Friday, November 19, 2010

Week 12: Cultural Products and Soft Power

In the globalized world, where non-state actors exert a serious amount of influence, examining soft power becomes interesting. What is the role of an advertising agency, let’s say, whose very job is to make the audience want something, either a product or a way of life, that they don’t have now or don’t have enough of now? The only effective advertising is that which attracts an audience, not one which blatantly dictates what the consumer should want. It’s done coercively, it’s done subtly, in a technique which some industries—let’s take fashion, for example—have done brilliantly in the past sixty years. And interestingly enough, it is in the past sixty years that enormous change leading to the globalized world—the rise in communication technologies, the fall of colonialism and the Berlin Wall, have seen with it the emergence of convergent and cross-cultural communication in the form of advertising.

Is advertising really a form of soft power? The way a company or a product markets itself is vital to its success—even in transnational boundaries. While global products may not be owned or marketed directly by a government, do they not also reflect some of the culture from which they originate? To go back to a fashion industry example, Chanel differs from Dolce and Gabbana, which differs from Juicy Couture, in the way of life which they promote, and is at least somewhat reflective of the culture from which each originates. Thus, when advertisers send messages out to an audience, promoting the way of life that comes with these clothes, are they not also promoting a cultural message that, while not coinciding with an orchestrated government message, still out to achieve the same goal of acceptance? Cultural products are exported to be accepted in whatever market they can be, and it is through advertising, through the promotion of a way of life, that this is achieved.

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