Abraham Maslow in his Theory of Human Motivation stated that while people aim to meet basic needs, they seek to meet successively higher needs in the form of a hierarchy. This theory seems to have become the mantra of the advertisement industry that not merely caters to human needs but also creates them, thus establishing a materialistic culture. It is true that the ultimate decision to buy a product is in the hands of the consumer but advertisements do modify consumer needs, building new ones from the previous. People find themselves buying things they do not need.
The kind of materialistic culture that advertisements have created was well estimated after the iPhone 5 was launched. The name sold well! Not many of the millionaire sons who had ordered iPhone 5 even before its launch in India would have known that the only significant difference between iPhone 4s and iPhone 5 is the so-called “brilliant 4-inch retina display that allows you to see more of everything”. What intrigues one is the question of how long can one follow the escape route into the virtual world. One has to come back to reality, reasonably speaking.
Above all, the advertisement and public relations is one highly competently flourishing sector with humungous employment opportunities for the creative minds. The materialistic aspect of it can once again be judged by the cut-throat competition here for those who want to earn name and fame, and for those who want to cut others’ name and share of fame. The battle of brands between two leading national English dailies, The Times of India and The Hindu, through the advertisement campaigns against each other is suggestive of a strengthened earthly-mindedness of the generation.
What might also be an extreme case of the current materialistic culture is one when we are tempted by a product, and being unable to seek it, we might end up falling into the vicious circle of thefts and robbery. Ambika Puri, B.Com student of Delhi University, says, “The same ad may have a different effect on different societies. While ads may influence a person dwelling in urban areas to buy a certain product without its need, it may leave a member of a minority society disappointed.”
Along with all this, it becomes equally important to talk about the portrayal of women in advertisements. Women are, more often than not, shown assuming a passive role giving ample satisfaction to the ‘male gaze’. Commercial ads for deodorant brands like Axe, Vanessa and condom brands depict women as having being made for males; furthering a step in the gender biases prevalent in our patriarchal society. Another major aspect of gender roles in creating a materialistic culture is that the advertisements are made differently for male and female audiences. For adolescent boys, ads are made targeting their all-in-one-man aspirations. Ads of Hero bikes and of drinks like Thums Up and Mountain Dew are made depicting adventurous and daring men. While for adolescent girls advertisements are made inspiring them to become sweet and sensual by depicting attractive models/actresses endorsing a teen product.
Shruti Gupta, An economics teacher at Kamala Nehru College, Delhi University says, “The big MNCs like Coke, Lays, McDonald’s, etc. have such powerful financial muscle which they use in advertising. It makes the youth of today think that watching a match in a stadium without buying a bottle of coke and chips is boring and useless. The irony is that in a country where poor people don’t have clean water to drink, some people harm their health by consuming junk food.” She goes on to add, “From an economic point of view, advertising today is a game of money. Adverts distort the consumption and production patterns of a nation. We don’t really need mineral water when so many people in villages and rural areas don’t even have clean water to drink. In a nutshell, ads distort economic priorities of a nation through misallocation of resources. Their products are promoted on such a huge scale on banners and billboards that they are visible everywhere and create such a huge impact that each one of us starts believing that we cannot party without a bottle of coke!”
Adverts also have a tendency to divert one from reality and make one dream beyond one’s reaches. The ads that one sees on billboards while crossing the main roads portray a lifestyle that each one of us would want to have, consequently only leaving us in a miserable state of envy. And if one gives into these ads, one is often found being stereotypically associated with that brand in particular. For instance, if one sees a girl wearing Reebok shoes and Reebok sweatshirt, she exudes an impression of being athletic.
An interesting concept prolific in the advertisement industry is of behavioural targeting used by online website publishers, advertisers and marketers. It allows them to tailor ads based on consumers’ web behaviour to increase their profits. However, this concentrates dangers to the user’s browser security and is even considered illegal by many country’s privacy, data security and consumer protection laws.
The most plausible solution to this constructive materialistic culture is with the consumer himself; by being smart and aware, by availing consumer protection services and consciously keeping away from victimising oneself due to this materialistic culture.