Making "Pictures in Our Heads": Government Advertising in Canada

By Jonathan W. Rose | Go to book overview

Chapter Seven
Creating Meaning in Advertising

The last three chapters have explored how controversial campaigns were marketed by the federal government in Canada. While government relies on public opinion surveys to tell us what people think about advertising, students of politics know relatively little about how advertisers create meaning. Writing in 1922, Walter Lippmann, in his book Public Opinion, argued that the public was susceptible to persuasion and that opinions based on “pictures in our heads” compounded this problem. Though he was not talking about advertising per se, with the emphasis on image creation and management and its desire to shape behavior, it is difficult not to see how this applies to the modern advertising industry. This chapter has two purposes, first to explore the way in which advertisers create “pictures in our heads” and second, to examine the diverse meanings and various approaches to government advertising by those writing on the subject.


MAKING MEANING IN ADVERTISEMENTS

A successful advertisement “works” if there is a merging of the created properties of the advertisement and the perceived needs of the consumer. The government—like all advertising clients—has a product (its policies) that it wants to be sold in a particular way. The product has a variety of meanings and fills a variety of needs. The challenge of the government as advertiser is to create a specific meaning for its product that will resonate with the public. Thus the constitution is reduced to simple phrases like “fairness” or “equality.” The GST is sold as a technical change or a tax that is not hidden. The ad itself becomes a visual representation of the created meaning. Grant McCracken writes that:

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