Values and Advertising: An Interview with Alfonso Méndiz Noguero

Values and Advertising: An Interview with Alfonso Méndiz Noguero

The movies industry and advertising have influenced our lives forever, our consumption, orienting our desires and shaping our lifestyles. At times this can be for the good, at times for the bad. How, and to what extent, does publicity influence our actual behaviors and habits?

Advertising has been influencing our conduct from the moment it became a powerful factor of legitimizing social norms. Behaviors seen in commercials are portrayed as already accepted and the norm, which is what causes it to become a reference point for viewers. We know that publicity portrays a world of excellence (in the settings, the characters, and the music) and yet we accept, without any reason to support it, behaviors seen on TV as the most socially acceptable. In advertising we are used to condoning misconduct, becoming empathetic towards it, while in fact, while we internally reject such behaviors, we at the same time accept without reserve publicity’s “reading pact” and allow ourselves to be entertained. Sometimes, when we feel a dissonance between our values and those conveyed by advertisements, we go so far as to suspend moral judgements or “adhere” to that dissonance to be able to identify with that particular character.

In such a way, in the framework of publicity we come to interiorly promote practices such as infidelity, sensual provocation, the exaltation of selfishness or the unbridled pursuit of pleasure. These attitudes, which in a survey or simply within the intimacy of personal reflection would be evaluated negatively by the majority of people, are exalted upon becoming viewed, and to a certain extent emotionally “enjoyed.” This is due to that fact that, throughout the course of its history, advertising has been utilizing such practices as traps.

and our system of values and beliefs?

Advertising also acts as an agent of socialization. It introduces to us a world of shared values, “telling” us which values we must adopt for the right of citizenship in the contemporary world. In such a disoriented society, the foundational educational pillars (family, school and religion) have been called into question and, thus, a certain relativism conversely enjoys good health, free to expand without limits. Despite our natural common sense, audiences seem to have granted advertisers great social authority in regards values. As such, whatever publicity’s word is concerning important issues (family relationships, friendship, couples etc.) is accepted as an unquestionable source, as a reference that forms our value judgements. This authority is exercised on two levels:epistemological (that which regards knowledge of reality) and deontological (that which has to do with how reality should be). According to many viewers, and in particular the teenage audience, knowledge of how things are and how things should be, such as love, happiness, personal success and so on, is not so much related to what is taught and learned in school or home, as much as the social norms established by advertising. Commercials have become a sort of mirror which we reflect upon to find identity and value.

The family model in advertisement over the last 5 years has undergone a noteworthy evolution. It passed from the traditional representation of a happy and rigorous family with two children, Barilla Style , to a family model of multiple representations: from a single person, to a group of friends living together as in the series Friends , to a gay couple. Do you believe that advertisement follows social changes or vice versa?

The publicity-society relation has always gone two ways. Advertisement shows the changes that society is undergoing (and in this sense we can say that advertisement follows society), but at the same time it promotes new lifestyles and social values. Richard Polly stated, “publicity is a mirror, but a distorted one.” It reflects society, but in such a way that is misleading: it does not reflect what is of interest to the public, as much as what benefits businesses. Therefore, in regards the question put forward - which follows which - it should be said that publicity follows, above all, what the brand’s announce, its specific interests and strategy of sales. In other words, values represented do not correspond so much to social changes as much to businesses’ strategies which utilize this tool to increase sales.

This is felt in a particular way within the family. Now, for example, it is rare to see an advertisement where the protagonists are members of a large family: families with 3 or more kids are uprooted from advertisement programming across Europe. The reason, however, is not because Europeans reject or despise them, but because the major brands fear being pinned as traditional or outdated. In fact, there has never been lawsuits or complaints raised by the public or consumer associations in respect the presence of large families in advertising. Rather, they have simply disappeared on the initiative of companies own interests. On the other hand, there were complaints - totally disregarded by major brands - in respect to advertisements that promoted homosexual unions as “full and glamorous” relationships. Also, the upheaval was over portraying these relations not so much as one among many types - to legitimize it - but as the most honest and sincere. It is clear, thus, that we face a type of strategic decision, attempting to please certain collectives which have social influence, if not to enjoy the sympathies of political policies throughout European governments.

Until recently social media and new means of communication were utilized in large part by the youth and those under 40. Today, however, even the elderly - some research mentions those over 70 - navigate social networks with ease, participate in chats, post selfies and even utilize language dubbed as youthful . Is it simply a passing fad or a sign of a society made up of individuals becoming increasingly lonely?

Unfortunately, I do not believe that this is simply a new fad. We are in full sail toward a society marked by individualism. People increasingly have more comfortable lifestyles, yet are simultaneously more lonely: they possess endless devices, but have no one to care for them. In this context, online networks (internet, social media, etc.) constitute an amazing tool of “social entertainment” which masks this growing “isolation”. Another factor leading to isolation, moreover, is that internet has replaced the need for personal communication which is today lacking in family life and daily interactions. What we are moving towards - which one can already perceive among the youth - is an ever more anonymous society, diluting its personality in vacuous and frivolous communications, which then generates an incapacity to maintain relationships.

Three advertisements that portray the family positively in the last years?

There have been many positive campaigns done about the family. On the blog I write “Advertising And Cinema With Values”, there is a weekly post on an advertisement which positively reflects the institution of the family and its values. To cite at least three of the most recent:

- IKEA (Spain): Nada como el hogar para amueblarnos la cabeza, 2014

- True Move H (Thailand): Compassion is true communication, 2015.

- Vistaprint (Netherlands): Father & son, 2015.

Finally, three films in the past year that transmits positive values which you would recommend to our readers?

For both a young and adult audience, I would suggest the following:

- The Hundred Foot Journey, by Lasse Hallström, 2014: It is a dramatic comedy about a family stuck between two cultures, Hindu and French.

- Being Again, by John Carney, 2013: It is a musical, by the same director as Once, about love, fidelity and knowing how to begin love anew in an engagement and marriage.

- Inside Out, by Pete Docter, 2015: It’s an animated cartoon by Walt Disney-Pixar on the role of the emotions in family relationships and in personal decisions.

Prof. Méndiz Noguero is the Dean of the School of Communication at the Universidad Internacional de Catalunya (Barcellona) and author of many books about advertising. He is the editor of the blog Publicidad y Cine con Valores .