What advertising says about our values


Liam Frith photographed by Isabella Kneeshaw.

Liam Frith, Staff Writer

Most advertising today sells not only the various objects and spectacles being promoted, but additionally a culture that orients all happiness around them; because of this, and because advertising works, the faults in what society values can be clearly seen.

Advertising appeals to deficiencies; it exists only in its ability to offer solutions to society’s unfulfillment. Ironically, this unfulfillment usually comes from the most common pursuit of its solution: materialism, and as advertising is a main promoter of this strategy for happiness, a feedback loop of consumption and dissatisfaction exists.

The problems many feel come from the solutions they seek. We are unhappy because we value the inanimate over ourselves and each other. We live in a world social critic Mark Fisher described as being plagued by the “Business Ontology,” where things are glorified above all else; success is measured by how many billions Elon Musk has and by how productive we can be for $15 an hour. Our culture’s goals are centered around maximizing output, profit and production rather than rest, learning and self-fulfillment. Advertising’s veiled secondary product shows this fact in the way it leaves humanity out of its promotion, valuing the commodity over the consumer and teaching the consumer to do the same.

The culture that surrounds this idea of happiness, expectation and achievement, exists unquestioned. Best described by philosopher Antonio Gramsci as “Cultural Hegemony,” the causes of unfulfillment felt by many are obscured under collective cultural feelings that this is just how the world has to be, that there is no alternative. 

This is entirely incorrect; to overcome cultural hegemony and replace sets of values such as the business ontology with kinder, more human-centered societal goals, we need to recognize the inhumanity of what our current ones are. But most importantly, we should recognize the fact that we can get past them.