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How does Advert Produces False Consciousness (Academic)



Analysing advertisements in contemporary society has been a popular subject in different academic fields like marketing, cultural studies, art, philosophy and sociology for a long time. Apparently advert is something to encourage potential customers to buy a special product, yet they do not only serve this purpose, they contains discourses, manipulations and imply different ideologies, such as commodity feminism, fetishism, promotional culture, post-modernism, etc. In this article, I will be focusing on the discourses and commodity feminism approaches in advertisement.


The advert I have chosen is an advert of L’Oréal Paris Age Perfect Extraordinary Facial Oil published in 2014 on magazines and online. The article will put the spotlight on how the advert promote commodity feminism in terms of their facial expressions, gazes, body gestures, absence of male and texts; and then will continue to breakdown how discourse operates in the ad by studying the shooting angles, colours, voice of authorities, choice of words, the messages behind and the power relationship between viewers and creators. By the end, there will be reasons given out on why discourse offers the most useful way of analysing advertising.

Advertising representations of women have become a significant part of the historical circumstances that condition women’s consciousness of everyday life. According to Goldman (1992), Commodity feminism is a reminder that commodity relations turn the relationship of acting subjects into the relations between objects. The process of turning feminism into sign values fetishizes feminism into an iconography of things. Sign-objects are thus made to stand for, and made equivalent to, feminist goal of independence and professional success. Their unique personality can be represented, relationship achieved and resources acquired through personal consumer choices. Via having a choice in their consumption, it declares that control and ownership over one’s body/face/self, accomplished through the right acquisitions and it can maximize one’s value at both work and home. This new ‘freedom’ has become essential to the accumulation of capital – reproducing the commodity form. However, the feminism is framed by ideologies of individualism and free choices in consumption or the right to display their bodies, adverts reproduce the idea that women are sexual, yet they control their choices of exposing their body or not, meaning of choice and individual freedom become wed to images of sexuality in which women apparently choose to be seen as sexual objects because it suits their liberated interests, but forgot its origins in critique of unequal social, economic and political relations. Most adverts do not comment on politics and social issue but only portray aesthetic depoliticised women who are enjoying their lives and the selves through owning the specific commodities and Goldman reckoned feminism becomes depoliticized as ads turn ‘feminist social goal into individual lifestyles’, thus, commodity feminism represents feminism as a style.

For the L’Oréal ad, it uses image of models, colours and texts to promote the commodity – Age Perfect Extraordinary Oil that directly correlates to the beauty of youth. The target audiences are all women who can understand English and all age groups as the advert is addressing in English and consisting of not only aged women in the middle but also the young lady on the right and the mature mid-aged women on the left. There is no confusion if ones recognize the models presence as an imaginary substation of themselves. The two mature women wear white blouses and open at the necks suggest them to be someone who has achieved professional successes in a male-dominated work world (Goldman, 1992: 145) and at the same time it implies they act according to the convention, the wavy hair represent their womanhood. The young girl on the right wear an off-shoulder top signifies her youthfulness as a new generation and she ties a ponytail instead of letting her hair flow like the other two models that helps emphasising her innocent as a youngster. Producers use the three models of different ages as a sign to tell all readers that every woman is their target customer and their presence as an imaginary substitution for potential consumers. Their professional outfits communicate to readers that their faces are the highest value in the labour market; beauty is what makes them success.

All of the three models look directly into readers’ eyes; their chin levels and eyes greet the viewers straight on to produce an image of naturalness/realness, (Goldman, 1992: 150) trying to proof the function of this anti-aging product; the mild wrinkles on the face of the women in the middle make readers feel this advert is showing the fact that natural aging signs cannot be totally cured no matter how ‘extraordinary’ this product is, giving out an illusion of how ‘real’ the skin conditions are for the two women aside and proof the reliableness and the excellent function of the product. The gazes from the models addressing to audiences are like inviting them to share the potential pleasures of repairing their skins, the privileges ones can enjoy in workplace and social life when women look as stunning as them and the choice they choose to apply this skin product on their face, they are happy with their choice.


The models smile confidently to the camera signifies they are proud of being who they are due to their beauty while it is actually accomplished by the skin product that the advert is promoting. They appear to be enjoying their lives, happy with what they are doing and these imply to readers that their confidents are built upon their elegance. The three models seem to be having a good relationships with each others, the younger one on the right is holding the middle one’s shoulder and the left one is facing toward the middle, they maybe good friends, co-workers or families, whatever their relationships are, there is something that bond them together – the youthful skin; at the same time, the positioning of the elder models also can be seen as an respect to the older generation as she is the centre among the three models. Likewise, their joys represent the well-balanced lives between work and leisure and social, they have professional success in a formerly patriarchy society while also devoting themselves to their individual social lives thanks to their allurements. The advert carefully constructed visual representation of marketers’ compartmentalized vision of women and the power lies behind pretty faces.

