Category: Ad Problems

Portrayals of Families in Advertising: Are these Real?

Portrayals of families in advertising are nothing new. The earliest instance of family portrayal can be found in the ads produced before the industrial revolution. However, there have been controversies on whether these portrayals are based on reality or just presented in front of the consumers to increase sales. Some experts argue that these ads are created just for influencing consumers toward a certain product or service, whereas others claim that these are representative of the real life of people from different family backgrounds. Usually, individuals are depicted in family advertising as wives, husbands, parents, children and other members.

Families are illustrated as single family, interracial 7437875052_db6e5b6762_ofamily, same sex family etc., in popular advertisings. It is obvious that families have profound influence on our lifestyles. So, there is nothing wrong with families being portrayed in the advertisings. But the question raises on how families are being depicted in the ads. Are those representations accurate? Are those overly manipulated toward a targeted population? Are those neglecting a specific group or race? Individuals show varying observations on these questions. Some argues that advertising portrayals of families are appropriate and necessary to broadcast our family values toward a larger audience. Conversely, others claim that these family portrayal ads are simply manipulating the real family pictures and sometimes even presenting discriminatory point of views regarding certain groups, especially minorities.

11453181473_944f06fcfb_oLast year a cereal brand’s commercial with interracial family ignited huge criticism among audiences. Although most of the criticisms were positive, there were a number of controversial comments posted in the YouTube comment section. The ad showed a young girl asking her mother if the cereal is “good for her heart.” Her mother assured her that was so. The girl ran away with a cereal box, and in the next scene, the girl’s sleeping father awaked with a pile of cereals on the side of his chest where his heart was. There was nothing discriminating or upsetting about the ad. Despite of that, many viewers commented negatively attacking the use of an interracial family. In reaction to such controversies, the brand’s owner company affirmed that they would stand by the commercial and they would not take that down under any circumstances. The interesting fact is that after seeing such criticisms, the ad was hugely backed by the industry experts. One writer analyzed the ad by breaking it down into certain attributes and praised the good effort of the brand.

Nevertheless, the above mentioned ad is just a single instance of commercial with family. 10041408393_2523daabd6_oThere are tons of other ads, those depict families in many different ways. A group of researcher conducted a research on portrayal of gay families in advertisings and yielded interesting findings. The ads attempt for reproducing an idealistic vision of something that in reality is imperfect. Instead of portraying the homosexuals in a typical stereotypical way in these ads, they were portrayed using a division in heterosexual gender roles. Portrayed in a traditional way, they were just as stereotypical as the homosexual stereotypes. The thing is that the representations of homosexuals using heterosexual stereotypes are by some people considered as being more positive and “normal” than the ones using homosexual stereotypes.

Another study conducted on a sample of 944 middle-class men also revealed something attention-grabbing. The researcher claimed that the men with children but no spouse were more likely to be shown during football than were women with children but no spouse. Advertisements for computers and electronics were more likely to include men with children but no spouse than women with children but no spouse. Men appearing alone with children were more likely to be shown outside than women alone with children. Men were less likely to be portrayed cooking, cleaning, washing dishes, and shopping than women. Men without spouses were more likely to be shown with boys and less likely to be shown with infants than women without spouses. Men were infrequently shown taking care of a child and were never shown caring for girls. However, men were often shown teaching, reading, talking, eating, and playing with children. To the extent that men were shown as more involved in family life, they still tend to depend largely on knowledge and activities that were stereotypically male.

3943074133_010c65c4e1There will always be controversies over portrayals of family in advertising regardless of how accurate it is. Nonetheless, the perception toward such ads is personal since the interpretation is individual and based on the previous knowledge and opinions of the audience. But it can be said that family portrayals are nothing damaging for ad unless it elicits anything discriminatory toward a certain group of people.

You are a Human, not a Hanger!

“Catwalk model: 5’9″ – 6″ Bust 32″-36″ Waist 22″-26″ Hips 33″-35″ | Description: very thin with fantastic posture”. These requirements are posted by a fashion model recruiting agency. These guidelines clearly show that a skinny body can give a girl a modeling job, even if she does not possess any knowledge about modelling. 496479351_a9444c7691_oThis picture is also true in case of male fashion models. All that modelling agencies need a “hanger” to put their clothes on. Fashion magazine PLUS reported that most catwalk models meet the Body Mass Index (BMI) physical criteria for “Anorexia”. “Anorexia nervosa” or simply anorexia is an eating disorder characterized by excessive food restriction, unsuitable eating habits, fascination with having a thin figure, and an absurd fear of weight gain, as well as a distorted body self-perception. People with anorexia nervosa often view themselves as overweight or “big” even when they are already underweight. Advertising and fashion industry is accused of influencing models to become anorexic for a bright career. However, advertising agencies should not be accused for every instances, as “negative body image” has been embedded in the society from the very beginning of the modeling industry.

