Re: Victoria Secret Ad Campaign Project
I found the assignment to be quite challenging as “electracy” is a new concept to me. Of course, I was aware that we had entered into a new era which is digital, but I never knew what to call it or that the concept was so far developed. Through this course, I have been introduced to Gregory Ulmer and Lewis Mumford and I now have a better understanding of the progression of orality, literacy, and electracy. However, I will say it is not an easy concept to grasp and I have only touched the surface. In fact, it took several drafts and updates to get this project where it is. Once the idea was developed, it was a slow process of analyzing. I had to literally take the idea apart and put it back together again and that was a struggle. However, building my project was fun as it reminded me of what I use to do in the old days of cutting and pasting using a scissors and glue.
I really appreciated the feedback from my classmates as I fundamentally believe that there is always room for improvement. And I took their suggestions and developed the discussion on Photoshop and money being a motivator for advertising. However, giving my feedback to my classmates left me feeling a little apprehensive about being critical as it’s not really something I am used to doing. But with that said, I thought that if I could help in in small way, then it would be worthwhile.
Thank you for the enlightenment.
The Victoria Secret Ad Campaign
The portrayal of women in advertisements has always been under much criticism and the use of digital media has only added to the confusion. In this posting, I picked something from the internet that follows electrate logic and operates according to the electrate elements in Ulmer’s Apparatus table and performed a critical analysis and synthesis to determine its ethical standing. I also built a response that offers an alternative to the internet posting and evaluated whether it fulfilled the intended purpose while keeping the ethical integrity of the message.
The following report represents my findings:
Last October, Victoria Secret, one of the most well-known lingerie companies, was condemned by social media for featuring ten very slim models with the tagline “The Perfect Body”. Although the caption referred to the actual bras, the ad delivered an underlying message which may have been taken out of context. Many women felt that the overall impression being presented was that these models were the perfect look and size. Thousands of women took to social media to protest their outrage and tweeted “#Iamperfect” as a response to the ad.
According to Gregory Ulmer’s apparatus table, “Introduction: Electracy, ” electracy is the transition from literacy to the digital age. In essence, it is the new relationship that we have with the digital culture of our society and it affects what we produce and how we produce it. As an art operating in that new media, the Victoria Secret ad created an idea that was subject to interpretation and therefore, variation. What made the ad offensive was not just the picture of the models but the attached words. Some perceived the message as putting down women who do not have “the perfect body” as depicted in the ad. They also saw the ad as perpetuating low self-esteem among women. No longer was it a matter of right or wrong but how it made people feel. On social media, women complained that the ad made them feel insecure and unattractive because they did not fit in with the narrow image of beauty. They expressed that the ad perpetrated the stereotypical ideology that women shaped thinner and smaller were more aesthetically pleasing.
However, as the years have progressed, the sophistication of advertising methods and techniques has advanced, enticing and shaping and even creating consumerism and needs where there has been none before, or turning luxuries into necessities. This section introduces some of the issues and concerns this raises.
Ulmer identified aesthetics as our progression from a society of worship mythology and epistemology to a society where aesthetics is predominantly practiced. Meaning we have moved from stories and myths, and from building upon justified knowledge, to what is beautiful and pleasurable to the senses. This can be seen in our society which puts an exorbitant amount of importance on looks. We are always looking for the next enhancement that will improve the way we look. Through the use of Photoshop and other software programs, images are manipulated to fit unrealistic ideals just to create that “perfect” image. But quite often those manipulations goes too far and even when we know that the images are false, the constant message is that something must be wrong with us. As a result, it is hard for many women to feel happy with their bodies.
Victoria Secret, and other leading companies, have participated in defining their imaging brand to exclude certain sized women. Although they have a legitimate right to choose how they want to brand themselves and which medium to use, they fall below the moral standard. Not because they only cater for certain sizes but because they narrowly decide what beauty is and promote unrealistic beauty standards. Nevertheless, there are those, like Curvy Kate, a British company, who challenged that concept of beauty by creating their own parody. By using a variety of different models, they offer a different representation of what beauty is.
