Advertising & capitalism

Image: Darya Sannikova


Political formulations that freeze democracy at the formal-procedural stage are mere publicity pieces for the regime of dystopian injustices

Advertising challenged the need (“this product is the best”); I sought conviction in the ideal self (“this product makes you more attractive”); now benefits from the resources of the Big Tech to manipulate people's desires. Capitalist corporations have conquered not this or that sector, but the world; instead of a deposit with surpluses, society; instead of a weekly column, the control of the media itself. History could go back to the papyrus of Thebes, three thousand years ago, which announced a reward for the fugitive slave, or to the circulars on pilasters in the Forum of Rome. We opted for the adventure in the Modern Age.

In the 17th century, newsbooks Their function was to spread the news. In London, Saint Paul's Cathedral was the dissemination center that, as it grew, expanded with printed publications. Recommendations were made directly, such as the one dated 1658: “The excellent Chinese drink approved by all doctors, called Tcha, and in other nations Tay ou Tea, is sold in Sultaness Head Cophee-House”. The mention of doctors appeals to the obvious authority of specialists, more called upon to give their opinions than philosophers in English-speaking countries, unlike France. Following progress came the subtlety of language and imagery. As João Cabral de Melo Neto says, in a beautiful poem: “The skin of silence / few things shiver”.

Today advertising is “an organized system of persuasion and satisfaction, functionally similar to magical systems in simpler societies, but strangely coexisting with advanced scientific technology”, reads the essay “Advertising: the magical system”, in: Culture and materialism, by Raymond Williams. Magic makes up for the lack of answers negotiated with death, loneliness, frustration, the identity crisis. The status of “citizen” gives way to that of “consumer”, which replaces that of “user”. We are the channels for transporting produce to the market. Condition that survives protest for collective goods (schools, hospitals). Topics that show autonomy of economic power and political power to make decisions in society.

Art and science

It was difficult to clean up the mess. The usual style was that of the “classified”. Quackery to combat the coronavirus was equivalent to “real stimulants against infected air” in the bubonic plague epidemic (1665-1666) in England. Advertisements about toothpastes that “when used, users are never affected by toothaches”, three hundred years ago, still remained in the television advertisements of the British Dental Association, at the time when the Beatles were learning the chords. Advertising entities sealed the transition from advertising to a profession, bringing it closer to psychology, sociology and science. marketing. Advertising discovers itself as an art and science.

The curious thing is that rare products of factory origin used advertising at the beginning. This took a long time to be welcomed with its artistic galleries (the bunners). Taste and the urgencies of commercialization were on opposite sides. Contemporary advertising is born in the voluminous advertising campaign of Imperial Tobacco Company who, in 1901, offered a fabulous sum for eight pages of The Star. The newspaper agreed to deliver four, a “world record”, to print “the most expensive, colossal and convincing advertisement never published in a newspaper, in the entire world”. The volume of entries has since become the elementary lesson of advertising campaigns.

To attract attention, the posters used cursive, bold letters and asterisks, and later illustrations of the miraculous foam that was used to sharpen the razor blade. Advertisers resorted to deception and lies. Post-industrial revolution, the visual pollution of cities covered the streets with the prints of the free market. Servings, soaps and carat items colored the urban landscape. And the neon light, the sound of silence, standardized the nights from North to South.


During the First World War there were advertisements “Daddy what did you do in the Great War”. One poster He said that the man who disappointed his country would also disappoint his girlfriend or wife. Pressures from the battlefield and the economy emphasized the anguish. Existentialism captured the spirit of the time philosophically. In the authoritarian version, it was necessary to control and repress the freedom of individuals to make choices. Blackmail and false promises received a makeover, with an air of modernism. The subjectivation of dialogue and the decoding of emotions with a view to increasing profits extended its tentacles over souls.

What did not change in the crossing between centuries was the method of selling illusions. Except, now, a drink is sold to a political party. The business community adhered to the dissimulating logic. As society fully adapts to the masses, advertising asks us to fully integrate into it. Reciprocity is falsified. In this sense, commodity fetishism, which is an attribute of exchange value, not use value, was overcome by sign value.

“From information, advertising moved to persuasion, then to clandestine persuasion, now targeting targeted consumption, frightening us with the threat of totalitarian consumption. Advertising discourse dissuades and persuades, hence it appears that the consumer is, if not immunized, free from the seductive advertising message”. In fact, “if advertising does not persuade the consumer about the brand, it does so about something more fundamental to the order of the entire society”, observes Jean Baudrillard in “Meaning of advertising”, in: Mass culture theory, organized by Luiz Costa Lima. The reflection is from the 1970s; Artificial intelligence algorithms have reinvented the rules of the game.


In Brazil, the 1989 presidential campaign is the first in the national telecommunications system. The victory of the partner of the famous TV station, in Alagoas, is not surprising. The country is permeated by political propaganda in soap operas, on the news, and at sports events. Here, an alliance was established between advertisers, journalists, so-called independent broadcasters and owners of public opinion – “electronic coronelism”. In the current legislature, twenty federal deputies and six senators have direct media connections, others have family relationships. Advertising developed by selling goods in the economy, modernly it sells people in marketing culture. It became inseparable from the mode of production in capitalism. Objects are not enough; The repeated associations with predicates of beauty, virility, sensuality and social status prove this.

The “political representation scenario is constructed in and by the media and goes far beyond electoral campaigns, in terms of duration and content”, highlights Venício A. Lima, in the article on “Electoral and party propaganda and elections” , in: Media, elections and democracy, coordinated by Heloiza Matos. The consolation is that Lula da Silva's body semiotics has evolved a lot. In the final debate of the debutante candidacy, carefully edited by Globo, the former metalworker ignored his opponent's low attacks and extended his arm to greet him (error); the body denounced the colonized. This time, he refused to be close to the colonizer when debating (bingo).

Concluding. First, the problem with advertising is not the poor quality of the ads, contrary to what aristocrats who underestimate the talent of agencies suggest. Second, the advertising portrays a social failure to find reliable information and spaces for participation and decision-making, in the democratic rule of law. Third, advertisements that fantasize about consumer society and link it to the principles of happiness and solidarity reinforce actually existing inequalities. Fourth, advertising is strategic for educational actions (respect for traffic laws, warning about climate catastrophes) and health actions (calendar with vaccination sites, for children and adults); but it disorganizes consciences for structural changes, which is only possible through political praxis based on a transformative program to de-alienate private life and transcend the commodification of everything and everyone. This is where parties and social movements count.

Political formulations that freeze democracy at the formal-procedural stage are mere publicity pieces for the regime of dystopian injustices. The counter-hegemonic ideological struggle for a new society did not end with the defeat of neo-fascism on January 8th.

* Luiz Marques is a professor of political science at UFRGS. He was Rio Grande do Sul's state secretary of culture in the Olívio Dutra government.

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