Side Effects May Vary: Mixed emotions of messaging

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Madeleine Sheifer

As someone who studies media messages, I am chronically aware of how the content I receive has been strategically crafted. I find myself constantly self-checking and noting techniques I’ve learned in classes that are used in the various pop-up ads, Hulu commercials and social media sponsorships I see on a daily basis.

I realize I am incredibly fortunate to wear a marketer’s lens as I view such messages, as I understand that everything I see is not how things are, in reality. And even though I’m aware of such things now, I most certainly wasn’t during my adolescent years, much like many other teenagers trying to sort their way through the modern world’s information overload.

Raised in the digital age, children, teenagers and young adults are reliant on online media as a source of news and information. With this attempt to stay informed and consume media comes an overabundance of advertisements and promotions that bombard the digital space.

As of 2018, the average daily screen time for people ages 8-18 is nearly seven hours, and that’s just what they receive digitally, which contributes to a total exposure of 10,000 ads per day.

Ads are pervasive, obnoxious, annoying and influential. And it doesn’t seem like their presence will weaken any time soon.

While these numbers may seem alarming, that’s something I find of little concern. Given my background studying media and being someone who grew up during the rise of social and online media, not only am I used to this, but I’ve fully accepted it. 

What I am concerned about is how impressionable pre-teens and young adults are to what they see and how their behaviors may change as a result of it.

This semester I am taking a course on consumer behavior, which is essentially a marketing psychology class. We’ve covered topics such as stimulus perception, motivation, values-driven consumption and brand personality. A few weeks ago we learned about how the roles self-concept, gender and body play in consumption.

A chapter in my textbook noted that marketers are incredibly aware of the fact that specifically female consumers’ evaluations body images does not correspond to their actual physical make-up. In fact, their goal when marketing certain products is to create a gap between consumers’ real and ideal self to motivate consumers to purchase products they perceive as having the ability to close this said gap.

“Advertising as well as other forms of media play a significant role in determining which forms of beauty we find desirable at any point in time,” Consumer Behavior: Buying, Having and Being; 12th Edition by Michael R. Solomon. This concept is referred to as a “cultural yardstick” in which the media provides the masses with a set of standards with which to uphold ourselves. Quite blatantly, my textbook mentioned that when consumers are unhappy with how their appearance doesn’t measure up to these supposed norms, they are left with a lowered self-esteem.

This is what I find concerning. The fact that marketers are fully aware of the issues they are creating yet stand to make profit, despite their impact.

I’m not alone in how I feel.

Katie Couric, journalist and female media role model, has also spoken out against this issue.

“I worry about how much pressure my daughters feel,” she said. “In a society that features anorexic actresses and models and television stars, we get conditioned to think this is what women should look like.” 

According to the documentary “Miss Representation,” 53 percent of 12 year old girls are dissatisfied with their bodies. By age 17, this number climbs to 78 percent. 

When will we, as media consumers, say ‘enough is enough’? When that number reaches 100 percent? How many sales do various beauty markets need to make in order for this to stop?

While I may not have the answers to these questions, I do know that in today’s media climate, it is unlikely things will slow down in the near future. To me, that means it is all the more critical that young women are taught to be aware of the differences between media and reality, and learn how to minimize comparisons from an early age.

When I say all this, I don’t wish to diminish the tremendous progress that has been made in this realm. Movements like the Dove Real Beauty Campaign, Always’ #LikeAGirl series and Nike’s ‘Dream Crazier’ ad are all great examples of a step in the right direction. They call out the media and the general population to be more aware of how their messaging impacts who receives it. This is only just a fragment of what can be done.

Instead of selling products based off of what people don’t like about themselves, my hope is that companies in this realm shift their focus to creating messages based on what people do like about themselves. A truly strong brand knows how to elevate its consumers.

Like in the Always commercial, there’s two ways to throw like a girl. One is stuck in the past and the other is progressive.

There’s also two ways to advertise. Stay with the status quo and profit off of insecurities, or be a key player in moving forward and amplify self-confidence.That’s the direction in which we need to motivate girls, as well as each other.

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1 Comment

  1. Robert F Davenport Jr on

    A religious viewpoint that “God loves you” and created you for a reason should help the guilt feeling promoted by marketers. Also important is the realization that each human has flaws which may not be capable of being fixed; one writer posited that this is God’s plan so that God can help the person to deal with the flaw.

    Everyone knows that companies will go to great lengths to make money and not many of them really care about their customers. They probably expect their fooled customers are too embarrassed by hits to their ego when they admit to having been fooled again by misleading advertising, pricing etc. Part of the problem is that many customers want to fool others. Companies didn’t create the problem, the bought in and expanded it for profit.

    Be smile at and be complementary to several fellow flawed humans today.

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