The small caption ‘BECAUSE YOU’RE WORTH IT’ locates on the top left hand corner, it uses the word ‘you’ to straightforwardly deliver the message to readers as a second person point of view as well as the head-on gazes from the three models below, it sets up a character to persuade readers to substitute themselves into the ‘you’ and assume they are the one who the caption is addressing on. Therefore the readers interpret it as ‘they are worth it’. ‘It’ may refer to the beauty, the youth of the models or the successfulness of them in the male-dominate works world or their confident or their interpersonal relationships; yet, readers deserve it only when they are pretty enough, like the models. There is another caption placed in the bottom of the photograph printed in a handwriting font, makes the statement become a friendly advice in a girl’s talk, asking readers to make their choice and buy this product. Potential consumers would feel a freedom to control over their faces by whether to accept their friendly advice to buy this product or not. Together with the word ‘unique’ in the topic ‘A REVOLUTION IN FACIAL CARE EXPREIENCE THE UNIQUE POWER OF ESSENTIAL OILS’, it declares how exclusive this oil is in treating their aging skin, women who use this will then be as different and outstanding as it is, promoting the idea of individualism of women, yet by purchasing the mass produced commodity.

Men constitute an absence in this advert. The women work, support themselves, control how to look and have a good social life, men only fit in their leisure lives, not into their plans for economic survival. The caption mentions applying skin care is their every day beauty ritual, extraordinary, they care about how they look more than men and men are not including in any part of their daily activities. The absences of male in the advert, it also signify these women work hard to become flawless just because of their own pressure but not trying to be impress any men, they choose what they want to be shown and live independently with a professional career. This partly conveys the ‘neo-feminist’ themes – e.g. ‘Successful, Independent Woman’ or ‘Future News Anchor-woman and Mother.’ Women are pictured as achievers, not as stereotypical, vacuous fashion models. They are obviously smart and as multi-dimensional personas. (Goldman. 1992: 151) Their body and face emerge as coincidental signs that these are something they do to validate themselves, sexuality appears as something women exercise by choice rather than because of their ascribed gender role, they have the will power to master how they look by autonomous consumption. The models in this advert being irresistible objects of desire to potential consumers, giving out an illusion of the consumer will look like the model if they too use that product, this is actually feeding off that audience’s own desire of coherence and meaning in herself. More than that, this advert emphasis on insecurity and anxiety about skin aging problem in women, the anxiety of diminished self in order to offer a commodity solution-the oil. Women can obtain those specific lifestyles only by consuming the commodity and that therefore ‘commodity is made to embrace a way of life – independent, celebrate the field of lifestyle consumption as an autonomous playful space beyond determination.’ (Goldman, 1992: 148)


On the other hand, this advert can by analysed in the approach of discourse. By discourse, Foucault meant a group of statements which provide a language for talking about – a way of representing the knowledge about – a particular topic at a particular historical moment. Discourse is about the production of knowledge through language. But since all social practices entail meaning, and meanings shape and influence what we do – our conduct – all practices have a discursive aspect (Hall, 1997: 44) Discourse defines and produces the objects of our knowledge and governs the way that a topic can be meaningfully practice and used to regulate the conduct of others, nothing which is meaningful exists outside discourse. Physical things and actions exist but they only take on meaning and become objects of knowledge within discourse and therefore only have knowledge of things if they have meaning but not the things in themselves. Discourse often reinforced by institutions, texts and images, it produces ‘regime of truth’ that if everyone believes in something and take action on it, they will become ‘true’ in terms of its real effects, even if in some absolute sense it has never been conclusively proven. (Hall, 1997: 49)


Adverts always produce discourses, they can be considered as a kind of discourse that in its centre power and ideology interact and can be used to express and impose one’s ideology. (Vahid and Esmae’li, 2012: 38) Elements that are considered to be a part of the advertising discourse are subordinate concepts of text, images, photograph and context. The text in advert discourse refers to linguistic forms and is separated from the others for the purpose of analysis. (Cook 2001: 4) Hall (1973) claimed ‘in the advertising discourse, for example, we might say that there is almost no “purely denotative” communication. Every visual sign in advertising “connotes” a quality, situation, value or inference which is present as an implication or implied meaning, depending on the connotation reference’ (Hall, 1973: 12)


For this L’Oréal Paris Age Perfect Extraordinary Facial Oil advert, L’Oréal is the producer of this product ad and it wants to promote the idea that consumers can reduce their skin age by using the facial oil and women at all ages are their target audience who should be using that. The discourse could be considered as beauty discourse, because it is introducing a product related to beauty that aims at provoking people to fight against signs of aging to maintain or achieve certain success in the society. It uses photographs of models and text to create the discourse.