An experiment conducted by a University of Alabama researcher revealed some interesting facts regarding women’s perception toward their bodies. 475104087_64aba66833_zParticipants who had knowledge of digital manipulation and those who had no knowledge, showed same attitude toward their desire to look like a swimsuit model seen in a photograph. In fact, after reading a statement about a fashion model photograph being enhanced, respondents seemed even more likely to assign higher attractiveness and thinness scores to the three models shown. So, advertising cliché like “You can never be too thin” may not always bring positive effect, sometimes it brings negative. This scenario suggests some very important aspects about the way women actively process images seen in fashion and advertising content. This findings further suggest that only advertising industry cannot be blamed to influence women to become thin, rather the women’s mindset regarding their body images as “More Skinny = More Beautiful” should be changed.

However, another study produced by a group of university researchers reported that the exposure to beauty and fashion media is a principal factor in influencing women to become anorexic. 1920addd734467841d3c1bf4398e77ca1223850888_fullIn such cases, their viewpoints regarding “body image” is significantly affected by the media advocating anorexia as the standard of beauty. Because of such controversies among the researchers, nobody can blame advertising agencies as the sole influencer of anorexic models.

Still, several advertisings have been banned under the ground that they have used “too-skinny” models in their ads. UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) recently took action against such ads after receiving complaints. ASA claimed that the accused advertisers used “too skinny”, “anorexic”, “socially irresponsible”, and “child sexualizing” themes in their advertisings, which are not acceptable to the audience. Based on such allegations followed by investigations, finally the ads were taken down from the media.

anorexia - Bryan Bixler #4Conversely, some ad agencies are actually working in favor of “anti-anorexia” movements to encourage models not to become too thin. A Brazilian modeling agency, “Star Models” has released a graphic anti-anorexia ad campaign, using Photoshop to turn models into life-size fashion illustrations. The ads, which run with the tag line “Say no to anorexia,” show a fashion illustration with typically exaggerated proportions next to a model wearing the same outfit – and the same measurements. the_fat_by_narsul_the_elf-d3jdzf1Though the models have been airbrushed to mimic the unrealistic illustrations, the ad pleads to young women: “You are not a sketch.” There is always a positive and a negative side of every philosophy. Some people think that too skinny body is a must for becoming a successful professional model. Others may refute that theory and believe in practical knowledge about the job. Ad industry is no different. Not all advertisers are encouraging thin body as the standard. There are thousands of ads aired everyday, featuring regular male and female body. So, our knowledge regarding the issue, social setting and individual mindsets should be taken under consideration when we blame somebody as the main culprit.

 BONUS: 10 Most Shocking Cases of Anorexia


Internet Privacy and National Security: The Pursuit for Perfect Balance

On the backdrop of the recent celebrity private photo leak, the debate on Internet privacy and personal information secrecy heated up again. The concern for privacy on the Internet originated from the beginning of computer networking. However, the definition of Internet privacy is not so straightforward. Basically, Internet privacy can be of two forms. PrivacyOne form is called “Personally Identifying Information (PII)” and the other form is called non-PII information. In case of PII, personal identifying information such as, age, gender, name, phone number, email address, etc. are considered as private information. In terms of non-PII, users’ website visiting information, tracking, cookies, etc., which do not directly disclose their personal information are collected. These PII and non-PII information can be easily hunt down using modern online tracking software. Experts also argued that privacy no longer exists, “Privacy is dead”. 5816482161_9679562278_oSome also suggested that the attraction of online services is to deliberately broadcast personal information on purpose.

The issue became controversial when National Security Agency (NSA) was empowered with warrantless surveillance after the deadly 9/11 attack. kjhbUnder this program, NSA was authorized by executive order to monitor the phone calls, Internet activity, text messaging, and other communication involving any party believed by the NSA to be outside the U.S., even if the other end of the communication lies within the U.S. Critics, however, claimed that the program was in an effort to silence critics of the then Bush Administration and its handling of several controversial issues during its tenure. Under serious criticism from publics and activist groups, the Bush administration purportedly terminated the warrantless “tapping” program in January 2007 and returned review of surveillance to the court. In 2008, Congress amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which relaxed some of the original FISA court requirements.

