Media and Physical Appearance
I would not say that I am a slave of advertising or consumer culture, but I have always paid relatively close attention to the commercials I see on television and in magazines. Because of this trait, I would say that I am fairly perceptive of the various methods employed by advertisers, and the messages they attempt to convey. The majority of these messages I discard, and very rarely do I allow them to influence what I do and do not buy. There is one ad, however, that I remember to this day, and which I admit has dictated what I buy in one specific area. Even now, I remember the commercial quite vividly, although I was probably in elementary school when I first saw it. The ad featured a handsome teenager talking about his experience in starting a new school. A few days before the first day of classes, he breaks out with a bad case of acne. Terrified, he imagines his social life for the remainder of high school as one dominated by weekend nights watching cheesy movies at home with his parents. Miraculously, though, he is saved from this social hell by Oxy facial cleansing products. With a clear face, he is able to start school on the right note, making friends with other attractive adolescents. The commercial closes with him saying, “keep America beautiful,” as Oxy’s line of skin care products shows up on the screen. For some reason, this ad and its message stuck with me, and I have loyally used Oxy products ever since.
While extremely effective, this ad was hardly original in its methods. Instead, it relied on the same techniques perfected nearly a century earlier during the revolution in American advertising. As early as 1923, the Lambert Pharmaceutical Company was able to increase profits by a multiple of 40 by playing on the fears and dreams of impressionable consumers (Marchand, p. 18). Despite the enormous cultural, technological and economic transformations undergone by society over the last 80 odd years, the modus operandi of advertisers has changed little if at all. The sedentary nature of advertising themes is exemplified wonderfully by Lambert Pharmaceutical’s attempts to market its signature product, Listerine antiseptic, in the 1920’s and again in the 1940’s. Using the parables of ‘The First Impression’ and ‘The Democracy of Afflictions,’ Lambert used thematically identical ads to incite demand for its product where previously there was little or none.
Constant in the American ethos is the fear that one cannot be truly successful with an unattractive appearance. It was this apprehension that Lambert Pharmaceutical Company played on when it launched its first ads for Listerine. The goal of every ad is to create demand for the product it promotes, and Lambert’s copywriters Milton Feasley and Gordon Seagrove executed this aim flawlessly. The ad featured an attractive woman looking forlornly into a mirror, with the caption, “What secret is your mirror...