Ads, Fads, and Consumer Culture: Advertising's Impact on American Character and Society
Bernt, Joseph P., Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly
Ads, Fads, and Consumer Culture: Advertising's Impact on American Character and Society. Arthur Asa Berger. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000. 167 pp. $16.95 pbk.
In Ads, Fads, and Consumer Culture, Arthur Asa Berger starts from the premise that media generally, but particularly advertising delivered through television programming, have powerful social and cultural effects that are intended by the artists who craft and the corporate clients who purchase advertising's sophisticated "minidramas." Deceptively simple, and powerfully argued, Berger's little training manual describes the rationale, techniques, and application of cultural criticism of advertising and represents another assault on the limited-effects school that has so dominated-and some would argue stymied-American mass communication theory and study, since the demise of the Institute for Propaganda Analysis and the rise of corporately financed research in communication just prior to World War 11.
For Berger, this dominant communication model-really only a ploy that deflects criticism and government regulation of advertising-ignores the powerful artistry of "teleculture" commercials that have made television the major instrument of socialization in the United States, gradually in other industrialized countries, and increasingly in developing economies around the world as well. Berger substitutes a psycho-cultural model that analyzes changes in widespread cultural behavior for the traditional socialpsychological model that through controlled experimentation finds communications produce minimal change in an individual subject's opinions.
Three observations of cultural behavior related to advertising justify this methodological shift for Berger. First, advertising expenditures in our economy continue to expand and business continues to advertise, which rationally would not occur if advertisements and commercials were only minimally effective in creating demand and sales. Second, collectively, people are purchasing an expanding amount of consumer goods, often on credit, for which they have read or viewed numerous advertisements and commercials. Third, the artistry, texture, and production quality of commercials and advertisements far surpass that of the television programming and print editorial matter surrounding these appeals.
These observations underpin the bulk of Berger's analysis of advertising as persuasive art or texts that profoundly altered American cultural behavior in the twentieth century. He argues that the persuasive power of advertising stems from the skill of gifted copywriters, illustrators, producers, videographers, models, and storytellers who, with the sophistication of culturally elite artists and writers, employ seductive human voices; create heroes and heroines; link sex with consumption; through humor produce feelings of well-being; connect consumption with play; engage entertainers and athletes to tie knowledge of products to personal success; and characterize consumption as the necessary and proper reward that compensates hard work with fun, pleasure, companionship, and sex. …