Spring 2006

Advertising and the globalisation of aspiration

Lynne Ciochetto
Essay / ad culture

Global visual culture is dominated by the values of the industrialised West

The growth of global advertising and branding is a product of the accelerating globalisation of the world economy, where a small number of agencies set the pace for strategies, styles and content exported throughout the world. Agency culture is now a major force for cultural change in the emerging economies. Since the 1980s, businesses have aimed to expand internationally in search of growth, and they have taken their ad agencies with them. Though the multinationals still sell most of their products and spend most of their advertising budgets in the industrialised countries (the us in particular) they also have the financial muscle and advertising expertise to dominate emerging markets – financially and culturally . . .

Advertising, and the media in which it is embedded, plays a part in cultural change by attaching value to products through association with cultural values. The values promoted by agencies are influenced by the internal culture and dynamics of the agencies themselves: masculine, adolescent, sexist and ethnocentric . . .

In the 1970s the National Advertising Review Board in the United States came up with a checklist of negative portrayals of women to be avoided in advertising; and a list of positive portrayals to be advocated. Negative portrayals to be avoided included: presenting women as silly, over-emotional, insecure, helpless without male assistance and presenting situations where the subtexts are that women’s key role is supportive, caring for men and children or as decorative or sex objects. Constructive portrayals of both sexes should present them as intelligent and physically able with similar work and career aspirations, equally sharing household tasks such as cooking (not outdoor barbecuing), washing dishes, cleaning and taking care of children. Positive images portray women of all ages doing exciting or responsible tasks at work or at leisure, taking responsibility as well as presenting products in a way that enhances women’s self esteem and promising of realistic rewards from using the product. These recommendations are still relevant today. Have we really come a long way?

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