One of the main ways ads have an effect is through the portrayal of someone the target audience aspires to be. Enormous thought, effort and investment is put into choosing exactly the right actors for the ad, making sure they are someone the target audience admires and that they are wearing exactly the right clothes and depicted in exactly the right environment.
Some advertisers defend the constant pressure to acquire more, look more ‘perfect’ and spend more money. They say it encourages progression and self-improvement by showing us a version of who we could be and inspiring us to go for it. The problem is that inherent in this message is one of lack. We are encouraged over and over again to compare ourselves to ad agency creations of the perfect man or woman or the ideal life. We are not the person being depicted therefore we are by definition inadequate. Thanks to airbrushing and photoshop even the actors themselves don’t live up to the perfection of their image. We watch and we compare and we find ourselves to be lacking. We buy the product and of course it does not turn us into the aspirational character. We are simply ourselves with another product on our shelves.
‘Object definition’ is when we define ourselves by what we have – job, house, clothes, partner, money, skills. A ‘reality’ has been created by this commercial culture in which what we have and how we look has come to equal what we are. In this culture we will never be enough because we will never have enough. There will always be a new gadget for the kitchen or car. There will always be a new part of the body to be ashamed of and to spend money ‘correcting’. There are teams of people in thousands of companies whose job is to invent new ‘needs’ and the corresponding new product. In a world like this we will never ‘have it all’.
There is very little money to be made from telling someone that they are perfect exactly as they are, that they do not need to change in any way, that simply by living, laughing and loving themselves and others they are making a tremendous contribution to the world. This message will never be flashed on billboards in Piccadilly Circus or shown in the ad break on the FA cup final. So we just have to make sure we remind ourselves.