The canon of beauty or holiness is different in the Western World compared to Africa or Asia; what we perceive as normal or odd changes depending on our social values which come from a particular culture, but who dictates these rules? Has everything we considered common nowadays always been, or is it the product of a stereotype hegemony?
The burden of the media industry from the 18th Century onwards brought fundamental changes in society and the way the individual perceives oneself.
Self-identity is no longer stated by the environment the individual grows up in or his family but it becomes a public matter discussed through the media.
The introduction of TV, Internet and social networks takes the individual out from his private sphere and it forces him to confront himself with the “pseudo-environment” built by the media around himself.
In this Era, Media especially through advertising promotes itself as the mirror which the individual could look at himself into and label his identity.
We often hear how society objectifies women and it sells their appearance as a commercial product, celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashian are an example of this, but do we ever question how men are portrayed in society?!
When hip-hop singer Kanye West talks or does something, for instance, the general public opinion does not get offended or shocked but everything he does or says is considered normal and in his inner nature; on the other hand, when Tom Daley , 2009 FINA World Champion, came out as gay this caused an international uproar.
In order to understand what shakes public opinion, we need to look at the media and the way, especially through advertising, it controls people’s lifestyle and social values, by dictating what we purchase.
In his book Public Opinion intellectual Walter Lippmann says:
how indirectly we know the environment in which nevertheless we live..but that whatever we believe to be a true picture, we treat as if it were the environment itself
The author contextualizes Socrates’ words in today’s society, assuming that the world we live in is based on stereotypes perpetuated in the modern Era by the media apparatus.The “pictures” Plato was talking about on a philosophical level, could be seen nowadays as the stereotypes media put in people’s mind as regard society and self-identity .
Since the ancient Greece men have been portrayed by the Odyssey and the Iliad as vigorous and mainly while women as mothers and wives, but the greek and roman mythology has never tried to disguise homosexuality and how common it was in society.
Throughout the centuries the opinion towards homosexuality changed but the figure of the man as masculine and patriarchal only became stronger into the Western World especially in the 20th Century.
Besides, the two World Wars only spread the idea of homosexuals as “outsiders” until reaching the most extreme outcome by ostracizing them into concentration camps in Second World War.
Media advertising started to increase in those years of war but in Italy and Germany it was mostly used as a means of war propaganda, through posters showing muscly soldiers standing proud. Those images were not merely a portrayal of that society but they were promoting a lifestyle and a model of values which others should have aspired to obtain in order to conform to society .
After the 1920s industrialization and later globalization changed the world of advertising. Ads were not giving many informations about a product anymore but, rather they started to “give images of deeply desired social standards”; in doing so, what people wanted corresponded to what advertising agencies and the corporations behind them told people to purchase .
Edward Barneys , the so-called Father of Propaganda, explained in 1929 how corporations can manipulate people’s desires and lifestyle through advertising and in so doing they detain the ruling power of a country. For instance, through his Torches of Freedom campaign Lucky Strike turned from a mere cigarette brand into the symbol of feminism in the 1920s in America.
Overseas, in Italy advertising raised from the fascist propaganda’s ruins and it tried to give an image of a restored nation led by the catholic party DC (Christian Democracy). In the late 1950s Rai Tv, main italian channel, launched Carosello a 10 minutes-long spot broadcasted every evening in between the news program and the late-night show (Pitteri 2002). Carosello’s advertisings were cartoons which portray scenes such as a mother going shopping with her six kids to sponsor candies (Abrosoli,2012) or a cowboy hero saving an indian vulnerable girl as coffee ad (Perard, 2013). The image that was always stressed was of a modern masculine man on one side, meanwhile on the other, the woman as a mother or vulnerable party.
Television had a huge impact on advertising and how fast they can spread their message. The combination of sounds colors and motions was appealing especially for children. This may be the reason why Carosello was not only a program about advertising but it became a cult for the italian lifestyle because it introduced advertisements in an unique and playful way.
In the 1960s Fordism left a sense of self-loss and frustration, people felt alienated by society and they wanted to objectify themselves in order to know where they belonged to. In Italy Piaggio , the leading italian motor brand, through motivation research found a marketing strategy able to provide for a new kind of membership. Piaggio’s Vespa’s advertising was not merely aiming at selling a product but it sold a life style to the younger generations; it was promoting a dream and a sense of identity which link the italian 16 years-old guy to the british 20 years old girl.
Vespa became the symbol of youth and freedom, it was not a mere advertisement anymore, it became a Self-statement.Vespa became part of the italian culture and since 1960s its design has been associated to Italy.
The Piaggio campaign just showed how culture and social lifestyle can be dictated by brands. Because of the media, Italy is commonly associated to several symbols other than Vespa like Mafia, thanks to the wide media-production of movies and Tv series about this matter, but above all to Pasta.
The leading Italian brand of pasta for over a century has been Barilla. Since the 1877 Barilla claims to be the representative food brand of Italians worldwide. Its advertisements have always been synonymous of love and family and they strengthened italian eating culture. The picture spread by Barilla for decades of a united family sitting at the table to share the most important meals of the day together is stuck into the mind of every italian. Through advertising the brand is not merely selling a good but it is selling laughter, joy, union and above all the italian-being and a typology of family.
