Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Leslie's "Global Scan" on Advertising

Deborah Leslie provides an overview of activity in advertising in the 80s and early 90s, beginning with how globalization affected the industry structurally and showing how that played out in advertising strategy and content.

Before the 80s advertising was primarily handled by small local offices. Although there still were still many small niche advertisers in 1995, the medium sized businesses had diminished in number. American markets were saturated by the 80s and the most potential for growth came from other countries. Advertising firms began directly investing in foreign offices instead of creating their own to reap the benefit of local knowledge. They also began buying each other up to lower costs and attain a wide geographic expansion of their services. This allowed for a diversification of services and a wider client base. As firms grew fewer and bigger, it became more important to be located in a major city. Most advertisers are based in New York City today, with some in London and Tokyo. These re-structurings appear to have affected the advertising workforce negatively, with employees complaining about big lay offs, overwork and less creative flexibility.

The new global companies were faced with juggling between global and local advertising campaigns. Upscale commodities, and those embodying the American identity, such as soft drinks, jeans, computers, and pharmaceuticals, could be advertised as a world brand. Other commodities could not because associations from culture to culture would vary. Luckily, globalization isn't confined to advertising, and marketers found similar consumer segments repeated or created in populations all over the world. Women, youth, and mothers are seen as having the most in common, and are targeted more often as global advertising audiences.

Advertising agencies restructured how they did business as they grew. The rampant merging had caused many clients who were competing with each other to be buying advertising from the same company. This conflict of interest, along with all the reorganization, caused high competition for contracts from an unstable client base. Meanwhile, clients began consolidating their business into one or two advertising firms instead of several dozen. All of this helped coordinate campaigns and manage the overall image for companies. As such, advertising agencies began organizing their services on the client instead of around a locality.

Just as advertising may have created a national commodity culture, it may have begun creating a global one. British Airways (appropriately imperially) set the stage with an ad campaign featuring diverse actors converging in a non-descript field, accompanied by strong music and visuals, and few words. Many ads have followed suit, such as Benetton ads, which imply that people can overcome cultural boundaries through consumer citizenship. The places that are constructed in global advertising are non-places, and the people have thrown off traditional forms of identification. This may be less the meat of a common global culture, so much as a tools needed to enter a global culture.

At one point, the author quotes Speigel, "The global village, after all, is the fantasy of the colonizer, not the colonized." It is hard for me to disagree with this; however, the author also points out that advertisers construct their material by scanning the market first. This article does not try to untangle the conundrum of who is creating the history described here. Nor does it state openly how all these globalizations are related. Perhaps the author collocating these globalizations not simply because they are united by being part of the history of advertising. She may be subtly pointing out that it is the simultaneity of these globalizations, of structure, strategy, content, and culture, that makes all this fit together. Without these globalizations happening contemporaneously in each sphere, could any of them have sustained themselves alone? Would they be considered globalization if they did?


Chris Rencontre said...
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Chris Rencontre said...

If we think about advertising as Domosh describes it... as a cultural artifact...and then consider Leslie's notion of globalized advertising which is trending toward displaying "cultureless" people. Does this kind of advertising continue to reflect imperialistic, western influence?

I am interested in the notion of globalized advertising that shows people [whom we must assume the audience identifies with] as being the global everybody, but nobody in particular. I am wondering how the cues in these advertisements work? Do they cultivate a desire for status which is then exemplified by their purchases? If so, is this status slanted toward western ideals and consumerism? If not, does this mean capitalism has really gone global?