We spend most of our day in social spaces. Even when we’re at home we’re usually on the internet, an environment just as public as anywhere else. Naturally, advertising is also a big part of our day to day life, you simply can’t escape it. This is not to say advertisements are inherently evil, they serve a very real and important purpose in today’s economy. In some sense, we are inescapably bound to ads. Right now, it is estimated we encounter up to 5000 ads a day.
Advertisements work with only one goal in mind, and that’s to sell as much as possible, to as many people as possible. No punches are held in this effort and many cheap tricks have been used to appeal to our baser instincts, insecurities, impulses, and weaknesses. In no industry is this as prevalent as the fashion industry. Fashion brands are notorious for preying upon their customer’s desire to appear attractive, wealthy, popular, and basically any other positive adjective under the sun. Your style is so personal because it communicates a lot about you. No other industry is positioned with such prime marketing material.
It is particularly nefarious in this industry because we end up buying way more than we actually need. In the United States we used to buy 28 garments a year in the 1990s. In modern times that number has more than doubled to 59 garments a year. What’s more, we each throw away about 82 lbs. of clothing a year which combines to total about 14 million tons annually.
Why do we buy all this clothing? It comes down to various marketing tactics supported by a waste culture. Fast fashion has been in the headlines for years because of their exploitation of poor working conditions in developing countries. This gives them the ability to manufacture and mass produce very inexpensive clothing. All in all, about 1 billion new garments are made a year.
To say this is wasteful is an understatement. Many strategies are used to market all these products to us, but ultimately part of the blame lies in the customer as well. Advertisements exploit many aspects of your psychology, they often use a holistic approach you can see mirrored in every industry. However, two of the main weaknesses targeted are your insecurities and emotions. There is no better way to combat this than being aware of their strategies and how you can combat them.
Insecurities are the easiest targets when in it comes to marketing campaigns. This is especially true when it comes to the beauty or fashion industry. How we choose to present ourselves to our peers is a very personal and intimate decision. There are many aspects of our image we don’t have control over; our hair texture, height, body shape, complexion, etc. Sometimes our bodies don’t adhere to the strict beauty standards of modern times. Many marketing campaigns aim to consult your insecurities in some way. Some fashion brands pride themselves on their ability to make their customers appear taller, thinner, or more shapely.
These types of ads can be found anywhere, but they are most prevalent when you’re browsing social media websites, particularly image oriented websites like Instagram. They prey upon people viewing media from not only their friends and family, but conventionally beautiful celebrities or influencers as well. We subconsciously compare ourselves to the people we view. When we’re in the process of consuming this media a spontaneous ad on how we may improve our own looks can be particularly persuasive. Of course, that ad isn’t random but a carefully calculated tactic.
The best way to prevent ads from targeting your insecurities is to interpret the media you consume. At this point, many people have seen online vs reality pictures. It even became a trend on YouTube to buy products off notoriously unreliable websites to see what actually came in the mail.
The truth of the matter is that most products that claim to be abnormally effective are more often than not exaggerating, or flat out lying. It’s important to look at ads critically, as a form of media and not just a background image for the content you’re actually watching.
If you look closely you will start to pick up some obvious photoshop fails or absurd differences in before and after pictures. It’s the 21st century’s equivalent to snake oil. This is not to say that there aren’t products out there that can compliment a given body type, just beware of advertisements that are claiming to completely change your image.
Despite our efforts, some of our most basic emotions can escape our control from time to time. Fast fashion tries to implement drastically new styles and trends every season. Some of their ads are even aimed at suggesting if you wear last year’s clothes, you’re lesser then your updated peers. This idea is repeated time after time in the media, and it works. People want to feel attractive and valuable, like they are a part of something.
Instagram models have been known to post sponsored content on anything, and its quite effective. In 2017 Instagram had over 12 million brand sponsored posts. This social media site alone has created a market worth over $1.7 billion. People buy the products these influencers are pushing. Every $1 spent on influencer sponsored content returns an average of $7.65 in media value returned.
There are so many influencers today that it’s hard to keep up with every new style and garment you need to adopt each season. There’s always something else on the market to purchase. It's important to take note that this value is more imagined than real. Most garments are made to be worn for at least a few years before they begin to look older or dated.
Take a step back from the fast fashion mentality and consider the clothing as products in their own right. Even trained professionals will have difficulty telling this season’s coats from last season’s coats. This is part of the reason that vintage styles are still so desirable. Beautiful clothing don’t have a short shelf life.
This goes for many aspects of your life as a consumer. Waste and overconsumption only benefit big businesses. Recognize the strategies marketing campaigns use and you’ll begin to see the ways your perception has been, and continues to be, altered.