The eye levels of the models lie on the same levels as readers that construct a balance of power between the viewer and the company, no one holds a stronger power in terms of the photograph and the medium shot represents a normal social distance, audiences are not overly intimidate with the models. (Vahid and Esmae’li, 2012: 45) The models wear happy faces with confidence, they gaze directly into viewers’ eyes, like they, as real users, are communicating to readers about how satisfy they are with this skincare product. As what mentioned above, they are signified as professional women with social statues, combining all these elements they are creating a discourse that beauty is the biggest reason for them to be successful and to convince audience to buy the product.


There is a black and white filter on the photograph of the models, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research; black and white advertising gets consumers to focus on basic product features while colour advertising can influence consumers to pay more for products with unnecessary extras. (Dovijarov, 2015) The models appear to the readers that they are all basic like everyone else and simply focusing on the function of the product instead of the brand or other associate meanings in order to emphasize how particle it is. On the other hand, the photograph of the product - the extraordinary oil is printed in the colour with sharp orange and creates the contrast with black colour. Colourful and flashy advertising can distract us from thinking about basic product features (a skincare that can effectively minimize the appearance of wrinkles and with lifting effect), lead us to pay more for product with frivolous or unnecessary features (glamorous glass bottle with special designed dropper) and attract attention, promote favourable attitude. This advert uses both colour techniques to produce the fantasy that this product is the combination of utility and the aesthetics therefore, readers should buy it, and it is good for them.


The text ‘BECAUSE YOU’RE WORTH IT’ and ‘My every day beauty ritual, extraordinary!’ in the photographs of models acts as a propaganda, it generalizes what people think by using words ‘you’ and ‘my’. This body copy gives more information about the advertisement that is people’s experience and comment about this product and is not distorted by the perfection of the facial image that is portrayed in the models. On top of it, the former body copy directly addresses to readers by using ‘you’ and gives meaning that readers should realized their chance of being beautiful by autonomous consumption. It uses ‘you’re’ as a short form to represent the informal tone and the latter is shown in hand writing font and consist ‘My’, these are symbolizing a friendly advice from the models and they are telling the truth as they are basic like everyone else, the exclamation mark at the end of the sentence exaggerates the adjective ‘extraordinary’, catches viewers attention about how amazing the product works and they should believe it. The advert aims to invite all potential consumers to join their beauty campaign about anti-aging skin care routine by the models who are addressing these messages to the audience in the first person point of view.


The models at the same time acts as the authority, they appear to be the experienced user of this product therefore they are the voice of authority. By using the first person point of view, that’s the first world that appears as a real world in which author addresses the reader. (Cook, 2001: 189) The authorial voice is the evident in the function of the product and being spoken by the models in a friendly tone, this seems to be a daily conversation to readers instead of purely advertising. Another voice in the adverts are from the company itself, including all the other descriptions outside the photograph of the models, meanwhile they act as sober scientific authority, clearly list out its powers and purposes in a tidy way to represent a formal tone that is trustworthy and true.


The message behind this advertisement is that L’Oréal cares about women’s beauty and happiness by creating thought-provoking ads, confidence-building image and messages that embrace the importance of beauty and young. There might be a special place in customer part of life because they think L’Oréal helps them to fight against aging problem. L’Oréal targets women to buy the product by almost telling them that if they do they will be like those models in the advert, they will achieve flawless faces with power, respect and success in the society.

It takes the advantage to those who agree with the myth of beauty, associate the product with something they value that young appearances are the main factors to become successful in their lives, by their action of consumption, this eventually become the truth within the culture.

The overall controls of power relationship of the discourse in this advert fall into the viewers, most producers try to show the viewers have the power to choose or not to choose. The models give out friendly advice and readers can choose to take it or not, consumers always enjoy freedoms to shop. ‘The ideology behind could be that by considering the viewers more powerful and giving the power to them to choose or not to choose something, they will be more eager to choose that because they see that they have the power to select or not.’ (Vahid and Esmae’li, 2012: 47)


Both commodity feminism and discourse approaches offer effective ways in analysing advertising, they interpreted images and texts in details yet, discourse allows us to study in a more comprehensive manner, for example the power relationship between consumer and producer in advert that leads to the increased consumption, how advert use discourse to produce the regime of truth (young and beauty are always the best) and discourse can also reproduce ideologies like feminism and individualism. Therefore it can be said that by analysing the discourse in the advert, commodity feminism in part will also be explored. On top of this, commodity feminism usually can only be applied on adverts relate to gender and beauty while discourse approaches can apply to all kind of advertisement including those produced by government and the power relationship will be reserved, they want to show their power over people and therefore powerless people obey them. (Vahid and Esmae’li 2012: 47)