The privacy/surveillance argument was further fueled when a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) IT contractor Edward Snowden, leaked a massive number of classified NSA global surveillance programs’ documents to the mainstream media. internet-privacyThese leaked documents revealed that NSA and the Five Eyes with the cooperation of telecommunication companies and European governments was running massive undercover global surveillance programs over the years. This scenario made Snowden both a national hero and a traitor at the same time. Regardless of the fact of those leaked documents, this event created pressure on government agencies and tech giants to disclose their privacy policy and clear their stances on Internet privacy of personal information.

internet_explores_you_by_theaitetos-d6wq5fuAfter the terrorist attack of 9/11, the debate on privacy and national security was highlighted again. A group of activists strongly criticized the surveillance programs undertaken by NSA, CIA and other government agencies, whereas other group of people supported these programs on the ground that these surveillance programs are actually keeping ourselves safe from terrorists and online criminals. International security expert John Mueller argued that the immediate fear and anger generated after the 9/11 attacks allowed the construction of a surveillance system that has remained mostly hidden from public scrutiny and public opinion. In his research, Mueller has calculated the increased cost of domestic security operations at more than $1 trillion since Sept. 11, with little scrutiny, oversight or evaluation to determine whether they’re actually making Americans safer. Mueller said that surveillance is needed for national security. But there should be an acceptable balance among surveillance, transparency, and privacy. The latest celebrity nude photo hacking attracted much attention form the Internet privacy activists and the general publics. About five weeks ago, a group of unidentified hackers leaked thousands of nude and intimate photos of more than hundred celebrities. These photos were allegedly hacked from the celebrities’ iCloud accounts. Identity TheftHowever, Apple denied the attack and claimed that iCloud is safe if you use “strong password”. Nevertheless, this major event generated huge anger and fear among celebrities and the general people, pointing out the fact that nobody’s personal information is safe on the Internet. Furthermore, privacy advocates strongly criticized government surveillance agencies for their incompetence on finding out the criminals. These agencies are accused of secretly spying on public information, but they are unable to finding the groups behind this massive hacking, even after a month. Tech giant Google is also on the brink of facing a law suit for not taking actions to remove those hacked private photos from their database. Recent report revealed that these leaked photos with thousands of unpublished celebrity photos are being sold in the online marketplace.

National security and public safety are the issues that should not be Stop-this-right-nowcompromised under any circumstances. Nonetheless, exaggerated surveillance efforts on the public without their concern is also not accepted in the modern society. Beside these surveillance programs, government agencies should be also strong enough in preventing cybercrime and Internet privacy theft. Recent massive photo hack showed that our information is not safe online. It is also not an issue of “leaking” or “scandal’, rather it is a “sex crime”, as mentioned by Oscar winner actress Jennifer Lawrence, who is also one of the victims of that event. It is always hard to find a perfect balance between security and privacy but strong law can make it happen in the future. Government agencies are responsible for maintaining such balance and bringing back public trust on their surveillance programs.

BONUS: 5 tips for staying safe on the web

Net Neutrality Debate: Is the Internet a Public Utility?

When I am writing this blog, thousands of companies, organizations and individuals are observing the “Internet Slowdown Day”, demanding for a free and unbiased internet for all. Companies and organizations from different sectors have joined forces to fight against the discriminatory policy of the giant ISPs. This movement is claiming that giant cable companies (Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner Cable & AT&T) are charging more money for their poor service. Several rank as the most hated companies in America. They are also consolidating their utmost control over the Internet. These big ISP are accused of charging higher mandatory fees to the small and medium enterprises without any added services. If anybody doesn’t pay that fees, Internet speed is slowed down, which makes the Internet “dead” for them.

But the very first question that pops up in the mind of a common person, what actually net neutrality is. Net neutrality (aka network neutrality or Internet neutrality) is defined as the standard that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally. Internet service providers cannot discriminate or charge differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication. Domain registry company “Namecheap” stated, “Net neutrality is the First Amendment of the Internet, the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) treat all data equally.” The term was initially proposed by Columbia media law professor Tim Wu in 2003. Advocates consider net neutrality as an important component of an open Internet, where policies such as equal treatment of data and open web standards allow those on the Internet to easily communicate and conduct business without interference from a third party. However, a “closed Internet” refers to the opposite situation, in which established corporations or governments favor certain uses. A closed Internet may have restricted access to necessary web standards, artificially degrade some services, or explicitly filter out content.

