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Introduction: Understanding Modern Advertisements and Commodity Fetishism

Commodities do not obtain their mystical qualities from their use-value, therefore. As little as possible is derived from the nature of the determining factors of value. No matter what the useful kinds of labour, or productive activities, maybe, it is a physiological fact that they are functions of the human organism and that every one of these functions, whatever its nature or form, is essentially a cost to the human brain, nerves, muscles, etc. Proper understanding of the nature of modern world advertisements requires a thorough understanding of the capitalist system and the ideological elements that are propagated through the advertisements. According to Moore (2020), advertisements reflect the nature of consumer capitalism and its operational nature in the modern world. With all this, is the connected concept of Commodity Fetishism, as put forward by Karl Heinrich Marx. The current argumentative essay aims at establishing the thesis that modern advertisements foster commodity fetishism with the use of manufacturing mass consent to particular commodities that serve the purpose of late capitalism. The essay will use substantiation from related mass communication research and theories. Three advertisements were chosen for the purpose of analysis in this particular instance. The three particular advertisements will be analysed with the help of theories and research in the field of media, culture and sociology.

The first advertisement chosen to substantiate the thesis statement of the essay is the Jeep Compass advertisement released in the current year (Jeep, 2022). Before noting and exploring the representational elements in the ad video, it must be noted that Jeep is a vehicle company that originated its business by making vehicles for the purpose of use in wars. After the 1940s Jeep started concentrating on making dedicated passenger cars. Keeping that in mind, it can be noted that the specific advertisement (as for that matter all the Jeep ads) is laden with the spirit of adventure and also indicates a specific lifestyle that is much more carefree. The representation of a vehicle that serves the purpose of transportation, is transformed into a commodity that is more of a lifestyle good. The reflection of the car along with the people and the driving through shown in the advertisement use the forces of generating a “need” for the particular vehicle. According to the opinion of advertisers, audiences function as consumers of both advertising and products, and they have been used to gain more advertising investment (Breton and Proulx, 1993). By the application of this opinion on the current Jeep Compass advertisement, it can be said that the advertisement creates a particular need or a set of needs among the consumers.

Analysis of Three Advertisements Fostering Commodity Fetishism

In the case of the second advertisement by Nike, the representation of capitalist industries’ purposes is made visible in the form of addressing an issue in the current times. The Nike ad being referred to here is specially made for the occasion of International Women’s Day in the year 2020 (Nike, 2020). The ad film clearly states its motto as progression in terms of gender equity. The ad film repeats the phrase “one day, we won’t need this day”. The day is referred to here is Women’s Day. It is important to note here that a multinational Sports Good brand like Nike is tapping into the socio-cultural sentiments of the modern world by addressing the visible hardship that women face in every field of life. According to the opinion of Williams (2000) advertisements necessarily mask the reality of the social situations by the use of a particular commodity. This is exactly the case in the Nike advertisement. The ad film makes a bold statement in the hope that one day women would not need a particular day to be treated equally. However, the hidden agenda here is the product, and however it may seem that selling the product is not the goal of this advertisement, but it silently serves the purpose of the capitalist industry very well.

In the third advertisement, that is, the ad film for Only Natural Diamonds reflects the rich lifestyle as portrayed by the capitalist society (Only Natural Diamonds, 2021). It is important to note that the consumer-centric market under late capitalism fosters the fetishism of commodity among the consumers. Consumers are increasingly made to feel like they “need” these products that the companies are selling. At the core of the Only Natural Diamonds, ad film is the argument that an individual only will be able to enjoy moments if they have bought diamonds. This portrayal of a particularly rich lifestyle is also a device used by the media representation of the capitalist industry. This particular device serves the purpose of creating a false consciousness among the consumers that categorically blurs the difference between necessity and luxury. According to Bhattacharjee (2017), globalization imposes its ideology and lifestyle on other countries along with its products and services. This is exactly the case with the Only Natural Diamonds ad film.

Advertisements are the economic tools for the capitalist industries to communicate with the consumers. Advertisements, especially the audio-visual ones are much more affecting than we realise in general. The process of influencing the mass through the use of media and the depiction of an elevated lifestyle or product that apparently does not seem like luxury are the factors of operation of the advertisements in the late capitalist society. In order to discuss commodity fetishism as fostered by advertisements, a brief introduction to the concept of commodity fetishism is needed. According to the opinion of Bennett (2001), advertisements serve the purpose of propagating the ideologies of the capitalist industry. As propounded by Karl Marx, commodity fetishism is the condition in an economic system where production is seen as a factor of exchange of goods and money Ripstein (1987). Critics and scholars have time and again defined marketing as the creative force driving the media industry. Advertisements are an important part of the communication for marketing. The most important argument regarding this is made by Kline & Leiss (1978) in their article. The authors explore the interconnections between the creation of false consciousness among consumers and which further enhances the commodity fetishism among the mass. Media, in this situation, plays a crucial role in enabling the capitalist industry to get hold of the consciousness and decision-making processes of the consumers.

Jeep Compass Advertisement: Creating a Need for Lifestyle Good

McAllister (2011) is of the opinion that studies in cultural media empower the theories and propositions related to the consumer culture and the aid it receives from the capitalist industries through different means. With the help of powerful messages delivered through multimedia formats, advertisements capture the attention of the consumer which necessarily positively contributes to the companies selling the goods. McAllister also comments on the nature of modern commodities. The author says that under late capitalism, goods in the market are necessarily just “products”. These products have no connections whatsoever with their production and as a result, the media representation through advertisements is filled by an image created by the industries for selling the items. Advertisers also consider whether customers are likely to identify with the country of origin of a product. Historically, German carmakers such as Audi have portrayed their vehicles with French license plates when selling into those markets. Audi wants its cars to appear local both to make them more palatable and to avoid being perceived as competing with local manufacturers. Mercedes makes its advertising in other countries more appealing to local high-end consumers by showing its vehicles with German license plates. It is not only the commodity that is being sold as the detached products but the consumers and their consciousness are also affected as being part of the influence created by the culture imposed by media.