The same values are offered by another italian brand which is under the Barilla ownership : Mulino Bianco. Since the 1970s Mulino Bianco’s advertising aims at showing the picture of the ideal italian family who gathers all together for breakfast. Instead of the usual morning grumpiness the parents play with their children at the table and everyone in the family looks healthy beautiful and above all happy. This perfect family reached such popularity in the italian culture to acquire its own definition in the italian everyday-vocabulary; the definition “Mulino Bianco-Family” is used to describe in street terminology a happy and united family.
The concept of family composed by the man as father and the woman as mother has been spread in the italian culture by the Barilla campaign for decades and the brand has acquired international recognition as Forbes claims: “ Barilla has become an icon worldwide. They have earned trust ,respect and admiration through their actions over time, not just clever branding campaigns”.
Throughout all these years Barilla benefitted of a good public opinion but the brand’s chairman Guido Barilla recently stated a comment on gay-couple in an interview on an italian radio which changed the brand’s worldwide popularity. The chairman said: “I would never do an advert with a homosexual family…if the gays don’t like it they can go and eat another brand. For us the concept of the sacred family remains one of the fundamental values of the company”.
This comment shook the public opinion and it caused a massive reaction among the LGTB groups who proclaimed not to eat Barilla anymore. It was a dangerous statement for a brand that means being italian and whose motto is “Dove c’è Barilla, c’è casa” which means “Home is wherever Barilla is”.
Media and Advertising play a main role into shaping society, they not only state a trend but they affirm people’s identity and belonging. Nowadays people are exposed around 3,600 times to commercials a day, the cost for an Ad could be compared to the one of a blockbuster movie. Upon these research results one can spot why Barilla’s chairman’s choice of not representing gay families in his Ads can be harmful to society; the latter one gets the shape that media decides and advertising is the means between the corporations and the mass used to spread the society’s elite ideas. While people think to decide what they want to see, they do not realize that they want to be what they see on Tv, newspapers or the Internet . According to what advertising propose to people through its images: men should drink beer because it would get them sexy girls, then get a job, find the one, propose to her with a diamond ring, because only diamonds are forever, and finally settle down eating pasta with their perfect family.
This sexist image of the perfect life embodies italian culture and leaves no space for same-sex relationships or emancipated women who instead of cooking and taking care of the family are running a business independently. The raise of advertisements in Italy happened when the catholic party took over the fascism age and this could be a reason why media and advertising aimed at spreading such values and pictures in people’s mind.
However, despite the huge amount of complains Barilla did not predict to get a massive loss in the consume of its products.The brand seems to be too rooted into the italian culture: it is a certainty and a safety for italians. As a matter of facts Barilla’s way of thinking represents the majority of the italian population who has been fed their mouth with that pasta and at the same time their minds with the idyllic picture of the “Mulino Bianco family” for over 50 years.
In opposition to the italian cultural concept of the “traditional family” constructed by the media, Sweden stands out with its furniture company IKEA and its campaign showing gay couple since the 1994.
Sweden is one of the most developed countries with highest level of income in the world; it does not have a secular tradition of catholicism rooted in its population which may be the reason why its media has been more liberal in showing same-sex couples in advertising.
The first gay-ad launched by Ikea in 1994 caused the same uproar of Madison Avenue slogan and it is a step forward in an advertising which does not seem to try to promote a lifestyle but to represent all kinds of costumers. The Ikea marketing strategy was criticized by the American right as against the mainstream and therefore loosing part of its costumers. Despite the critics, the advertising strategy reveals the developed swedish culture and it improves people’s mental health and living standards by fighting against homophobia and proclaiming itself pro-gay rights.
According to research Sweden scores the highest level of tolerance towards same sex-relationships in the EU, which strongly increased from the 1995 onwards, this was probably led by the media and how advertising influenced people’s perception on a matter which was considered tabu no long time ago.
In the Ikea advertisements men are finally freed from the masculine stereotype of the “macho-man” or the hero to finally be represented in all their humanity. In 2011 Ikea launched in the catholic city of Catania, Sicily, an Ad featuring two men holding hands with the slogan of “We are open to all families” causing the outrage of right-winged newspaper Il Giornale, owned by “family-defender” Silvio Berlusconi.
As soon as the masculine image of the man so dear to Mussolini as much as the italian former prime minister Berlusconi was threatened by this progressive Ad, the right-winged media agenda needed to re-establish the order by promoting the “Mulino-Bianco family” through the use of newspapers’ articles and advertising.
Public opinion is based on stereotypes, because of that you can assume that the myth of masculinity after the World Wars has been strengthened and rooted by the italian catholic and right-winged elite which owned media and advertising. The stereotypes on man showed in advertisements everyday created a clear picture in people’s mind of normality and happiness which is far from the homosexual one and it makes look the latter odd and unnatural.
When brands become part of a culture, their advertising through their images and slogans are making a statement which speaks for the individual, the people and the entire country.