VAL 140/ 340
Prejudice & Discrimination
Professor Kathryn Russell
Stereotypes in context
    The fantasy life of ads


Dream Industries, Rap Pages, 6-99

In the section on ads as forms of communication, we learned that many factors taken together create the message of ads.

Here we will consider how ads speak to us by appealing to fantasies, our hopes and dreams. They suggest that our future life and personality can be different if we buy their products.

Review the Five Principles of Media Literacy . Be sure to apply 1 and 5 to this work on how ads appeal to viewers' fantasies.

You and your class partner have been assigned some of the numbered items below. In a computer lab, complete the activities your pair is assigned and answer the questions. Bring your notes to class!

Jump to Question: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Quotes are taken from your article by John Berger, from Ways of Seeing.

1. Discuss the meaning of the following quote and write a paraphrase of it.

Remember that 'publicity' means advertising.

Publicity can never really afford to be about the product or opportunity it is proposing to the buyer who is not yet enjoying it. Publicity is never a celebration of a pleasure-in-itself. Publicity is always about the future buyer. (132)

On page 148 Berger says there are 2 gaps:

  • "between what publicity actually offers and the future it promises"
  • "between what the spectator-buyer feels himself (sic) to be and what he would like to be"

He claims that these gaps are "filled with glamorous day dreams." (148) Explain why. Discuss ads
you have seen that appeal to a buyer's fantasy life to fill the gap between what's actually true and what
the buyer might hope will become true.

2. Study the following ad from Toyota:

Toyota, Hispanic, 12-98
Answer these questions:

  • What are the people in the pictures doing? Who are they?
  • What values and lifestyles are promoted by these pictures?
  • What is the ad's target audience?
  • What techniques are used to get that audience's attention?
  • What visual elements (line, shape, lighting, design, color, etc.) in the ad suggest fantasy?
  • What is implied by the ad without being supported?

3. Discuss the meaning of the following quotes from Berger and write a paraphrase of them.

Publicity speaks in the future tense and yet the achievement of this future is endlessly deferred. How then does publicity remain credible or credible enough to exert the influence it does? It remains credible because the truthfulness of publicity is judged, not by the real fulfillment of its promises, but by the relevance of its fantasies to those of the spectator-buyer. Its essential application is not to reality but to day dreams. (146)

The fantasy life of ads explains why ads can remain credible.(148)

Be sure to address the idea that the dreams are endlessly deferred!

4. Discuss what dreams and hopes you have. Do you have favorite ads that appeal to them? How does your
gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, or age fit into your hopes? What ads "press your buttons?"

Discuss examples of ads you have seen that appeal to people's fantasies about themselves.

Discuss whether or not you agree with Berger's analysis.

5. This collage of ads was collected by some of my past students.

  • Discuss what target audience the pictures in the ads might appeal to.
  • Use the following quote from Berger to analyze the pictures the students selected:
With this you will become desirable. In these surroundings all your relationships will become happy and radiant. (144)
  • Write a paraphrase of the quote, then add statements that develop Berger's point of view.
  • Explain what is implied by the images without being supported?

6. These Finlandia ads seem to invoke fantasy by appealing to a sense of the past. The target audience
for the left seems to be women, that for the right men.

Finlandia, Vogue, 6-99

Finlandia, The New Yorker, 11-98

Discuss the text, visual composition and source of these Finlandia ads using the following questions:

  1. Use a Venn diagram to list adjectives describing the people in the ads. Draw 2 circles overlapping in the middle. In the right circle list adjectives describing the man; in the left the woman; and in the common ground in the middle, list adjectives that might describe them both.
  2. Compare and contrast your 3 lists. Do your lists reveal common stereotypes or gender differences between women and men?
  3. Which person would you like to be and why?
  4. If the male ad appeared in Vogue, would it be effective in selling alcohol. Why or why not?
  5. Write down an argument to show that the fantasies used by advertisers are constructed to appeal to men and women differently, that is, people's fantasy lives are gendered, advertisers know this fact, and use it deliberately.



American Express, Out, 8-99
    Read the copy of this ad for American Express.
    • Discuss what the phrase "domestic partner"means.
    • Why have some city governments or companies changed their benefits so that they extend to domestic partners instead of married couples only?
    • What sorts of discrimination are these institutional reforms addressing?
    • Write down a list of forms of discrimination gay couples face.
  • Discuss what sorts of fantasies this American Express ad might be appealing to? Will they be endlessly deferred? Why?
  • Consider why American Express wants its customers to "do more?"
  • Discuss whether that will help lesbian couples "take control of their future?" .


American Express, Ebony, 6-99
Discuss comparisons between the American Express ad directed to lesbian couples (7) and this ad targeted at African American consumers. For example, how are code words (jargon, or "buzz words")are used in the ads differently?

Use media literacy principle five to analyze this ad and discuss these questions:
  • What ways of life are being promoted by the family's surroundings, clothing, hair styles and demeanor?
  • How is the ad consistent with values dominant in our social system?
  • What sorts of invisible ideological messages are present, i. e., how should African Americans act to achieve their dreams?
  • How does the ad extol the virtues of consumerism and implicitly recommend "the acceptance of authority, and unquestioning patriotism".



The ad text says: "212 Men: a sense of the city."

Answer these questions:

  • Who is the target audience?
  • Discuss what dreams are appealed to.
  • Use the 6 media questions experts recommend (see USM) to analyze the ad.



Analyze the ad using the following quote from John Berger:

The state of being envied is what constitutes glamour. And publicity is the process of manufacuring glamour. (131)

What ideological messages does the ad convey.

Send an example to the class archive!
Created by Kathryn Russell
SUNY Cortland - Philosophy
Last modified on1-14-00