Advertising history: exploit and overconsume

May 25, 2023

Collage concept by Frini with photograph of Woman Wrapped in Fabrics by Ron Lach from Pexels

Frini Bitzeni explores the impact of manipulative marketing on women

We are living in a world plagued by advertisements. Everywhere you look, there is an advert plastered on a wall, playing out on a screen, or echoing from a radio.

However, as of recently, with the ever-growing popularity of social media, advertisements pop up across every platform and are more influential than ever.

Advertising can be traced back to ancient civilisations. Papyrus from ancient Egypt has been found with the purpose of promoting sales. Oral advertisements were used in ancient China; bamboo flutes would play out to sell sweets.

In the Middle-Ages, shop owners would use signs with symbols connoting what the shop sold, catering to a population that couldn’t read. Trademarking can be traced back to 1300 BCE and, once printing was invented in 1450, trade cards, leaflets, and newspapers were used for promotional adverts.

The first radio commercial was aired from New York station WEAF in 1922, also the year the BBC was born. Television advertising began in 1955 in the UK with Gibbs SR toothpaste commercial broadcast on ITV. However, the first radio ad in the UK didn’t appear until 1973.

In our capitalist society, big corporations advertise their products by creating a narrative with the ‘perfect lifestyle’

Overall, advertising has existed since trading began, and it utilises the media that is popular at any given time.

In the early 2000s, social media was established and ever since then advertising has grown at an exponential rate. Research by Global WebIndex currently shows that 57.6% of the global population uses social media. It’s evidently the easiest, quickest, most influential way to promote products and brands.

Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic, social media usage has increased rapidly, and with the rise of algorithm-based social media apps such as TikTok, consumerism has been promoted more than it ever has.

Social media posts sponsored by brands, YouTube videos titled ‘TikTok made me buy it’ and ‘haul’ or ‘unboxing’ videos, where influencers show off new purchases, are all around us.

In our capitalist society, big corporations advertise their products by creating a narrative with the ‘perfect lifestyle’: a fake, cultivated way of life that we wish we had. Fashion retailers, whose commodities are modelled by conventionally attractive women, are subconsciously communicating that if you buy the goods, you will become as beautiful as the model.

Exploitative marketing has imposed a whole host of insecurities upon women over the years

Predatory advertising and marketing construct insecurities, manipulating vulnerable people into believing that something is wrong with them.

Before Gillette created the first women’s razor in 1915, women rarely shaved their legs and armpits; hairy women were not a taboo, they were the norm. In 1917 Gillette advertised their razors to women as a way to solve ‘an embarrassing personal problem’ and later ads in Harper’s Bazaar magazine described women’s under-arm hair as something to be ashamed of. You can read more about this here.

This exploitative marketing has imposed a whole host of insecurities upon women over the years. Insecurities about how we look, our achievements, our intellect, how we act, who we are, what we do and how we do it!

Social media markets an identity that opposes those insecurities and exudes confidence. If you are insecure about living a dull, unsuccessful life, social media sells you a beautiful house, rustic furniture, vegan recipes, eating out, going to the theatre, travelling to exotic places and buying designer clothes.

For example, ‘Studygram’ accounts on Instagram promote the idea that if you are academically underachieving, certain apps, stationery and gadgets can fix that.

Overall, social media promotes and encourages overconsumption and using money and material objects to feel good

One way in which social media preys on vulnerabilities is the concept of internet ‘aesthetics’. Since the rise of TikTok, distinct styles of fashion and self-expression known as ‘internet aesthetics’ have come about. They can be defined as the visual identity of a certain online subculture.

An example of this is the ‘That Girl’ aesthetic from 2021, including social media posts typically depicting a conventionally attractive young white woman in a large, beautiful home with expensive products such as skincare, snacks, clothing, furniture and makeup. It normalises an aesthetically pleasing, costly lifestyle which is unrealistic for most people, especially the majority of young people with little money and who may not fit Eurocentric beauty standards. You can read more about the #ThatGirl trend here.

Some subcultures romanticise toxic habits. The ‘dark academia’ aesthetic glamourises sleepless nights studying through pictures of gothic architecture, pretty coffees and preppy clothing. This breeds a culture of prioritising work and superficial appearances over one’s wellbeing.

Overall, social media promotes and encourages overconsumption and using money and material objects to feel good.

Despite what advertising has force-fed us, we can’t buy happiness, confidence or friendship. I think there are so many ways to feel good about your life other than this constant struggle to keep up with a man-made idea of perfection.

You can click here to get some totally free ideas for your wellbeing and self-care. 😊

Frini studies English Literature, Art and Sociology at Woodhouse college. She is interested in creative media being mindful of its societal impact.

Frini studied English Literature, Art and Sociology at Woodhouse College. She is interested in creative media and being mindful of its societal impact.

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