, but this is not required.
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