It is night. A pool is illuminated by a soft green glow, and a man stands by its’ edge. A lone woman gracefully glides through the water, naked. Her discarded gold-colored jeans float innocently on the water’s surface. She looks up as and the man playfully takes her photo—proof that she completed his dare. On a whim, he then joins her in the pool, but not before posting the picture to Instagram, explained only by the hash tag, “#liveinit.” As romantic as the previous scenario seems, this is not something that happened in real life. This happened in an advertisement featured in the 2013 October issue of Nylon Magazine. Ads manipulate the reader’s emotions through fantastical scenes, like the one pictured above, that often reflect societal values and stereotypes to sell a product. This advertisement for Paige Denim brand jeans features that pseudo Instagram picture mounted on a white page with only a few lines of minimalist text to caption the photo. Unfortunately, this ad isn’t merely a harmless depiction of a fantasy situation. This advertisement for Paige Denim uses product-image format, multiple ad strategies, culturally recognized signs, and a personal mode of address to portray vibrant sexuality and youthful recklessness. In doing so, this ad reinforces the dangerous notion that it is normal for young adults to continually “live in the moment” and achieve fulfillment solely through intense emotional experiences.
As with all product-image advertisements, this clothing brand aims to create an image of the product that it realistically isn’t associated with. Clearly, this ad is not about the utility of the jeans. The reader can tell nothing about their fit, their hardiness, or their cost. Strangely enough, the model isn’t even wearing them. Instead, this ad is trying to convey an image of daring and excitement, of discovery and sensuality. The brand is then identified with these character traits and portrayed as their literal embodiment. Logically, a pair of jeans isn’t daring or exciting; however, this particular pair of jeans becomes the vehicle that allows the purchaser to experience those feelings. This ad is a typical example of commodity fetishism, which “gives a product qualities it doesn’t have in itself” (S. Iftkar, October 16, 2013). It is important to keep in mind that this advertisement is trying to sell the reader more than a pair of jeans; it is selling the reader’s ideals back to them. The fearlessness depicted in this ad lends to the reader the idea that it is normal for young adults to have intense emotional experiences in their day-to-day life. Conversely, if the reader does not already personify this narrow view of fearlessness, they are missing something essential from their lives and are encouraged to remedy that with Paige Denim brand jeans. The taste of adventure acquainted with the product also perpetuates the idea that the most desirable form of satisfaction comes from “living in the moment.” This ad supports the thought that each person is entitled to a richer, fuller life in which thrill can be found at any instance. This suggests that impulsivity, which is normally perceived as a negative trait, is synonymous with spontaneity, a positive trait. Buying these jeans means that the purchaser is willing to be spontaneous and lower their inhibitions, supposedly allowing them to get the most out of their life. This commonly used advertising method may be the reason why so many people in America’s consumer society have impulsive shopping behaviors. Perhaps it even in a sense helps rationalize a name-brand product’s steep price to the purchaser. Either way, the product-image format conditions the reader to connect a product to a societal value (Campbell et all, 2013, p. 337), thereby reinforcing the belief that only young adults who “live in the moment” and have intense emotional experiences are truly satisfied in life.
The strategies used in tandem by this advertisement convey to the reader their need for this product by showcasing the future self the reader will become, suggesting the reader will achieve sexual gratification through this product, and subordinating the useful aspects of the product in the interest of the symbolic ones (“Advertising Formats and Strategies,” 2013). Although not as obvious as a weight loss ad, clothing ads also use the “future self” strategy in order to sell their product, which is effective because society adheres to the notion that the ability to meet traditional standards of beauty is paramount. Brands are known for using attractive men and women as models, which has overtime formed the permanent association of those who wear name-brand clothes and those who have an ideal physical appearance. Similarly, this ad for Paige Denim uses an alluring, seemingly topless model and the word “transform” in their tagline to demonstrate that buying these jeans will change the reader into a sexier, more adventurous version of themselves. Since advertisements always depict the future self as a better version than the current self, this ad insinuates that the reader is not yet good enough and that there is a deficit in their life. Incidentally, this lack can only be filled by Paige Denim brand jeans. By implicating that the reader constantly needs to be more than themselves and do more than they currently do, this ad reflects American society’s high esteem of those who “life their life to the fullest.” This ad seems to hint that wearing these jeans will result in personal sexual gratification, as well. It is well known that the theory behind these advertisements is “sex sells,” which has yet to be proven wrong. Night swimming (commonly called “skinny dipping”) and truth-or-dare are mentioned in this ad, both activities that often hold intimate undertones in real life. Coupled with the model’s sensuous gaze and apparent lack of clothing, it is apparent that this ad is sexually charged. The sexual gratification strategy calls out to people who are insecure about their eroticism and wish to be more appealing to either their current or potential partners. It is easy to see how this strategy promotes a “hunger for intense emotional experiences” (S. Iftkar, October 17, 2013) like sex itself. Additionally, this ad uses the strategy of toting the product’s symbolic aspects instead of its useful aspects. As previously stated, the ad acquaints the product with a sense of courage and confidence, but more than that, it perpetuates the idea that the “important” aspects of life are attained through form, not function. American culture designates a person’s early to late 20’s as the prime years to be alive. There is an intense amount of pressure to not “waste” their youth so said person can look back on their life fondly as they age. However, because of the vulnerability of these young adults and latent American consumerism, they perhaps feel as if they not only have to have a good life, but they have to look good while living it in order for it to matter. This is why selling a lifestyle as is done in the Paige Denim advertisement is effective—it provides its target audience with both a model and a way to successfully live the life they are told they want. Clearly, by using ideals previously established by society, these three ad strategies reaffirm the view that young adults can achieve contentment through “living in the moment” and experiencing intense emotional events.
