The Greatest Visual Storytelling Sin: Digital Advertising

I often remember being in middle school, flipping through magazines, and looking at the flashy advertisements littered across the pages. Large muscular men adorned the pages, usually accompanied by beautiful, scantily clad women. I couldn’t help but observe that I did not look like that person, nor did anyone in my family or friend group. 

As I grew into an adult, I still don’t look like those men in advertisements. The marketing industry spent the past few decades telling young men across the country that we wouldn’t be successful or happy without their fancy cars, watches, cologne, or beautiful women. The industry also led young women to believe they needed the smoothest face, skinniest body, and the best makeup to find true love. 

An advertisement for L’Oréal in a 2001 magazine. Source: UmoClassico

It’s infuriating. To sell products, advertisers manufactured and designed images to target the psychology of people specifically. Using digital photo manipulation tools, they have been able to remove blemishes, sculpt the perfect body, and add things that weren’t even there.

My question to advertising and marketing agencies: why would you want to alter the very elements that make us human?

That “beautiful” woman? Photoshopped:

That bowl of beautiful cereal floating? Filled with Glue.

Advertisers and brands use glue when photographing cereal. Milk will make the cereal soggy.

That beautiful plate of pancakes with maple syrup? Hate to break it to you. It’s motor oil.

Pancake Commercials Secretly Replace Syrup With Motor Oil, Which Makes Us  Want To Vom
Source: Soy Yummy

Distorting Reality

Marketer’s and advertisers’ view of the world misaligns with reality, and brings many consequences, including degradation of a generation’s self-confidence, hijacking a person’s subconscious, and emboldening awful gender and racial stereotypes. 

In my opinion, the deceptive practices of the marketing and advertising agencies are the world’s greatest visual storytelling sin. I fervently believe the practices of the digital advertising industry are detrimental to society. 

Photo manipulation

Photo manipulation is nothing new. Photographers and visual storytellers have been manipulating images since the invention of the camera. During the civil war, photographers doctored images of the background of soldiers. In soviet Russia, Lenin altered images to make crowd size appear larger. Governments are still digitally altering images to communicate to their audience. President Trump’s whitehouse was notorious for altering images to make President Trump look skinnier.

While I understand the practical nature of adjusting the image’s brightness, contrast, and colors, it is sickening when truth and reality become obscure. Digital artists will go to the extreme, removing backgrounds, adding more elements that were not in the original image, and heavy photoshop airbrushing to remove blemishes, pimples, pores and reshaping the human body.

slow change

Reddit users observe changes in marketing images, including imagery that is not heavily manipulated.

However, it is promising that companies and advertisers are realizing their mistakes and are making changes to adjust their practices. Target, for example, is now publishing advertisements of models that are not photoshopped or digitally airbrushed. Gillette is no longer using images of the stereotypical large muscular men in their shaving advertisements. It’s incumbent of the world’s advertising agencies to follow suit. 

I also wish the media literacy of the world’s population could vastly improve. Currently, the media literacy rates amongst adults are alarmingly low. With media education, people will see right through the phony images manufactured and liberated from the clutches of digital advertisers. 

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