You Should Buy an Audi
An Analysis of How Advertisements Tell the Consumer to Live Their Lives
Anna Sugrue - Gold Stream - January 2014
In a world controlled by the media and powered by the consumerist, the advertisement is the ultimate weapon. This weapon manipulates the mindset of an individual, and thus has the power to change the mindset of a people. From Madison Avenue to Nazi Germany, human being have learned the secrets to this weapon, and have succeeded in reconstructing social systems to fit their own agendas. Hitler convinced people mass murder was okay. On Madison Avenue, advertisers convince people that satisfaction comes from a beach bod, a designer bikini and a bottle of Coca Cola.
Today, the advertisement relies on appealing to, and attempting to change, one’s sense of satisfaction. When you turn on the TV, or surf the internet, or drive down the highway, you are bombarded by images and information that tell you what you need to be happy. This car insurance will save you money, and that will make you happy. This resort is so relaxing, you are guaranteed to be happy if you go. The advertiser’s promise of happiness goes in hand in hand with one’s personal fear of obsolescence. If you do not get this car insurance, you will not be cool. If you do not go to this resort, your relationships will not be as secure. If you consume, you will be satisfied, if you do not, you will be nothing. Consciously or not, you take in these images and these ideas. If you are unhappy, you go buy a new outfit, or a get a new phone, or go on a vacation- hoping, and believing, that you will be better because of it.
To understand the extent in which advertisements shape one’s sense of satisfaction, I went on Hulu, and watched one of the most popular commercials from the Super Bowl last year. It was a 1 minute commercial for Audi, where a boy goes to prom. The advertisement starts with an unhappy teenage boy looking at his tuxedoed reflection in the mirror. His mom reassures him that “now-a-days, lots of people go by themselves!”. Disheartened, he makes for the door, but his dad stops him, and tosses him the keys to the Audi. Everything changes. The boy gets in the car and the engine starts and he is immediately alive, ready for the night. Music starts to pump and the camera angles change similarly to the movie Drive, where Ryan Gosling stars as a get-a-way driver. The boy becomes a badass. He parks in the principal's parking spot and strides down a dim high school hallway towards the Prom. He walks in, immediately finds a gorgeous girl (Prom Queen of course), and kisses her. Then you see the boyfriend. The ad ends with the boy driving down the road again with a black eye, looking happier than ever. “Bravery. It’s what defines us. Audi. #BraveryWins.”
The basic message of the commercial, articulated in Audi’s tagline, is that buying an Audi will make you brave. The advertisement guarantees satisfaction. By telling a relatable story, Audi convinces you that with an Audi, you are a fearless rebel, and without an Audi, you can not get that girl, you can not feel alive, and you can not be brave. The story is relatable enough that the goal seems within the reach of the consumer, but unreal enough that the consumer will never be fully satisfied. Because in reality, like John Berger says in Ways of Seeing, you will be $40,000 poorer and none the richer, regardless of what the advertisement told you.
Several characteristics of this advertisement are reflected in the consumer’s daily sense of satisfaction, mainly sex and money.
Sex is the simplest human urge. Fulfilling sexual goals is the clearest human pathway to pleasure and satisfaction. In the Audi advertisement, the boy grabs his crush in the center of the dance floor and passionately kisses her. Not only is Audi telling the consumer that a car will make them have sex, but the Audi is defining what it means to be sexy. The girl kissed him back. The boys confidence and bravery, granted to him by the car, made him attractive. Audi understand that the consumer wants to have sex, and tells the consumer that they need to be sexy. The consumer needs the sex and the sexy to be satisfied.
In Ways of Seeing, John Berger says that it is true money cannot buy happiness, but publicities strive to convince you otherwise. The Audi boy was obviously made happier after he drove a $40,000 luxury vehicle. The consumer is led to understand that consuming will make them happier. Thus, the consumer will not feel satisfied unless they spend money.
When the money is combined with the sex, the consumer is told that their ability to consume is directly correlated with their sexual ability. This further manipulates the consumers sense of satisfaction, making an unhappy human, but very happy advertisers.
The Audi advertisement, and all advertisements, manipulate the consumer’s sense of satisfaction to the point where they will never be satisfied. Because, if the consumer is satisfied, if the consumer is full, the consumer will stop consuming. Most consumers understand that they will never become the Prom boy, but they buy the car anyway, vainly searching for some kind of inner gratification that materials can never satisfy. True and complete inner satisfaction is hard to obtain, close to impossible, and the material world only makes it harder.
I feel as though I have had a clear understanding of how the media has an influence on one’s psyche, and John Berger’s Ways of Seeing certainly helped develop my opinion. I still do not know how the consumer can resist the advertisers subconscious maneuvers, or if the disturbing truth is ever going to be enough to make advertisers change their tactics. Companies like Dove are working to promote a positive sense of satisfaction, however much more needs to happen in order for the world to change.
So, in the end, I reside myself in sitting on the couch, with a can of Coca Cola, watching a boy go to Prom, and dreaming of something more.
Berger, John. "Ways of Seeing." Ways of Seeing. Dir. Mike Dibb. BBC. BBC, London, UK, 1972. Television.Prom. Audi, 2013. Television. Hulu.com. Web. <http://www.hulu.com/adzone/450448>.