What Are You
Selling Me Now?
An Inquiry into
Advertising and the Role of the Popular Personality
Advertising has always existed as long as someone had something to sell. Its form has become more varied and complicated, though, in the industrial and technological society. It is longer restricted to the words and gestures of a single salesman. Now, those who are advertising want to communicate with you through the sides of buses and radio, airplane messages and television, billboards and internet ads. At one point, advertising was limited to the moment of the trade between the two parties, but today, advertising exists as a general medium intermixed with almost every social activity.
Coming to the aid of these marketing and advertising executives is the celebrity. The celebrity is someone who is known to some community in general, whether it is a sports player, a movie star, a well-known musician, or a popular personality -- the impressive and new entrepreneur, a recently elected politician, or the host of a talk show. The public are more willing to believe someone who they have become familiar with, even if it is just through their radio or television set. Marketing executives, then, typically choose some type of celebrity to publicly endorse their product. The choice of celebrity is not on their characteristics or the worthiness of their talents; they are chosen based solely on their popularity.
Who is the Celebrity?
What is the psychology of the celebrity? There is always great diversity in origin and background, but the result always tends towards the same end: excessive wealth and fame, occasionally followed by scandal and downfall. When it comes to endorsements and sponsorships, the celebrity is approached by even wealthier interests than themselves. For the hour or few hours required for producing the ad, a celebrity could easily earn more than what a single, blue-collar worker earns in a lifetime.
What are they being paid for? Not productive or creative labor. They are simply being paid to appear as if they actually prefer the product they are trying to sell to you. If they have a positive opinion about it that they discuss, it is because the public image of the commodity directly ties to their income. They are being paid, then, as social prophets -- deliverers of the message laid down by media, apparel, and automobile companies.
Being paid just to tell people an idea: this boasts and encourages the ego of the star. They see their value in telling the people what is good and what is bad. It is a subsequent power of their popularity within the public image. The idea of using this ability to serve the public does not always come; or where it does exist, it is malformed, rationalizing the self-interested behavior of the celebrity as a type of "public good." The actor or actress of an ad is paid incredibly just to say what they do like or do not like -- this provides a way of living that is not creative or productive, and it pays an excess that enables very enjoyable forms of self-destruction. It produces a self-worship in the ego of the celebrity.
There must also be a resentment or disgust for the public from these celebrities. They must know that they have no real knowledge or background in the product that they are selling. Their paycheck is signed not because of the wisdom they spread, but because they are well-known. Some of the listeners or watchers of the ad are probably more qualified to make a judgment or opinion on whatever merchandise or service is being pitched.
The first effect of sponsorship on the mind of the celebrity is the material value given by a massive, wealthy corporation. The second effect is that their job is to tell the masses what to do, often in very simplified ways. This can produce nothing but a contempt for the public, since the celebrity is being paid so much to provide so little to the people. If the celebrity truly realized what they were being paid for, they could only maintain their role by need of the expensive tastes they developed, or by feeling completely dissociated and alien to the sentiments of the common people. Essentially, the celebrity is the perfect case study of a superiority complex.
Who is the Celebrity Working For?
The average child of the United States is likely to see 20,000 commercials within a single year, with this number reaching an average of 2 million commercials by the time they are sixty five. The total budget for commercials by the top 100 television advertisers was $15 billion in 1993. [*1] The industry is based on forming the mindset and psychology of the individual who is tuned in; the celebrity acts as an accomplice in subverting the public's views to to those of the powerful, wealthy interests in society.
According to AdvertisingAge, the biggest global marketer in 2009 was Procter & Gamble Co., with an annual budget of $9.73 billion. Second was Unilever with $5.72 billion; third was L'Oreal with $4.04 billion; fourth was General Motors Co. with $3.67 billion; fifth was Toyota Motor Corp. with $3.20 billion; and sixth was Coca-Cola Co. with $2.67 billion. [*2] Influencing the mind of the public is no small business -- and celebrities are willing to take their share.