An important part of any advertisement is its use of culturally recognized signs. This ad in particular uses color, nudity, and water to portray impulsiveness and courageousness and sell the reader their product. Although it at first appears to be minimalistic, the ad cleverly applies three select colors to convey the feeling of having “money to burn.” The gold of the jeans against the green of the water in the pool symbolizes an abundance of wealth. The obvious editing in the photograph and its classy white frame lends this ad a distinct sense of refinement and upper class. It seems like it would not be in the brand’s best interest to offer two conflicting messages—a setting of reckless youth versus colors that signify refined maturity—however, this is not the case. Since the ad’s target audience is young adults who are most likely not yet in possession of an excess of disposable income, these signs suggests that the reader can appear wealthy while still enjoying the vivacity of their youthfulness. This idealistic message stresses the dangerous idea that it is both natural and important to spend money, even if it is unavailable, to keep up appearances. This ties directly into the “I shop, therefore I am” motto of American consumer culture (Kruger, 1987), and the insistence that the only path to satisfaction for young adults is to continually “live in the moment” and therefore buy the ad’s product. In addition, the model’s unabashed nudity even is a sign of confidence and empowerment. Since the notion of swimming nude or “skinny dipping” is a traditionally illegal act with understood connotations of freedom and amusement, the product is associated with these feelings even though the model is not wearing it. The ad is focused on the floating pair of jeans rather than her nudity, and therefore successfully associates those ideals with the Paige Denim brand without appearing overly suggestive. The model’s foray into swimming sans clothes also symbolizes the American ideal of reward triumphing over risk. The ad’s tagline informs the reader that “the tiniest dare could transform [their] entire night,” which suggests that constantly seeking new experiences and acting impulsively leads to personal satisfaction. While the water in this ad could be acquainted with the more cliché ideas of freedom or power, it could also allude to the more plebian, utilitarian, everyday use of water; as in, to take a shower, wash the dishes, or even just for drinking. Because water is such a variable sign, it could very well represent any of these things. However, the association of water with common daily life may in fact argue the idea that intense emotional experiences like the one presented by this ad are achievable in the reader’s own ordinary life. Whatever the case may be, this ad’s use of color, nudity, and water forms a strong argument that it is natural for young adults to live impulsively and continually seek intense emotional experiences in order to reach fulfillment.
This advertisement also deftly uses a personal mode of address to appeal to its young adult demographic and further identify with the reader. The clearest way to discern this ad’s mode of address is to read the tagline, which has a timestamp of 10:40 PM and says through its central position on the page and formal font that “discovering that the tiniest dare can transform your entire night” is indeed an important discovery to make. Through the use of the word “your,” this ad suggests that this picture is maybe a memory the reader could have made, if they had had the advertized jeans. This ad invites the female reader to maybe come to the conclusion that she is the woman in the water, and that she was able to accept the dare which “transformed her night” (most likely in the form of sexual gratification) thanks to Paige Denim brand jeans. Alternatively, this ad invites the male reader to perhaps believe that he dared the woman to swim naked and, because she was wearing Paige Denim brand jeans, he night was similarly transformed. This direct call to the reader asks them to imagine themselves in this scenario, which perpetuates the thought that intense emotional experiences can be bought in the form of clothing and offer complete contentment. On the other hand, perhaps the first thing that stands out about this ad is the size and shape of its central image. Instead of occupying the entire page, it is small and square on a white background, almost emulating the appearance of the popular photo-sharing phone application Instagram. This ad also sports a hash tag, which is colloquially used on the social media site, Twitter. By using links to the internet, this brand clearly intends to acquaint itself to its tech-savvy audience, who will unknowingly advertize for them by sharing photos of their products and using their hash tag. It is worth mentioning that the hash tag, “#liveinit,” literally tells the reader to wear the Paige Denim brand. More than that, it tells the reader that if they do not wear the brand, they are not really living and therefore are missing out on getting the most from their own life.
Clearly, this Paige Denim advertisement’s use of product-image format, multiple ad strategies, culturally recognized signs, and a personal mode of address reinforces society’s treacherous endorsement of “live in the moment” impulsiveness and the thought that intense emotional experiences are not only achievable in everyday life, but that the only way to obtain a sense of achievement is through them. In doing so, this also promotes toxic characteristics like possessiveness, jealousy, consumerism, and materialism. Unfortunately, this is the message being pushed upon America’s young people. Although these brands try to appear as if they are selling their product to reflect a lifestyle, in reality, they are only selling their product to make a profit. In America, it seems that the line between “corporation” and “human being” is so often blurred that some companies may even receive more government assistance than the people they claim to serve. However, as the consumer learns to understand the profound effect these advertisements can have on their personal psyche and the American society as a whole, they can become cynical of the false promises of consumerism and work towards replacing the ideal of ultimate fulfillment through possessions by discovering personal fulfillment through the lasting means of friendship, community, and of course, love.