This paper explores two issues that affect corporate communications and society. Advertising and public relations (PR) stand at the center of this analysis because they affect how companies package information and how consumers decipher the same. In detail, this paper advances the view that advertising has become an ingrained component of daily existence.
Evidence of this claim stems from the fact that the life of an ordinary person has become part of a grand marketing event. This paper also highlights the need for adopting truthful PR initiatives to overcome the cynicism that threatens the practice. These two issues explain the nature of corporate communication and its growth.
Question One: Discuss, elaborate, and evaluate Vanderbilt’s claim of the complete domination of advertising and marketing in our culture and society, and the reordering of our social and cultural lives in terms of the logic of the marketplace
Vanderbilt (1997) says advertising is part of our daily life. He bases his understanding from the assumption that there is no distinction between human existence and promotional culture. This section of the paper agrees with this view by explaining that our daily lives have become “advertised lives.” Consequently, advertising has distorted our perception of reality by promoting the idea that we can live the “advertised life” we see through the media.
The numerous advertisements that characterize our city architects are evidence of this position. Indeed, it has become an acceptable norm for advertisements and billboards to characterize modern city architecture. For example, a visit to Madison Square Garden shows how consumerism has become part of mainstream society because campaigns and corporate brands patch on buildings everywhere (Vanderbilt, 1997).
Comparatively, contemporary arts, and other objects of aesthetic values do not characterize these buildings. In their place, consumer advertisements dominate every corner of the streets. Certainly, the culture of advertisement is entrenched in modern society, such that a trip to the museum seems less appealing to the ordinary person than a shopping trip.
It is almost impossible to separate marketing from the media because the two institutions share a symbiotic relationship. It is therefore unsurprising for Vanderbilt (1997) to say advertising and programming share a deep interrelationship, which intertwines in deep consumer tastes and preferences. To affirm this view, Vanderbilt (1997) says programming and advertising are interchangeable because consumers live inside a “perpetual marketing event.”
Advertising has penetrated most spheres of society because years of endless marketing research have revealed the commercial potential of tapping into people’s psychology. Indeed, by contextualizing communication strategies, marketers have maximized the commercial potential of their practice.
Therefore, advertising has permeated through almost all aspects of society, including health, education, governance, religion (and the likes). The greatest evidence showing the wide spread of advertising in today’s society is its existence in the education system. Certainly, advertising has influenced almost all aspects of student life.
Vanderbilt (1997) says evidence of advertising in the education system exists where celebrities and public personalities dominate book covers and multinational corporations develop nutritional curricula for children. He also says today’s consumer is more active than ever before because today’s consumer patterns are more influenced by advertising than any other social or economic factor (Vanderbilt, 1997). Vanderbilt (1997) equates this phenomenon to social adherence to a pre-written script where advertising defines consumer behavior.
The upsurge of advertising in today’s commercialized society stems from people’s new quest to define their identities through outward appearances. Thus, by developing an identity through what people see from the outside, many consumers invest a lot of money in buying things that add value to their identities (Vanderbilt, 1997).
Vanderbilt (1997) considers this trend as the pinnacle of advertising in today’s society. This trend also shows that advertising does not only dictate our consumer patterns but also affects our cognitive development processes. Indeed, if people define their identities through materialistic items, there is a complete shift of focus from the inner aesthetic values of a person to a superficial and highly advertised identity.
Question Two: With an understanding of “Darth Vader PR,” how can public relations be redeemed in terms of serving the public good and public interest?
Hoggan (2009) says public relation (PR) is under threat from unsavory manipulation by large corporations and government institutions. He gives the example of companies that have contributed to global public relation failures (such as Monsanto and Exxon), as culprits of fuelling the mistrust that most people have with governments and multinational companies (Hoggan, 2009). By extension, this mistrust affects the wider PR practice because people continue to mistrust the entire public relations field, even when companies have legitimate PR needs.
Hoggan (2009) believes the continuance of this situation endangers democracy because democracy works when people have some substantial level of trust in public companies and institutions. This section of the report holds the opinion that despite the challenges that public relations experience today, PR firms can redeem their practice by conveying truthful messages.
Hoggan (2009) emphasizes the importance of conveying truthful messages in PR because he understands the wide misconception that the American public has towards PR firms and their jobs. For example, he quotes a study that showed about 80% of the American public believe PR firms help corporations to misrepresent their company situations (Hoggan, 2009).
Through this belief, many people say such firms purport falsehoods. To mitigate this issue, Hoggan (2009) proposes that PR firms should be truthful in their practice. He quotes the words of Stephen Colbert, who emphasizes the importance of speaking the truth, regardless of whether facts back it, or not (Hoggan, 2009).
Besides conveying truthful messages, Hoggan (2009) emphasizes the importance of being genuine about such truths. While doing so, he recognizes the thin line that exists between public manipulation (which many people believe PR firms do) and conveying the truth in an effective way. Here, an effective way may involve conveying a message in a witty or “disgusting” manner.
For example, Hoggan (2009) illustrated the ineffectiveness of a public health campaign by an English doctor, who tried to make residents of Burkina Faso wash their hands after visiting the toilet. Initially, her public health message received little attention, but when she sought the input of the big multinational companies, like Proctor & Gamble and Colgate, she got a new idea to package her message in an effective way that could reach her audience.
Through the contribution of PR firms, she decided to explain to her audience how “filthy” their hands were after they visited the toilet. The message contained a picture of a young mother and her child with purple “patches” on their hands after they visited the toilet (Hoggan, 2009). Through this re-advertised message, her campaign received a lot of attention.
The underlying message of this example is that PR firms can package their message in an effective way without manipulating the truth. Through this analogy, it is correct to say that unsavory manipulation has consequences for PR as a practice. Thus, in a world that is highly characterized by cynicism, PR firms need to be genuine and truthful in their practice.
Hoggan, J. (2009). Do the Right Thing: PR Tips for a Skeptical Public. Sterling Virginia: Capital Books.
Vanderbilt, T. (1997). The Advertised Life. In T. Frank & M. Weiland (Eds.), Commodify Your Dissent: The Business of Culture in the New Gilded Age: Salvos from the Baffler (pp. 127-139). New York, NY: Norton.