By James Yoo
I was undecided about my major for a long time. I knew I wanted to do something creative, progressive, and inspiring, and while advertising could fulfill the first two criteria, I wasn’t sure about the third one.
When you ask people what inspires them, “advertising” is not the usual answer, nor is a commercial or even a company. Answers typically hit closer to home- things like a passionate teacher, a hardworking father, a restoring trip to nature, or a motivating song. They are things that occupy a special nook in the heart.
Could advertising make it there? Can a commercial message personally penetrate into peoples’ hearts in a way that overcomes the barriers people have put up against advertising? Even the more successful campaigns like Nike’s “Just Do It” or Dove’s “Real Beauty” sometimes feel like background noise and struggle to really move people from a good feeling to meaningful action.
Focusing on Dove as an example, instead of showing impossibly skinny and beautiful women in their ads, they show more average women to instill a broader sense of beauty. But even Dove has some issues; its owner, Unilever, has completely different messages overseas. In countries like Thailand or India, Unilever advertises skin lightening products. These ads can instill Westernized or Asian upper-class standards of beauty instead of representing the inherent beauty of the target region like they do for the U.S.
It makes me wonder if messages of inspiration can ever be genuinely implemented in the advertising industry or if such messages will only ever be another selling point to tack onto a campaign. It’s something I think about as I consider advertising as a major, career, and industry.
However, maybe that focus is beside the point. I recently read about Amy Berman. Berman wanted to go into copywriting, but she ended up becoming the owner of a nonprofit that sends handmade teddy bears to comfort victims of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa. Babies and young children are being raped because of the “virgin cure,” a phenomena where many men believe that having sex with a virgin will cure them of AIDS. “These children had nothing more than ripped shirts on their backs…these bears lighten their hearts and return a little of that stolen childhood,” said Berman. What started as 25 women knitting every Friday in Berman’s home became the Mother Bear Project, which now 9 years later has sent 70,000 bears across 19 African countries and Haiti. They have even received 150 bears from women in Iran.
This organization could not have been successful without communication, whether it was a small magazine article, word-of-mouth sharing, or a few flyers. In other words, it could not have happened without some form of advertising. And that’s something we often lose sight of. Within building a brand image, creative genius, or product promotions, advertising at its heart is communication. And as we saw with Berman and her bears, whether that communication be through a TV screen or through a teddy bear, there can be something deeply personal in the commercial nature of advertising.
With $48 billion being spent on advertising in the U.S. alone (The Gale Group, Inc.), there’s a lot of room for the advertising world to do great things. Whether it be a worthy cause, a good product, or just a laugh, communication brings people together, and with that, I look forward to a career with advertising, inspiration and all.