by Tysje Severens

University: KASK School of Arts, Ghent, Belgium
Course: Master
Year of graduation: 2016
Thesis: En dan nu tijd voor... Reclame!
Contacts: tysje.severens[at]hotmail[dot]com | website


Abstract: Advertising is a very common phenomenon that inevitably became part of our modern everyday life. Numerous studies have approached the practice from economical, psychological, philosophical and other point of views. While one author describes how to market products more efficiently, others pose ethical questions about how advertisements can manipulate consumers.

In this thesis I will critically examine the use of advertisements and provide possible improvements. Since publicity is a fairly broad subject, I will only focus on certain aspects. In the first chapter I will discuss my points of criticism, after which I will elaborate on how ads can mislead costumers. In the third chapter I will then analyze the wrongfully idealized picture and finally I will discuss how children and adolescents are influenced by it.

It seems that by now we have become used to deceit being a part of advertising. However, this obliviousness is far more embedded in our society than we might think. Deceit is actually an inherent characteristic of our economic model. Consequently, we should proceed with caution and not believe everything advertisers are showing us. Even ‘scientific’ ads and one of the largest car dealerships are not to be trusted. Luckily many countries have established instances where complaints against misleading publicity can be made.

The unrealistic ideal goes hand in hand with Naomi Wolf’s views on the value of beauty, which she describes in her book “The Beauty Myth”. Even children are continuously confronted with ads and toys that change their perception on beauty and make them strive towards the unattainable. The only way to subvert this ideal is to realize that no one could ever meet the impossible requirements. If we would value identity more than physical beauty we would be able to free ourselves from the urge to compare ourselves with others and beauty would no longer have the power to cause conflicts. In other words, physical appearances wouldn’t change, but the perspective on beauty would.

It is undeniable that publicity has influenced society and its members. It has also been proven that this influence could cause damage. Yet advertising cannot account for all of the blame; articles and images can also construct false ideals. The idea of regulating these images, however, quickly leads to the sensitive subject of freedom of speech. There are decently functioning instances on Flemish, Belgian and European level that do subject advertising to regulations. In my opinion these regulations should be more severe, especially the rules concerning advertisements aimed at children. Furthermore, other issues such as gender equality, unrealistic social standards of beauty and deceit need to be revised and improved. The critical eye of artists like Viviane Sassen, Sarah Fischer, Alain Delorme and Ji Yeo are important in raising awareness to these issues.

Simultaneously working on this thesis and my final project, led to this thesis becoming a theoretical framework for my photography series ‘Som Ting Wong’. Originally my criticism towards publicity was rather direct, but as I studied the subject more profoundly, my images became more subtle. My pictures seduce their audience, yet offer them food for thought. With my series ‘Som Ting Wong’ I hope to also contribute to raising awareness about the concerns of advertising.


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