|Vol. 18, No. 9||Oct. 29, 1998|
Look at this woman! Her eyes are blue; she's dripping with blue paint. She's cool. She's smoking a menthol cigarette. It must be cool. It must be minty and...is she? Could she be? Yes! Yes! Those eyes! Oh baby! She's looking at ME!!!"
So yelled the exuberant, media literacy expert Chris Lloyd as he dissected a cigarette ad for UD student life employees last week. The talk was one of three that Lloyd, a nationally known expert on advertising manipulation, gave on campus. He also spoke to area high school teachers and health workers and gave a public talk, all part of the City-UD Matter of Degree program sponsored by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to combat binge drinking on campus.
Dissecting advertising is just one of the many topics Lloyd covers each day in his job as media instructor in the prestigious communication arts program for gifted and talented students at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md. Taking the advertising segment out to the public is something he does as a consultant on a freelance basis.
"Advertising is geared to the whole left brain-right brain concept," Lloyd said. "It appeals to that part of us that says, 'I'm going to drive that car because I'll look good.' 'I'm going to smoke because it's cool.' 'I'm going to drink because it will get me in the in crowd.'"
Showing a telephone company ad, Lloyd demonstrated that it was really a series of 57 images that have little to do with using the phone. Two women, dressed in ugly swimsuits, break a pair of sunglasses while on vacation. They come up with the idea of rubber sunglasses and the commercial follows them as they try in vain to market the concept. Finally, as music swells and images open up to portray bright skies, they turn to the phone company for Internet marketing. Suddenly, people are flocking to their web site to purchase their product, including a man working from a laptop on a sailboat in what looks like the Caribbean.
"It's flashed at us so fast we don't even stop to think that the connections he'd need to use the Internet from a sailboat in the middle of the ocean costs 10 times what the sunglasses he's ordering do!" Lloyd said, noting that, of course, at the end of the commercial, the two women are back on vacation but at a pricier beach-and in much nicer swimsuits.
"This is what we need and what our teens and college students need: The ability to read, analyze, evaluate and produce commentaries on a variety of media forms," Lloyd said
Showing an example of the publication AdBusters' take on advertising, he brandished a print ad featuring two cowboys riding off into the sunset of a traditional western scene. Instead of the cigarette lingo people have come to associate with such a scene, this one, sponsored by the California Department of Public Health, has a cowboy turn to his partner and say, "I miss my lung, Rob."
"A tobacco company tried unsuccessfully to sue for copyright infringement," Lloyd said. "What? Do they own all the cowboys?"
"Simply put, we need to be producing messages with value," Lloyd said. "The constant message that 'wealth equals things equals success' creates the mentality that a thing can solve our problems. That thinking undermines these good public service messages."
Lloyd also urged the audience to keep in mind how advertising objectifies women, showing an ad for a women's clothing store that features a plus-size Barbie-like doll.
"We know that only one in 20,000 women is going to look like Barbie. Advertising is about creating discontent," he said. "When I show my students a Sears catalog from 100 years ago, they are amazed at the small illustrations and long descriptions of things. They say, 'Gee. They used to tell you what things did!'"
In another contemporary example, an ad, placed in college and university newspapers, suggests that a large size whiskey "can handle a crowd most living rooms can't" and urges students to read their lease before buying.
"The idea of rebellion is here as is the idea that, hey you're a college student. We expect you to drink and drink heavily," Lloyd said.
"If we, as a culture, keep permitting this what are we saying? We need to look at what we are putting into our media stream. If we become literate in it, we can make stronger, healthier choices. In media, we get what we ask for. We forget that the media culture responds to ratings. I think there's hope if we just demand more.
"We've got to teach young people to become media literate. We've got to incorporate media literacy into our curriculums and activities. Otherwise, we'll keep getting overtaken by this media culture."
Photo by Robert Cohen