Procter & Gamble Co. uses polyvinyl chloride (PVC), or a poisonous type of plastic, in the wrapping of some of its products. [*3] Its subsidiary, Iams, tortures and physically abuses dogs and other animals in experiments. [*4] At a manufacturing plant of Procter & Gamble in China, workers are forced into overtime, working twelve hours a day with only four days off per month. There is no protection for unemployment, substandard food, and cramped living conditions -- in a single room that has 12 square feet, there may be as many as eight individuals living. There are curfews in these rooms, so nicely titled "BestFriend Human Resources Co. Ltd. Dormitory." [*5]
Unilever employs thousands of impoverished child laborers in south India. An ActionAid describes one of the victims of this investment: "On June 29, Mallesh Harijana, aged 13, ate a mango after spraying cottonseed pesticide from a leaking can, and without washing his hands. Fifteen minutes later, he was doubled up with stomach cramps; he died in the early hours of the following day." [*6] Unilever, who owns Lipton Tea and Dove soap, has also dumped mercury from its thermometer production facilities into the environment in India. [*7]
L'Oreal fired one of its managers, when she refused to fire someone for not being attractive enough. L'Oreal has made it clear that this was not an isolated incident, but a clear trend in the directive of their managerial policy. [*8] The company has also been cited for environmental destruction, when it was highly opposed to a legislative effort that would reveal the ingredients in the makeup company's inventory. [*9] In an investigation into product safety, it was found that L'Oreal was putting formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane into much of its child shampoo and hygiene products. The company has responded that they intend to keep the toxic chemicals in the product since it provides a longer shelf life for the product. [*10]
General Motors, like many of the others, has investments in China, which can mean abusive, top-down and even violent conditions of work to actual slavery. [*11] And, like Procter & Gamble, General Motors used PVC in the interior of its cars, though it stopped in 1999. [*12] From public pressure, General Motors developed its own electric, non-petroleum car in the 1980's; but it requisitioned the cars from paying owners and destroyed them all in an attempt to quash the project. [*13] General Motors also dumped unsafe and toxic chemicals in a 47-acre dump in 1987, requiring over seven million dollars in clean-up -- other participants in the pollution of the ground soil included Ford, Chrysler, 3M, and Chevron. [*14]
In an investigation by the United States National Labor Committee, Toyota Motor Company was found guilty of numerous crimes: support of genocidal dictators, sweatshop conditions, forced labor, and even trafficking in human slaves. The National Labor Committee reported, "...tens of thousands of foreign guest workers—mostly from China and Vietnam—are trafficked to Japan, stripped of their passports, cheated of their wages and forced to work under abusive sweatshop conditions—including producing auto parts for Toyota." [*15] According to its own website, Toyota still uses large quantities of the amount of PVC in its vehicle -- a carcinogenic, toxic substance. [*16]
Coca-Cola, in the past and presently, kidnaps, tortures, and murders union leaders and organizers within its Colombia plants. [*17] Students were able to have the product of Coca-Cola banned at the University of Michigan, due to the company's involvement in violent, anti-union activities as well as toxic contamination of the ground in India. [*18] A union of Coca-Cola workers in China has made the accusation that "its managers repeatedly threatened the [worker] students, one of whom was bitten by the company dog and they were severely beaten by company goons in the manager's office." [*19] In 2006, Coca-Cola was similarly engaging in criminal, anti-union activity in Haiti, with one reporter stating that there are...
There is no ignorance of the working conditions or how these commodities are produced. The individual member of the working-class may have no knowledge of the exact finances of their employer, but when dealing with tens of millions of dollars, this information is thoroughly mapped out and cross-checked. It is not hard to believe, for instance, that the manager representing Tiger Woods inquired about the working conditions where products sponsored by the sports star were manufactured; and, upon finding them at miserably low levels, demanded a greater share of the retail income, since the risk by Nike was considerably lower than had they manufactured commodities in humane conditions.
Celebrities: Their Role and Result
These commodities are destructive for those who are responsible for production, but what about those who are expected for consumption? Cars produce noxious gases, smog, and carbon monoxide, while sugary drinks contain toxic preservatives and chemicals, such as high-fructose corn syrup. Movies and television contain not-so-subtle messages about the superiority of race, gender, body type, behavior roles, and sexual orientation; they do not encourage tolerance and acceptance in the mind, but they foster bigotry and fear. From the manufactured foods that will put a hole in your stomach to the manufactured ideas that will put a hole in your brain, the celebrity will rarely endorse something that is good for you. This is the exact reason why marketing is needed: not to keep up with others, but because the commodity, on its own, does not appeal to the senses of the individual.
The celebrity, then, is entering into a contract with those who are exploiters and oppressors. With their bloated ego and bank account, they try to convince the people to buy from industries that use slaves, poison their foods, and pollute the earth. This isn't done for some tremendous need of wealth. The celebrity, by however they acquired the height of their fame, must also necessarily have strong income from that direction. Musician or movie star, the celebrity tries to convince the people into destructive behavior, for themselves and for others. And they don't do this to provide them with much-needed income. They do it to add a million dollars to the millions they earned that year in film and television.
There is nothing wrong with being different and unique; there is nothing wrong with standing out with your exceptional skill and ability. It is one of the positive attributes of civilization that we have such a wide array of occupations for each person to support themselves. But, when that advanced skill is used to help a few capitalists dominate and control all of society, they are becoming a harm to society. When they market and advertise the products of slavery and exploitation, then the celebrity becomes a participant of those uncivilized, anti-social activities. They are the salesmen and saleswomen of slaves.
*1. "Television & Health," Compiled by TV-Free America, published by California State University, Csun.edu.