In the new age of digital marketing and digital intervention in every aspect of life, data mining has become the most important issue to be addressed in terms of studying the effects of commodity fetishism created by the efforts of advertisements. Jhally et al. (1985) have explored the relationship between television advertisements and the creation of a false need for commodities among consumers.  Many other critics and scholars have also delved into the topic of media studies related to creating a superficial need among the consumers. Scholars like Raymond Williams have also argued that communication is utilised by large companies to better capture the market and the consumers' decisions. Advertisements are used as a tool for capturing the minds and the collective consciousness that serves the purpose of the capitalist industries. In this context, the intervention of digital media in the advertising sector can be discussed. The space created by digital media in advertising and other marketing activities for large companies has enabled sellers to collect data on the consumers by tracking their buying behaviours, choices and many other factors to increase sales and revenue (Leiss et al., 2018). By the use of the technology of data analysis, firms are even able to offer tailor-made advertisements to prospective consumer pools.

Nike Advertisement: Capitalizing on Socio-Cultural Sentiments

Keeping in mind the effects and influence of media and particularly advertisements in fostering commodity fetishism in the era of late capitalism, some people also argue that advertisements are not the sole factors for increasing commodity fetishism. Another counterargument can be posed as commodity fetishism being a result of increasing exposure to newer and more interesting goods. However, it is to be duly noted that the thesis posed for this particular essay has been substantiated with several scholarly sources. Also, that commodity fetishism is aided by the hegemonic utilisation of media is proven by scholars and researchers several times. Hovland & Wolburg (2014) argue that advertising as a process of communication plays a significantly important role in creating a particular consumer culture that serves the purpose of the creators. For example, the Jeep Compass ad film focuses much more on the depiction of a particular lifestyle not the efficiency of the vehicle itself. In the era of late capitalism, the consumer has become a form of commodity. The audience that are consuming the advertisements are themselves products created by the capitalist industry (Smythe, 1981).

In conclusion, it can be said that consumer culture is greatly influenced by the representation of commodities in advertisements. Advertisements in the digital era are not only a device for marketing it has also become a powerful tool for propagating the ideology of the dominant, but that is also the capitalist industries. No matter how innovative the ad film is or how much the ad is propagating a social message, ad films primarily serve the purpose of the capitalist industry by luring the consumer into a false consciousness of need. Cultural products such as electronic goods are highly standardised through advertisements (Akaka & Alden, 2010). For example, initial commercials for iPhones were made with the tagline "if you don't have an iPhone, you don't have an iPhone" (DoctoriTech, 2011). This statement is problematic on multiple layers. This complacency on the part of the company not only intrigues the customer but also the underlying sarcasm standardises the customers' needs to believe that owning an iPhone is a cultural standard.  This effectively fans the core ideology of capitalism which orders production to consumer-centric. This connection enables social scientists to see the nature of the influence of advertisements that fosters commodity fetishism.

References

Bennett, J. (2001). Commodity fetishism and commodity enchantment. Theory & Event, 5(1).

Bhattacharjee, A. (2017). Impact of “cultural imperialism” on advertising and marketing. Journal of Intercultural Communication, 45.

Breton, P., & Proulx, S. (1993). L'explosion de la communication: la naissance d'une nouvelle idéologie. Editions La Découverte.

DoctoriTech. (2011). Apple iPhone - App Store "If you don't have an iPhone, well, you don't have an iPhone" [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RiKxEam5grs

Hovland, R., & Wolburg, J. M. (2014). Advertising, society, and consumer culture. Routledge.

Jeep. (2022). Jeep Compass, Features [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oADxSHitYP0

Jhally, S., Kline, S., & Leiss, W. (1985). Magic in the marketplace: An empirical test for commodity fetishism. CTheory, 9(3), 1-22.

Kline, S., & Leiss, W. (1978). Advertising, Needs and'Commodity Fetishism'. CTheory, 2(1), 5-30.

McAllister, M. P. (2011). Consumer culture and new media: Commodity fetishism in the digital era. Media perspectives for the 21st century, 149-165.

Moore, B. (2020). Walter Benjamin, Advertising, and the Utopian Moment in Modernist Literature. Modernism/modernity, 27(4), 769-790.

Nike. (2020). One Day We Won’t Need This Day | Nike [Image]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzYYUGnmqLA

Only Natural Diamonds. (2021). Celebrate Moments of Love starring Ana de Armas [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6HYfbzqYok

Ripstein, A. (1987). Commodity fetishism. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 17(4), 733-748.

Smythe, D. W. (1981). On the audience commodity and its work. Media and cultural studies: Keyworks, 230, 256.

Williams, R. (2000). Advertising: The magic system. Advertising & Society Review, 1(1).

Akaka, M. A., & Alden, D. L. (2010). Global brand positioning and perceptions: International advertising and global consumer culture. International journal of Advertising, 29(1), 37-56.

Leiss, W., Kline, S., Jhally, S., Botterill, J., & Asquith, K. (2018). Social communication in advertising. Routledge.

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