Posted by: ath1 | September 19, 2007

Advertising Logic – Do we want what we need? Or Vice versa?

According to Wikipedia, “the purpose of an advertisement is to persuade consumers to buy a particular product or service offered by a brand”.

In our world today, the role of advertising has become so intertwined with our daily activities that its presence has developed into an inseparable part of our lives. Anywhere in the world, advertising exists, whether in a developing nation or a third-world country. In America, the context and influence of advertising has become so crucial that it has grew to be the foremost playground for advertising agency as well as media analysts to study its impact in the consumer’s life. There is barely a space in American culture not already carrying commercial messages: on the street that fills with posters of movies and products, on the T-shirt that says “I Love NY”, on television, on the radio’s commercial breaks, in movies in form of product placements, etc. Advertising is everywhere. Thus, it is clear that the advertising industry is, or perhaps already, colonizing the media.

In this posting, I will discuss how advertise really change our ways of perceiving our reality and in consequence, almost completely blurs the line between the consumers’ needs and wants.

The central point of my discussion is that advertising does not aim to satisfy our needs of following an existing lifestyle; rather, it generates a lifestyle and encourages consumers to purchase that model.

The other day I went to a mall in Rochester. When I was in Nike store to check out new products, this sport company was introducing several new types of shoe, one of which possessed an electronic chip with the ability to connect to the heart signals when you work out and determine your heart rate, then inform you about the outcome of the exercises. I was fairly surprise of how innovative this product was and in a sense, quite confused of whether that I, personally as a consumer, would ever need a product with high-tech like that.

In general, new products are advertised before and after they come out on the market. We see them and assume that they are there for our needs because we suppose the manufacturers know what we, as consumers, require. However, my own confusion of the technological shoes makes me question about this traditional economic model of supply and demand: if there is demand, then there must be supply. In this present time, this model no longer copes with the context of consumption. It is not necessary for supply to exist simply to satisfy the consumers’ needs. There are many reasons for why a person decides to buy certain products. It can be because of their needs, or wants, or as social historian Claude S. Fisher points out: the notion of self-labeling:

Even Americans who critique mainstream culture do so through their own consumption. Eating organic foods, wearing handmade clothing, giving only wooden toys as gifts, and riding bicycles to work amounts to self-labeling. Marketing people who target African Americans explain that blacks buy certain high-ticket goods more often than whites do to display a sense of worth to themselves and to rest of the world in face of the racial stigma and also to signal other blacks of their allegiance to a group identity. The psychological force behind greater consumerism is thus an increasing urge to self-expression.

Consequently, in the face of this overactive consumerism, the companies and advertisers have switched their focus almost totally the “want” part rather than the “need” part. Moreover, according to Ian Bogost, he states in his book of Persuasive Games: “with the increased popularization of mass media, producers of goods and services are able to reach nearly all consumers at once (150). Consequently, mass media helps companies to maximize the advertising business. In any case, we should realize the fact that the distinction between our needs and wants is no longer relevant in this flux of consumption. Essentially, we need to become aware that advertisers market to get us to buy, not to answer to our needs.

In general, companies do not usually aim at consumers’ needs to manufacture goods. They use the desire or the “want” that each of us has to persuade consumers to buy the products. And advertising is the ultimate tool that the companies employ to do the job; And somewhere on the line of the “wants”, there are always crossroads that run across the “needs”, and hence the expectations of the companies and advertisers are fulfilled. The crucial question is how the advertising industry would act when the consumers possess the knowledge of advertising strategies and aware of their manipulations.



  1. I would like to believe that the majority of consumers are fully aware of most advertising strategies. However, I fear that this is not the case. I love advertising and find it fascinating. I like to see the different ways advertisers get their messages across and how the consumer interprets that message. I feel that advertising is a science and an art form.

    Advertising shapes the way our society views itself. You can easily tell through advertising what is important to a society. Our advertising tells us that we need to look amazing in underwear and take lots of drugs that will only cause more problems and then in turn drive us towards more drugs to solve those problems.

    I feel that we need advertisers as much as they need us. If we didn’t exist or give into their advertisments….they wouldn’t have anything to do. On the flip side, if they didn’t exist, our society wouldn’t include as much diversity as it does. Advertising allows us all to be individuals and clones at the same time, if that makes sense at all. We can choose what we want based on what we see, however, we often choose the same thing. Think of the ipod campaign. They did an amazing job incorporation the ipod as a must have accessory into millions of lives. Congratulations to them, they did their job and did it extraordinarily well. I don’t hate them for making me buy an ipod. I thank them for incorporating more entertainment into my life….cause everyone knows I love my itunes.

  2. You’ve provided some interesting insight into the formation of what many scholars have labeled the culture of consumption.

    I think that you are absolutely correct when you say that consumption does not generally reinforce a lifestyle as much as it creates a lifestyle. The bigger question, which you address to some degree, is why.

    In broad terms, a capitalist economic model, like the American model, requires constant and consistent expense of money. The Great Depression occurred when people stopped spending and started hording their cash. Put simply, money must flow through the system to support the infrastructure that we’ve constructed.

    Nice post! You’ve given readers quite a bit to chew on and there is plenty of room for agreement and disagreement.

    One of the biggest challenges for the Internet is that some industries, primarily those who rely on intangible products, have been unable to determine new ways to generate revenue in the current media environment.

  3. Julie: although I maintain my assertion that advertising today has almost blurred the line between what we need and want, I believe that most of us are actually aware of this reality of advertising. In my view, because customers are more conscious of what advertising delivers and how it manages to manipulate our concept of a brand, the advertising industry, as Henry Jenkins also suggests in American Idols chapter, has to brainstorm for new and fresh strategies to influence more people to become their potential buyers. The way I see it is that as advertising involves more in its techniques of persuasion, customers also grow to be accustom to such influence and to many degrees, become more aware of their powerful potential.

    I certainly agree with you that advertising is essential for our consumerism culture, but on many levels, I do not believe that our needs for advertising are equal to that of advertising industry. Your Ipod example is a great depiction of how, in my view, advertising really blurs the line between our needs and wants. I don’t intend to put this in a broad term, but considering the case of the Ipod: before it came along, there was already a great buzz of Walkman and other CD player devices on the market. Most of the customers did not pay much attention to this early period of Ipod’s emergence because the Walkman had already provided what they needed and wanted at that time: portable music. However, when the advertising of the Apple Company came into play with its full speed, people started to buy more Ipods and consequently, the buzz of Walkman has switched to this new revolution of music device. Everyone “wants” an Ipod because it is small, mobile, beautiful, stylish, able to store many songs, and most importantly, everyone else has it. Today, Ipod is perhaps the most popular music portable music player on the market and everyone simply believes that they “need” one of those. My argument for this point is that there are many music players that provide good quality and numerous accessories in the market, but everyone chooses Ipod instead. Ahh… the magic of advertising strategies. Just to be clear also… even I have no idea whether I really need my Ipod when I first bought it, but I am sure that I need it now.

  4. In my post that I put up today. I actually share the same thought with you about advertising without having read your blog! I was thinking today about what I use the brands that I do? In the chapter on American Idol in Jenkins book, he talks about how advertisers try to establish a long term relationship with a brand and consumers. That made me really think about why do I use all the brands I do. Have they really done a great job at manipulating my mind to think that I want this brand and in reality I don’t need it. I totally agree with you. This is something to really think about. In my blog I challenged whoever read my blog to think about the products they purchase. You made really good points in this blog. Nice post!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: