The Issues Behind Image Advertising
In the article, “Is Self Identity Image Advertising Ethical? ” the author John Douglas Bishop looks at and discusses the effects of the use of image advertising among companies such as Chanel and Calvin Klein. Self-Identity advertising is an advertising technique used to create symbolism for products by using images that consumers wish to identify themselves with in some way. While this sounds innocent enough, there can be many problems with this form of advertising. In some cases it can almost be viewed as false advertising, such as when companies use unattainable images to symbolize their products.
In other cases, it attempts to give us a certain mindset and a certain way to look and value other people and things. Bishop begins his article by pointing out that self-identity image advertising raises four main ethical questions, the first being whether or not they make misleading promises to their viewers. The first ad discussed is an ad for a Chanel skincare product. In the ad, there is a very attractive woman shown above the product name and that is all. One common interpretation of this ad is that using that product will make your skin look like the model’s skin in the ad.
However, Bishop points out that this is impossible. Airbrushing techniques are used in these advertisements, and thus it is impossible for anyone to really look as perfect as she does in the ad. Most people understand this concept, and do not buy these products thinking that they will look just like the model in the advertisement. Image ads also do not explicitly promise the consumers the image they are portraying. Therefore, you cannot say that image ads blatantly mislead the consumer with unattainable promises. The second ethical question he asks is whether or not these ads promote false values.
Because image ads include presuppositions that consumers are not consciously aware of, we can be almost subliminally accepting these images and what they suggest as normal. Once we’ve accepted these presuppositions, we are naturally inclined to take on the image being portrayed. The ethical dilemma here is that in this circumstance, that image includes the presupposition that women should be valued for their perfect complexions and beauty. In the second advertisement Bishop looks at, Calvin Klein uses young teenagers to model his clothing in sexy and provocative ways.
The presupposition that goes along with this ad, is that teenagers ought to be valued for their sexiness and ought to strive to be viewed as sexy. However, these presuppositions may not be as harmful if viewed in moderation. The author points out that it is the cumulative effect of being constantly exposed to this form of advertising that can be damaging to many consumers. The third ethical question Bishop asks is whether or not these advertisements actually cause harm to the viewer. To address this question, he explains the concept of gaze.
It is through the viewer gaze that we put ourselves in the place of the image in the ad, and enjoy the implied gaze we receive form whoever we wish to be gazing back at us. However, it is the implied gaze that gives us the feeling that we are constantly being viewed and judged by others. The harm begins when viewers begin reading themselves into the ads, forcing them to re-examine their own personal identity. This leads to feelings of insecurity and can substantially hurt one’s self-esteem. Bishop also points out that this technique unfortunately works best when used on already marginalized groups, such as woman and adolescents.
By advertising impossible images, and inviting the consumer to put themselves in place of those images, self-identity ads are having detrimental effects on people’s self-esteems. The fourth and final ethical question Bishop raises is whether or not these ads threaten the autonomy of the individual. Although it has been pointed out that these ads can harm one’s self-esteem and make us feel inadequate, we still choose to take part in the viewing of self-identity image ads. The most prominent example being the fashion and style magazines that young women buy.
These magazines are full of self-identity image advertising. The question then becomes, why anyone would subject themselves to such potentially damaging images. The article also talks about our choice to accept the self-image or not. We do not have to view every image ad we see as our own person goal. Self-identity image ads give us a wide variety of images to choose from. Another choice we make as consumers in regards to these ads, is the choice to actually go out and buy them. Certainly, no one forces people to buy into these advertisements and purchase the products.
These products are also usually not necessity items, and that is precisely why they use self-identity image advertising. Bishop finishes up the article with a discussion on human desires. As long as we can control the desires created by these advertisements, we can assume that they do not affect our autonomy. Image advertising also creates unconscious desires and these too can be in our control, and therefore should not be considered to be harmful. The conclusions of the article, which I agree with, are that people actively participate in the image advertising game.
We seek out image ads and often pay for them in fashion magazines or elsewhere. Viewers are also often proactive in their viewing of image ads. We are able and willing to put ourselves in the place of the image in the ad and imagine what it would be like to be them. Image ads also contribute to our economy by creating something of value that people are willing to spend their money on. The symbolism created in image ads can be harmful to the viewer if they read so far into it that it can affect their self-esteem. When this happens, the author and I agree that image ads can be harmful.
These ads often target already insecure groups of people, such as women, and therefore self-esteems are often affected. This debate of image ads is a utilitarian debate. In this case, the greatest good for the greatest amount of people would probably be to reduce the number of image ads in the media. I agree with Bishop that the constant viewing of the same sort of ads over and over again is what makes them even more harmful. However, self-identity image advertising is and will continue to be an effective and money making technique used over and over by many clothing, cosmetic, and other companies who sell non-necessity items.