In the USA, net neutrality has been a very hot debated issue from early 2000. Cable companies are allegedly monopolizing the internet market and often blocking common services to the users at their own discretion. Federal Communication Commission (FCC) is work4540678705_3817c0152b_oing on a new plan by which service providers will be able to charge more money for better and specialized service. But the interesting fact is that there is no legal restrictions on how access providers should give service to the users. There is also no rules regarding intentionally limiting or blocking Internet speed or content. But this is not only a legal issue anymore. It has become a concern whether free and open internet is a basic human right. Even president Obama also opposed the new rules that will make the giant companies benefited. Recently, president Obama said in a speech that big and wealthy companies may be willing to paying higher amount for faster Internet but small companies won’t. The president also said that an open Internet will allow for “the next Google or the next Facebook” to enter the industry, and become successful. Industry pioneers also showed their concerns over the issue. Inventor of the Internet Vint Cerf commented that “Allowing broadband carriers to control what people see and do online would fundamentally undermine the principles that have made the Internet such a success…A number of justifications have been created to support carrier control over consumer choices online; none stand up to scrutiny.” Father of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee also said, “The neutral communications medium is essential to our society. It is the basis of a fair competitive market economy. It is the basis of democracy, by which a community should decide what to do. It is the basis of science, by which humankind should decide what is true. Let us protect the neutrality of the net.”

FCC got a major shock when they lost a lawsuit over the net neutrality issue. FCC had regulated the ISPs from contents based on discrimination. But Verizon challenged the policy and received a court ruling in favor of them that voided FCC’s policy. Since then, FCC has been criticized for its soft attitude toward the major service providers and being nonreactive toward public rights. Nevertheless, FCC had opened an inbox to receive comments on the issue, which they will use to revise their proposed plan. Till date, FCC has received more than 780,000 comments on that topic. The debate remains on the table as the victims of Internet monopoly have institutionalized their movement to a new level. 4890075994_31f15bd12e_oThey have launched massive campaign claiming that general mass are deprived of their rights due to the monopolistic attitude of the big brothers of the industry. The activist group declared 10th September as the “Internet Slowdown” day. This campaign gained huge popularity very quickly and it went viral on social networking sites. Millions of people supported in favor of the campaign and asked the federal government and FCC to take immediate actions to implement a neutral Internet. Supporters of the movement are arguing that Internet is a public utility and it should be regulated keeping that in mind.

On the other hand, another group is opposing the movement claiming that the situation is position “wrongly” to the public. They argue that most of the points of the debate are artificial, distracting, and based on an incorrect mental model on how the internet works. They are also claiming that the concept of “fast lane” and “slow lane” is not even true and this debate is such a waste of time. Another reason they put in favor of their argument is that the Internet operation system has changed radically recently and user growth is also increasing massively. Therefore, current scenario should not be compared with the past one. Internet giant Google is also alleged of discriminating service users based on their consumption size. However, Google authority had denied such allegations claiming that it was just a “myth”. They even said that they are actually standing in favor of net neutrality.

Net-NEutralityAs the issue heated up from last couple of years, tons of researches have been produced on the net neutrality topic. Some scholars argued that net neutrality should be considered a social problem and it should be solved with top priority. Stakeholder engagement is necessary to come up with possible suggestions. It has been also argued that blocking or slowing down the Internet is against freedom of speech and against the law. Moreover, federal government, law makers and FCC are fueling the battle for free Internet. There might be valid arguments on both sides of the debate, but using the public sentiment for this movement is making it more appealing. Sooner or later the government and the FCC has to come up with a solution that gives something to both the parties and make our Internet experience smoother.

BONUS: Infographic- Join the Action

E-cigarette Advertising: Who is to Blame?

