Elena Praggastis is a senior at Tahoma Senior High and a sophomore at Green River Community College. She is a member of the Church of the Holy Apostles, Washington parish and has been since 2010. Elena is an opinion writer for Green River’s The Current.
When there are hundreds of different styles, sizes, and colors of blue jeans, it takes more than just “Buy our product, we are better!” to make it to the top of the sales charts. You can no longer advertise just the jeans; you have to advertise the lifestyle and culture accompanying the jeans as well. What is it about Abercrombie and Fitch jeans that makes them better than Levi’s? How will I feel different if I wear them? Will I be cooler? More successful? For Abercrombie and Fitch, the catch phrase and end result is “sexy.” Their message is that wearing their jeans will make you sexier.
It doesn’t stop with jeans, though. Each brand-name product only becomes a brand name by also becoming a culture, a trend, an idea, and a lifestyle . Coca-cola’s catch phrase is “Open Happiness,” implying that if you drink Coke instead of Pepsi, you are a happier person, and are in the ‘happy’ culture. Abercrombie and Fitch is one of the leading clothing brands geared towards teenagers and young adults. It achieved this position by setting an example of culture that people want to follow.
Recent advertisements by Abercrombie and Fitch advertise the brand name by associating it with the culture and life style of being sexy. If people feel that by being part of the Abercrombie and Fitch ‘club’ and purchasing its products they will be sexy, the advertising agency is doing its job. And people do buy their products. The main demographic groups that buy into the Fitch lifestyle are teenage girls and young women. The advertising ploy obviously works on them, but what do they actually see?
In one recent ad, they see a half-naked girl with a perfect body, draped on top of a half-naked boy with a perfect body. Both people in the ad are behaving in an obviously sexual way. What does this make teenage girls and young women think? If they want to be part of the ‘club’, Fitch is asking them not only to wear their brand, but to be perfect and be sexual – just like Abercrombie and Fitch. This is the exclusiveness of the club. The psychological nature of advertising is such that no matter what is pictured in the magazine or billboard ad, people will read meaning into it, and people will experience the effects of that added meaning. So even though the actual advertisement is a simple picture of two young people with the Abercrombie and Fitch name brand in the background, it is screaming with unwritten subliminal messages.
The company paying for the advertisement wants you to feel like you have to change yourself to be part of their club; change yourself from a Hollister Co member and a Nordstrom member to an Abercrombie and Fitch member. However, Fitch does not want you to feel that you have to change your body type from size XL to 00 in order to be in the club. We see this with their “Attractive and Fat” advertisement campaign featuring an XL female model and a dreamy looking, fit, male model. But “Attractive and Fat” is not what teenage girls and young women get out of the ads. They want to not only wear the cute jeans in the picture, but to look like the sexy half-naked girl as well.
These less obvious effects from advertisements that casually depict sexuality as desirable to young people are dangerous. I think casual displays of sexuality encourage casual tendencies and views of sexuality. Repetitive exposure to pictures of half-naked teenagers makes it a little more acceptable for a teenage girl to be half-naked with her boyfriend. She’s not consciously thinking ‘Fitch does it, and I want to be like Fitch so I’m going to do it too’. She doesn’t think about it at all. It just becomes normal for her. It becomes casual – like the picture.
Advertising becomes in itself a new medium in society, one which youth look to for education and direction. It’s a lifestyle, a culture. It’s no longer just Abercrombie and Fitch’s sexiness or Coke’s happiness. Advertising has its own name brand or catch phrase: self-improvement. The billboards, magazines, radio, TV, and even our personalized cell phone screens are bombarded with advertising telling us to be better, be different, and change. No matter what advertisers are trying to sell you, they are trying to tell you to alter something about your life for what they consider the better. The difference between the “advertising brand” as a whole, as a medium, and the ordinary kind of brand, such as Abercrombie and Fitch or Coke is that with ordinary brands, you can chose another brand instead. With Fitch and Coke, I can chose Hollister Co or Pepsi instead. But with advertising, there is no alternative competing ‘product’ or product line. Advertising is everywhere. I am forced to fully participate in and accept the culture of change and self-improvement it imposes upon me.
However, there is a way I can still guard my mind and soul; by becoming educated and maintaining an awareness of my environment, i can recognize the distinction between reality and this culture of change, and in effect disconnect myself from its seductive power. It is, therefore, so imperative that I, and all other young people surrounded by contemporary culture, embrace it, learn from it, and understand it. We can then better embrace, learn, and understand our own individual culture and sovereignty- understanding our own identity.
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