Media representations are not only a mirror of the society but are also constructs and highly selective portrayals of the various conditions and realities prevalent in the society. These portrayals have a huge capacity to frame and shape individuals perceptions of the world in which they live in. The media constructs, “normalizes” and commodifies identities such as gender, sexuality, class, race, ethnicity, age abilities and nations through its various forms of representations. This discussion relies on a BMW magazine ad to highlight how social values, intended audiences, connotative meanings, contexts and other attributes inherent in the advertisement aid to construct, normalize and commodify identities with specific emphasis on gender and sexual identities, social class identities, ethnic and racial identities as well as national identities.
What many people consider newsworthy are the luxurious things that shape up the lives of many (Johnson & Ensslin, 2007). Posh sports cars manufactured by the top companies such as BMW usually have a high appeal to the upper class clients, and advertisers use the ads to normalize the position of the rich and the powerful in the society. They consider such vehicles beautiful and consequently aspire to market them to “beautiful people” (Johnson & Ensslin, 2007). The images and representations reveal various social values. One of the most important social values revealed by the BMW advert is the sense of belonging. The magazine advertisement seeks to guarantee people of class that having the BMW brand is the hallmark of high social class and therefore those who purchase the commodity have a heightened sense of belonging and are able to command respect from other members of the society most notably those in their social class (Gentz, 2006).
As such, this advertisement seeks to reinforce the class identities because the target audiences for this product are the rich people in the society. This social class identity reveals yet another value of social connectedness among members of a similar social class. The upper class, which is the primary target clientele for this product, share a sense of connectedness by owning the posh BMW, and this ultimately contributes to the distinction of class identities (Johnson & Ensslin, 2007). With the sense of belonging comes self-respect, where the purchasers of the product gain recognition from other members of the society because they are perceived to be driving one of the most luxurious and expensive commodities in the product line (Gentz, 2006). Another social value revealed by the BMW advertisement is that of fun-enjoyment-excitement. The advert portrays this luxury vehicle as enabling people to lead a happy, pleasurable life through which they can experience thrills and simulations.
The connotative meaning of the advertisement strives to communicate the message of a luxurious product released in the market for the white or the Caucasian audiences. This is because all the people appearing as onlookers at this advertisement are predominantly white Caucasians, implying that they are the primary targets for this commodity (Gentz, 2006). In addition, the color of the BMW product being advertised is white, which can arguably connote that the target audiences for the product are the white people. The construction, normalization and commoditization of the BMW in the magazine advertisement aids to bring about a biased portrayal of racial identities. Traditionally, racial representations in the media tend to focus on Hispanics, Asians, or African Americans, and not the Caucasians or Anglo Whites (Johnson & Ensslin, 2007). White power secures its supremacy by seeming not to be anything in particular. Magazine advertisers construct “Whiteness” as the norm against which the non-dominant takes the definition of “other”. BMW is a powerful brand and as such, it is a further indication that the targets for this product are the White people, who are more likely to be loyal to the brand. This also brings out constructs of racial identities.
Matters of context also have a pivotal role in informing the meanings of the advertisements represented (Gentz, 2006). The people and the city in the background for the BMW ad reflect a lavish lifestyle, through which it is able to construct, normalize and commodity identities of social class differences and racial differences. The visual arrangement in the advertisement is in such a way that the BMW being advertised drops in the background while the advertisers make highly abstract connections between the brand and lifestyle. Viewers therefore transfer meaning conveyed by looking at the people in the advertisement, including their physical appearance, lifestyle and image into the BMW posh car (Johnson & Ensslin, 2007). In the advertisement, there is limited representation of minority groups including African Americans, Hispanics and other marginalized groups.
This brings about the construct, normalization and commodification of ethnic and racial identities in this particular advertisement. The cultural experiences vary widely across these racial and ethnic groups, therefore, by concentrating solely on the white; the magazine advertisement promotes ideals of white supremacy (Gentz, 2006).
The BMW advert in the magazine also reinforces the hegemonic and culturally prevailing idea of male dominancy. The iconic masculine activity of driving fast cars is juxtaposed to the feminine vision or stereotyping of driving a minivan, thereby helping to construct, normalize and comodify the identities of gender and sexuality (Johnson & Ensslin, 2007). The advert reinforces and maintains the practice of normative sexual dualism interlocked with cultural institutions of market segmentation and marketing communication. As such, the advertisement imagery plays a pivotal role in promulgating sexual identities and prescribing dualistic gender roles (Gentz, 2006). The advert draws its imagery principally from the stereotypical iconography of femininity and masculinity. This has established various limits to the possibilities of female and male consumer ontologies. Noteworthy, masculinity does not appear to be a historical/cultural category at all in the advertisement. Stereotypical representations in advertisements have significantly shaped the cultural definitions of manhood and this has sought to eradicate or breed misconceptions about the definition of feminine representations (Johnson & Ensslin, 2007). Hegemonic constructions of masculinity in the mainstream magazine adverts have tended to normalize male violence while in the meantime undermining and marginalizing the female counterparts.
The advent of the internet, satellite communications and other technological advances have rendered the conception of discreet national precincts for advertisement as well as other cultural imagery obsolete. Multinational corporations such as BMW have turned on to advertisements as a way of constructing and selling brand loyalty and identities in the various parts of the world, thereby aiding to create higher appeal of their products in various parts of the world (Gentz, 2006). In the BMW advert, the imagery representation seeks to create directly an appeal to the white society. The intended audience for this commodity is the upper class citizens especially the males from the so-called developed nations. This helps to distinguish between national identities in media representations.
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