But if the aesthetics is misguided, then the fantasy paranoia created is an even bigger problem. Looking at Ulmer’s apparatus table, electracy has ushered in a society where fantasy is a primary motivation. As a progression from faith and knowledge, fantasy allows us to escape from ourselves and our constraints. Victoria Secret has capitalized on that fantasy and sex appeal to sell their products.
In fact, their branding is built entirely on selling a perfect image that says, “If beautiful women can wear these underwear and look like that, I can too.” Although faith and knowledge is not entirely disbursed, and we know that no amount of clothing is going to change our weight or physical looks, we are bombarded with media advertising that tries to convince us otherwise. Electracy focuses on a state of mind, and even the picture without the words has strength of rhetoric.
It is that manifestation of rhetoric that generated so much attention to the ad. While Victoria Secret’s goal may have been to promote their line of underwear, the focus quickly changed to what was seen as a negative aspect. The discord that resulted generated so much attention that companies like Lane Bryant, Dove, and the British company, Dear Kate, used social media to distance themselves from Victoria Secret and how they represent women.
While it is evident that electracy contains a connection to creative expression, and uses our emotions to determine its manifestation, it is also the channel that has made it possible through the use of social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and blogsites, to have our creative expression become a much bigger participatory composition. Therefore, what we originally produce can easily take on a different identity and become a huge collaborative effort.
The Victoria Secret ad failed ethically, not because of the models which were cast in the ad, but because of the message that was insinuated by the words attached. It promoted an unrealistic beauty standard which was insensitive towards its base. But when the goal of advertising is money, as is often the case, companies can take it too far. That is to say, they depend on comsumers identifying with their products as as extention to who they are. As a result, advertising plays on our human desires for security, acceptance, and low self-esteem to influence our choices without restriction. Whereas in orality, the main practice was religion and it gave us the guidelines to be ethical, according to Ulmer, this age of electracy has moved us to an era where entertainment is the practice, and the challenge is to be productive while still holding on to true values and ethical principles as so much of our creativeness comes through our individual freedom.
In The Automation of Knowledge, Lewis Mumford wrote, “Here, at the core of automation, lies its principal weakness, once the system becomes universal, its exponents see no way of overcoming its deficiencies, except by a further extension of automation.” (AV Communication Review 268) This was seen when after much complaining, Victoria Secret changed the wording on their ad but could not change the feeling that had already resonated. They offended their target market and today, through social media, consumers have the means to take action against things they don’t like. In an electrate society, we have the power to challenge and change what was once the norm and provide instant feedback, which in some cases can be harsh and damaging.
After my first attempt at a composition, it was clear that I too had allowed a limited and unintentional message to be transmitted. My goal was to show a more diverse collection of women and the output was far from achieving it. In fact, the women were all of one ethnicity which perpetuated the same stereotypical myth that perfection is based upon looks. I also decided to include men, as it may not be so obvious, but men also suffer some of the same unrealistic portrayals. Therefore, my latest composition below includes men and women of all ages and color. Although my ad would not have generated as much attention on social media, or sold as many underwear, it lives up to the concept of beauty being in all.
But the truth is, the Victoria Secret ad is just one of many that present their version of the ideal woman and they have the freedom and right to do so. As humans, we are advancing with each day and if we are to embrace our modern world, we need to understand how technology changes the way we communicate and share our ideas. Although social media has made sharing much easier, a shared network does not mean shared principles and values. Therefore, the challenge is finding the best way to regulate how we share those ideas using a tool that has so many capabilities. As we move further into electracy, with more and more technology being created, there needs to be some very clear policies on what is ethically acceptable. But as technology rapidly changes, so must our views and policies.
Ulmer, G. L. (2003). Internet Invention: From Literacy to Electracy. New York: Longman
“A Group Of Women Just Released This Response Ad To The ‘Perfect Body’ Campaign (Photos).” OpposingViews.com. Web. 8 May 2015.
Jill Foster for the Daily Mail. “We’re Perfectly Normal! Victoria’s Secret’s New Ad Has Been Attacked for Calling Waif-like Models ‘perfect’. Here, We Show What It Would Look like with Real Women – Who Talk Frankly about Their Bodies .” Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 8 Nov. 2014. Web. 8 May 2015.
Mumford, Lewis. JSTOR. Web. 8 May 2015.