In this post modern world we live in, we are surrounded and bombarded with advertisements everyday. They’re plastered over our town walls, on our t.v screens and in the magazines we read. Advertising is everywhere and it’s pretty hard to escape it. Because of this fact a high majority of people are against advertising and advertisements alike. Believing that their only function in our lives is to brainwash us and influence us into purchasing products or services. Advertising does influence our culture but at the same time our culture influences the advertising. Advertisements hold a lot more than just consumer influences and product promotions, the power of its social and symbolic significance throughout our culture outweighs these ideas. As consumers we create and express ideas of ourselves throughout the possessions and goods we own and buy. As a society we place ideological values onto goods/products. Goods slowly end up loosing their original idea of function and become a means of another idea or notion. These ideological values placed onto products are created not just by the advertisers, but by us as communities as well.
A good example of a community creating significant cultural value onto a product is the Bulmers/Magners situation. Bulmers is an Irish cider produced in Clonmel, Tipperary, because of legal reasons.
‘Bulmers was marketed in the UK as Magners because the brand name is owned there by the Hereford-based company, HP Bulmer.’ HP Bulmer, is a totally different company that has no ties or connections to the cider.
Essentially Bulmers and Magners are exactly the same thing, same cider just a different name. The Bulmers named product was only available in Ireland, the Magners brand was available everywhere else in the world.
Northern Ireland would have sold both the Bulmers brand name and the Magners brand name. Because Bulmers was sold throughout Southern Ireland and Magners was sold throughout the UK, this subsequently made people associate Magners with been English and Bulmers with been Irish. With all the history of the troubles in the North and communities been divided by religion. The association people created between Bulmers been Irish and Magners been English, transformed the brands into signifiers of what religion you believed in.
‘As Bulmers cider becomes the favourite tipple of the Irish Catholic drinking classes, it and its companion brand Magners are also swelling the coffers of the small Irish Protestant community.’
These symbolic notions which the Northern Irish community created on each brand, was unintentional of C&C (the company which manufactures the cider). In Jib Fowles book ‘Advertising and Popular Culture’ he states that
‘Symbols are the means by which people condense and organise all that they care to recognise’ he goes onto say that ‘Symbols are what are sent, but meanings are what are received. It is at those moments when symbols are absorbed that the fascinating enterprise of meaning occurs. Meaning comes in the form of a response; it is in the mind of the receiver. The act of understanding or enterprising only takes place when symbols find an affinity within a person’s store of symbolic references; if an incoming symbol closely matches a stored symbol, that becomes its meaning’
I agree with this statement as the whole Bulmers/Magners reasoning for differing brand names seems to have got lost in translation. The true reason for the different names is that of one of marketing legal reasons. But because of the historical element and cultural factor in Northern Ireland, the people created and projected this concept of Catholic/Protestant onto the products themselves. Certain parts of Northern Ireland are classed as been a ‘catholic part’ and been a ‘protestant part’ by the local communities. So in return, the local public houses would sell the cider which was associated with their communities culture, Bulmers been for the catholic areas and Magners been for the protestant areas. So depending on what religion you were determined which of the two ciders you would drink (even though they were exactly the same thing).
This is a brilliant case study of how a culture can create and place a high symbolic value onto a product which wasn’t intended by the advertisers. The real reason behind the different brand names was for legal reasons, but because this certain culture had segregated parts, they created and reflected these different ideological values, which they have in their community onto each product. Creating a contrasting symbolic meaning for each brand name. This goes to show that advertisements do not have a control over our culture but our culture can have a control over the advertisements and brands.
The majority of the time advertisers are more aware of the cultural significance in the specific areas in which they are advertising in. But as the Bulmers/Magners situation shows, this research and knowledge which advertisers conduct is nothing compared to the actual real symbolic value which can be interpreted by a culture.
This type of over writing and placing symbolic cultural meanings onto products, which wasn’t intended by the advertiser is not a common occurrence. As advertisers are normally more careful when it comes to consumers cultural factors.
Throughout time man has always placed symbolic interpretation and contents onto everything around them. Advertising is just fulfilling this idea we have. We express ourselves throughout the possessions we have and use products to create identities. Advertising helps create these ideas and commodities for us. This present day I believe advertising is an important, integral piece of our lives. As a society, we enjoy them! How many times have you thought ‘Wow, that was a really good advert’ or said to a friend ‘Have you seen that advert?’. The only thing advertisers are doing is getting their product out there in a good, reciprocative light. Even television shows have been created on advertisements such as ‘The top advertisements of this year’, or ‘Of all time’. If television studios have this choice, even a chance to contemplated this as a program for their station. Then people definitely enjoy viewing adverts and watching them. They are now a form of entertainment, well, we do have no choice but view them half way through our programs, but we seem to love them. The power of its social and symbolic significance throughout our culture is huge. Advertisements do not brainwash people, as many advertisement campaigns fail to attract consumers, people are free to ignore the advertisements which they see. ‘The many critics of advertising claim that it is a tool whereby consumers are manipulated by the producers of goods (on whose behalf advertising is waged) to desire things for which they have no real need’.
Advertising is an influential platform in our society today but it is just that, ‘influencing’, not ‘controlling’. Yes, we don’t physically need the latest goods and products but we as communities are materialistic and like expressing ourselves and our personalities through using them. As the Bulmers case study proves, social cultures can place values onto products that were not intended to be there originally by advitisers, and consumers influence themselves with the actual products. So there’s definitely no brainwashing or subliminal messages by advertisers involved! Products and brands can be a reflection of consumer ideologies. Advertisers just help create commodities but it’s us, the consumers, that have a need to place social/symbolic significance and meaning onto things, which make us buy that brand/product. And this notion outweighs the ‘advertising, brainwashes us…‘ idea, as consumers create their own value, and ideologies. Influencing themselves.