False Advertisement: Questions Regarding Publicity in Ways of Seeing

I’m going to be quite frank, I don’t really understand Berger’s argument regarding advertisements.  Part of my confusions steam from way in which the ad is portrayed; how, depending on whether the intended audience is either male or female, the purpose of the ad is slightly changed.  When discussing the effect of publicity images, Berger writes, “Publicity begins by working on a natural appetite for pleasure.  But it cannot offer the real object of pleasure and there is no convincing substitute for a pleasure in that pleasure’s own terms” (132).  But, Berger goes on to state, “This is why publicity can never really afford to be about the product or opportunity it is proposing to the buyer who is not yet enjoying it….Publicity is always about the future buyer” (132).  Berger argues that the advertisement makes an individual “envious of himself as he might be” by depicting another person, similar to the viewer himself, so that the viewer becomes “envious of himself as he might be” (132).  Therefore, Berger concludes that publicity “is about social relations, not objects” (132).  Yet, two pages later, Berger quits denoting the viewer as “himself” and begins calling the viewer of the ad as a female figure.  Like the male viewer, the female is also supposed to become envious of her future self.  However, unlike the man, the woman, will “imagine herself transformed by the product into an object of envy for others, an envy which will justify her loving herself” (134, italics mine).  Here, it seems that the ad aims to objectify women even further.  Although Berger argues that women are objectified by art in the third essay of the book, this statement makes little sense to me.  After all, if an ad really is about social relations and not about objects, how can it still be effective and make a woman into an object at the same time?  (As a quick note, I do realize that Berger is arguing that women are shown as objects throughout art and, as a result, came to asses and value themselves as objects.  But, honestly, I don’t get why a woman would want to further objectify herself.  Doesn’t a women want power, which would allow them to transcend their traditional categorization as objects?)

Near the end of his essay on publicity images, Berger claims that “Publicity helps to mask and compensate for all that is undemocratic within society.  And it also masks what is happening in the rest of the world” (149).  Even though what Berger describes does apply to many advertisements, it is not always the case, particularly when it comes to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and social enterprises.  Take Lifebuoy, for instance.  In 2013, Lifebuoy launched a campaign called “Help a Child Reach 5”, which was aimed to improve the living conditions in developing countries by reducing the number of deaths resulting from preventable diseases.  As one of the world’s largest health soap brands, Lifebuoy focused on improving the hand washing habits of people to prevent the spread of diseases, such as diarrhoea.  To raise funding for its campaign, Lifebuoy launched an award winning advertisement.

However, in many of the countries in which Lifebuoy’s video was shown–such as Canada–did not sell Lifebuoy’s product.  Thus, the purpose of this advertising campaign was not to increase sales or make a person feel envious of their future self, but to raise public awareness of a global issue.  Thus, it seems that Berger has not accounted for NGOs and social enterprises in his argument, despite the fact that they make up a considerable potion of the business world.  Hence, I am wondering if there is, perhaps, a way in which operations like NGOs and social enterprises can be included in Berger’s argument?  And if so, how?


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