“Make the Switch Today and Live Healthier”,E-Cigarette “Slim, Charged, Ready to Go” or “I have made the switch, will you?” These statements sound enthusiastic, right? At the very first impression, it may seem that somebody is promoting any food or wellness product. However, these are some mantras of popular vapor cigarette brands. Vapor cigarette, widely known as electronic cigarette or e-cigarette is a battery powered cigarette that uses liquid vaporizer based tobacco products. E-cigarette became a huge hit so quickly after entering the market because, it does not produce ashes, it is rechargeable & handy, and it comes in different flavors. Because of these features, e-cigarette makers and smokers argue that it can be smoked “anywhere”, without harming “others.”

Despite of such “benefits” of inhaling e-cigarette, medical experts confirmed serious health concerns Falvorscaused from so called environmental friendly tobacco products, because, e-cigarette still contains “nicotine” as the main chemical ingredient in a liquid form. One of the main reasons behind the popularity of e-cigarette is that it comes in different exquisite flavors. A report published by NPR revealed that kids are being attracted so easily toward this tobacco product because of its flavors and blu“youth” branding by the manufacturers. NPR reported quoting a minor e-cigarette smoker that vaping is a “cool” and “new” thing”, and as it provides flavored nicotine, it is helpful in quitting smoking. Conversely, physicians denied such statements and blamed that e-cigarette companies are targeting kids for their nicotine products with false impression and they are going to destroy our future generation.

A study conducted by American Legacy Foundation reported that usage of e-cigarette among kids and youths is also high. 14% of those ages 13-17 and 39% of those ages 18-21 reported having ever used e-cigarettes. Among youth ages 12-17, those who had ever or currently smoked reported even higher rates of e-cigarette use, 53% and 59% respectively. Rates of e-cigarette ever use were higher among young adults who had ever smoked (68%) and current smokers (76%).

Advertising agencies are easily blamed for the success of e-cigarette company’s huge market share of kids and young adults smokers. Agencies are accused of real tobacco marketing strategies for branding e-cigarettes. They are creating the kind of advertising which are closely based on the theme of some cartoon characters, superheroes and they are also using “sex” with models and images to create a “heroic” image of e-cigarette smokers. More than seventy years ago Joe CamelR. J. Reynold Tobacco Company used “Joe camel” as its tobacco brand mascot, which was hugely popular over the years. More recently, e-cigarette advertisers are using such themes to attract youth. Stanford University School of Medicine initiated a major research on the impact of tobacco products. They have presented a comparative research on how e-cigarette brands are using the advertising themes of earlier tobacco brands.

Nevertheless, major forces behind such advertising campaigns are the e-cigarette manufacturers, not the agencies. Advertising agencies are doing such promotional campaigns for profits, just as they do for their other clients. USA Today reported that e-cigarettes fall into a loophole for federal regulation, which made the companies to advertise e-cigarette products just as like other consumer products. FDA has control over regular cigarette advertising, but they do not have any authority to regulate e-cigarette advertising. Moreover, e-cigarette makers are arguing that if e-cigarette has to be regulated on the ground that it is harmful for the children, then all alcohol, condom and such types of advertising should be regulated too.

SmokingRTI International researchers conducted a study which found that E-cigarette advertising expenditures have increased intensely in 2011-2012, compared to the previous year. There were about 80 e-cigarette brands who spent a total of more than 18 million USD for advertising in 2012. Till November 2013, the amount spent on advertising increased up to 39 million UDS including TV and magazine advertising. American Legacy Foundation also reported that e-cigarette TV ads reached 29.3 million teens and young adults from January through November2013, among which teens ages 12-17, 14.1 million were exposed to e-cigarette ads on TV while among young adults ages 18-24, 15.2 million were exposed. At the same time, print ads in magazines reached 32.2 million teens and young adults, among which teens ages 12-17, 9.5 million were reached through these ads while 22.7 million young adults ages 18-24 were exposed to e-cigarette print ads.

A recent investigated study conducted by some medical researchers from Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco confirmed that e-cigarette brands are targeting new smokers, specially children and teens for their products. They are using attractive copy, young & sexy models, heroism in theirs ads, and they are also taking advantages of federal regulation loopholes. The recent perspective of e-cigarette use and advertising brings the debate of “who is to blame for the upcoming destructive consequences?” The resolution to this debate is not so simple. Everybody is pointing finger toward others. Truly speaking, government, legislature, manufacturer, advertising agency, and public all have some sort of responsibilities to such consequences. So, not only stopping advertising will do but also there should be a general awareness among the publics, if we really want to reduce nicotine use. Government and federal legislature also needs to pass strong bills to restrict such products that can completely wipe out our future.

BONUS: Stanford Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising