VAL 140/ 340
Prejudice & Discrimination
Professor Kathryn Russell
Stereotypes in context
    The anxious consumer


The purpose of [ads] is to make the spectator marginally dissatisfied with his (sic) present way of life. Not with the way of life of society, but with his own within it. It suggests that if he buys what it is offering, his life will become better. It offers him an improved alternative to what he is...All publicity works upon anxiety. Alternatively the anxiety on which publicity plays is the fear that having nothing you will be nothing. (Berger 142-3)

Ads also work by appealing to anxieties in consumers. Supposedly, buying the products will make us feel better. Have you ever gone shopping because you're depressed or upset?

Advertising deals in open sores....Fear. Greed. Anger. Hostility. You name the dwarfs and we play on every one. We play on all the emotions and on all the problems, from not getting the desire to be one of the crowd. Everyone has a button. If enough people have the same button, you have a successful ad and a successful product.

Advertising executive Jerry Della Femina 1981, quoted by William Meyers

What are your buttons?

Lots of people, especially women, are buying cell phones to soothe their
anxieties about commuting. Click here to view a very effective cell phone commercial.

View the commercial again with and without sound using the Principles of Media Literacy and the Six Questions on Media from the Understanding Stereotypes unit.

What can we learn from the video about the nature of our culture and the relations between men and women?

Psychogenic profiles are used by advertising companies to target audiences for their products. Brand names and the attitudes associated with them are more important than product quality. Through market research, advertisers hope to identify people's emotional vulnerabilities and make commodities seem "part of the soothing solution" to their "weaknesses and deep-seated emotional needs." (Meyers, 6-7)

In his book The Image Makers: Power and Persuasion on Madison Avenue, William Meyers says:

At the heart of Madison Avenue's new, elaborately engineered system of persuasion lies one fundamental premise: Each group in our society has its weakness and deep-seated emotional needs. If Ad Alley can uncover these psychological problems in the course of its lengthy interview with citizens and then devise 30-second television spots that make it seem as if ordinary, everyday products are part of the soothing solution, grateful and relieved consumers will purchase the advertised goods. Agencies can make big profits by isolating and identifying each population segment's vulnerabilities, transforming average run-of-the-mill items into magic panaceas, and then targeting their newly designed therapeutic sales pitches at the right cluster of people. (6-7)

AC assignment 1: Study the above quote and write a paraphrase of it. Review the articles on psychographics by Meyers and Campbell. Write a brief summary of the argument presented.

SRI is the famous consultant company mentioned by Meyers and Campbell.

Here is one way they pitch their services:

SRI Consulting's VALS Program is based on the basic forces driving consumer choices and three fundamental beliefs about consumer segmentation: A psychographic segmentation system is effective as a marketing tool because it represents the 'fundamentals' of the marketplace-- i. e., attributes of consumers that are both powerful predictors and broadly applicable. Demographics alone are practically and conceptually insufficient to model consumer behavior, especially as the subjective elements of image and positioning become decisive in product choice. Psychographics are powerful because they reveal the key attitudes that motivate behavior.

SRI Consulting Industry Practices and Services

AC assignment 2: Study the eight categories SRI divides people up into and link to their consumer survey.

VALS (Values and Lifestyles) categorizes U.S. adult consumers into mutually exclusive groups based on their psychology and several key demographics. VALS is unique because it highlights factors that motivate consumer buying behavior. Other segmentation systems, based solely on demographics or geographics, cannot do this because they do not look at the underlying psychological make-up of people. Companies that know why their customers act the way they do have a competitive edge.

Let's use William Meyers five categories from The Image Makers to analyze the target audiences of ads.


conservative, like traditional lifestyles, old-fashioned approaches to patriotism, religion and family. "Without a secure, stable, and structured society, this staunch defender of the status quo is unable to cope." (Meyers 16)


hedonistic, confused, insecure, have desire to know future will be profitable and prosperous. "Small but impressionable group of young people in desperate search of an identity and a place in the adult working world." (16)
successful and conspicuous consumers who want even more, have expensive tastes, and buy symbols of prestige to appease their worry. "Once they believed the sky was the limit" but now they are "dissatisfied with the quality of their lives." (18)
Societally Conscious Achievers
individualistic, don't like conspicuous consumption, nonmaterialistic, like nature, fitness, simplicity. "Baby boom generation who care more about inner peace and environmental safety than about financial success and elegant surroundings." (19)
Need-directed survivors:

people struggling to sustain themselves on subsistence incomes." (20) Considered "dirt poor losers," ad execs don't really think of them as consuming much since they too busy just trying to stay afloat.


AC assignment 3: Click on the picture below to see sample ads to categorize.
Created by Kathryn Russell
SUNY Cortland - Philosophy
Last modified on 8-17-99