Advertising and Insecurity

There are many ways to make a person feel insecure. Probably the most prevalent method is through advertising. Ads are everywhere. Companies constantly seek opportunities to inject need in the brains of potential consumers, reminding them that they would be better off with that company’s products. “Your body is not as attractive as it could be.” “You’re not making as much money as you could be.” “You aren’t as happy as you could be.” These neuroses natural to humans are reinforced by the slogans and manipulative words commercials use to get under your skin and remind you that you are not perfect.

Why use insecurity in advertising?

The fundamental goal of advertising is to get you to buy or do something. That goal doesn’t need to achieved by creating a sense of insecurity. For example, in an advertisement from “Old Spice,” a mother follows around her son with his lady friend trying not to be seen. She sings a song about how he’s growing up so fast, how he’s being treated like a man and now thanks to Old Spice, he smells like a man. What this advertisement implies is that with Old Spice, women are not only attracted to you but also respect you.

Another example of an advertisement which does not attempt to make the viewer feel insecurity about his or her self is one by the U.S. Navy. In this commercial, they inform the viewer of how powerful the “call to serve” is and how it is a force of good in this world. It inspires one to join the Navy to become a better person. It does not use techniques such as the archetypal before-and-after comparison advertisements to badger the audience for not being good.

This method of before-and-after comparison is most common to insecurity-based advertisements. Why use insecurity in advertising? Well, the answer is that it’s very easy to instill self-doubt in the viewer.

It’s easier to destroy than to create.

Advertisements which deliberately attempt to make the viewer insecure are much more common than those which use different techniques (such as the aforementioned Old Spice and Navy commercials). This is because it is easier to make someone feel bad rather than good.

For example, in a short article by Mark VandeWettering, he explains how a beautiful  monument made of paper cranes dedicated to a girl who died of leukemia was easily burned down by some “yutz.” Making something is hard work, and destroying it is easy.

A survey conducted by the University of Central Florida revealed that 95% of male college students had some sort of dissatisfaction with their body, some claiming advertisements they saw a more ideal body image which made them consider their own stature.

Advertisements such as those by Axe are directed at males’ view of their sex appeal. In one of their commercials, two men and a woman are in an alley. One man looks very handsome on a motorcycle and is obviously the woman’s boyfriend, and the other man is homeless searching through a shopping cart. He sees the woman walking towards the first man and applies Axe deodorant. The woman smells, and approaches him, and sniffs him all over. She eventually returns to her boyfriend and winks at the homeless man. This advertisement is an example of those which cause people to be insecure about their body image.

A 2008 study conducted by Dove Self-Esteem Fund showed that 62% of girls aged eight to eighteen felt dissatisfied with themselves, and 71% of those girls felt that way because they believed that they were not as pretty as they should be.

However, probably the most notorious in the field of insecurity-inducing-advertisements is before-and-after cosmetics commercials. These types of ads show a female looking wrinkled, dirty, and unappealing in one frame labeled “before.” In the next, labeled “after,” is her looking attractive without any sort of blemish. This type of advertisement has caused females to feel insecurity about their own body image and purchase more in the hope of being pretty.

Defense against the “dark arts.”

Since people will not stop making advertisements that make others feel insecure, it’s important to have a self-defense against those. An article by demonstrates several methods you can use as a consumer to remain unaffected by marketers’ schemes. “Don’t forget to think” is the first method: there are people everywhere who want to make money off you. Consider your purchases and if what was portrayed in the commercial will actually play out for you. The second method is “be wary of your emotional responses.”  Remember that advertisers are out to get you and have developed devious, subtle tricks to get under your skin. Just notice if you feel affected by an advertisement. The third method is “watch out for products indirectly targeted at you.” Even if you think the ad isn’t aimed at you, it can still affect you. Like in the example given on the website cited, an ad targeting dogs based of off human tendencies can still affect you. The fourth and final method is simplest: avoid advertisements altogether. If you often watch television this proves a bit difficult, but just take a short break whenever the ads come on. Pay no mind to billboards in public, and use Adblock when online. You are free of the insecurities induced by corporate giants.

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