Research Blog Post #4

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Advertising and Global Culture 


  • What political impact does the spread of transnational culture have on the poor for whom luxury lifestyles are not possible?
  • How do they deal with the daily contradictions that this awareness implies?
  • How much will they accept and how much will they reject?
  • How can they maintain their own identities in the face of transnational culture?

The common theme of transnational culture is consumption.

  • Advertising expresses this ideology of consumption in its most synthetic and visual form.
  • Transnational advertising is one of the major reasons both for the spread of transnational culture and the breakdown of traditional cultures.

What are the long range social effects of advertising on people who earn less than $200 a year?

  • These people learn of the outside world through the images and slogans of advertising.
  • One message that comes through clearly is that happiness, achievement, and being white have something to do with one another.
  • In mestizo countries (sic) such as Mexico and Venezuela where most of the population still bear strong traces of their Indian origin, billboards depicting the good life for sale invariably feature blond, blue-eyed American-looking men and women.
  • One effect of such “white is beautiful” advertising is to reinforce feelings of inferiority which are the essence of a politically immobilizing colonial mentality…The subtle message of the global advertiser in poor countries is “Neither you nor what you create are worth very much, we will sell you a civilization!!!

Transnational firms and global advertising agencies are clearly aware of the role of advertising in the creation of a new consumer culture in Third World countries. A top Israeli advertising executive says,

“Television antennas are gradually taking the place of the tom-tom drums across the vast stretches of Africa. Catchy jingles are replacing tribal calls in the Andes of Latin America. Spic-and-span supermarkets stand, on the grounds where colorful wares of an Oriental Bazaar were once spread throughout Asia. Across vast continents hundreds of millions of people are awakening to the beat of modern times.”

  • Television is undisputedly the key communications development of our era. It has demonstrated its power to make the world a global village; to educate and inform; to shape the values, attitudes, and lifestyles of generations growing up with it. In countries where it operates as an unfettered commercial medium it has proven for many products the most potent of all consumer marketing weapons as well as a major influence in establishing corporate images and affecting public opinion on behalf of business.

What do we know about the impact of transnational culture on Third World cultures?

Pierre Thizier Seya studied the impact of transnational advertising on cultures in the Ivory Coast. He notes that transnational firms such as Colgate and Nestle have helped to replace traditional products – often cheaper and more effective – with industrialized toothpastes and infant formulas.

By consuming Coca-Cola, Nestle products, Marlboro, Maggi, Colgate or Revlon, Ivorians are not only fulfilling unnecessary needs but also progressively relinquishing their authentic world outlook in favor of the transnational way of life.

Advertising of skin-lightening products persuades the African women to be ashamed of their own color and try to be white.

He also mentions that advertising is helping to change the Ivorian attitude toward aging, making women fear looking older and undermining the traditional respect for elders.

  • In another study carried out in Mexico by the National Consumers Institute in 1981, more than 900 sixth grade children were quizzed on the contents of their textbooks and the contents of commercial television.They knew more about television personalities than about national heroes and recognized more trademarks for snacks, soft drinks, chewing gum and so on than national symbols such as the flag, a map of the country, the major party’s symbol, etc. The researchers concluded that advertising and the television medium are far more effective teachers than the public school system. If children are learning about consumption, soap operas and transnational symbols, their parents must be also.
  • In another research project, seven-year-old Mexican children from different economic backgrounds were interviewed to determine the role of the mass media – primarily television – as sources of information, the relationship established between children and television, and the degree to which the children have internalized transnational consumption patterns.”Perhaps the most interesting result of the study concerns the ability of children to analyze consumption in terms of class. They were shown different categories of consumer products such as cigarettes and television sets, and asked which a rich person could buy and which a poor person could buy. Virtually every child showed an acute awareness of the different access to these products by class. They knew very well that a rich person could buy any or all of the products whereas the poor could buy only the cigarettes, the Coca-Cola, the snack foods, and the lipstick.” (
  • “These results, while very tentative, suggest that the impact of transnational culture is greater among the poor – the very people who cannot afford to buy the lifestyle it represents. The poor are more likely to associate consumption with happiness and feel that industrialized products are better than the locally made ones. But at the same time they are painfully aware that only the rich have access to the lifestyle portrayed.” (
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