Friday, July 22, 2005
Selling shoes and Freudian Symbolism
From a review of the literature concerning classical Freudian theory and the use of symbolism and its affects in advertising alcohol products the author considers the history of adverting sports shoes. With approximately 50% of all sports shoes sold to non-sports persons the marketing focus for athletic footwear has become a major image promotion within modern culture. The author has assumed direct marketing would include the use of Freudian symbols to help sell their product. According to authors who have reviewed Freud's work, humans harbour a primal mode of symbolic expression which is unconscious in nature and readily accessible during the dream state (Appignanesi & Zarate, 1999; Cameron, 1967; Jones, 1956; Lesser, 1962; McElroy, 1954; ; Ruth, 1990/91; Ruth & Mosatche, 1985; Ruth, Mosatche, & Kramer, 1989; Schonbar & Davitz,1960; Starer, 1955; Thouless, 1947). These involve primitive forms of associative recognition and comparison which were considered characteristic of the id and the instinctual core of the human psyche. The id being the division of the psyche associated with instinctual impulses and demands for immediate satisfaction of primitive needs and the latter the mind functioning as the centre of thought, feeling, and behaviour and consciously or unconsciously adjusting and relating the body to its social and physical environment. Freud believed these associative processes unconsciously classified, recognised, and identified objects in a crude manner. He further hypothesised certain environmental objects were symbolically related to human sexual anatomy and activity. This theorem now forms the basis of classic psychoanalytical theory. Unconscious recognition of male and female genitalia and the act of sexual intercourse may be sexually arousing and motivating although the individual may not be consciously aware of the object's sexual associations and symbolic content. Objects which were sexually symbolic were referred to as phallic and vaginal symbols. By themselves, these were not thought to be embedded within the unconscious but instead the associative processes which recognised the symbol as sexual, because its characteristics were sexual. He believed symbols were connected in prehistoric times by conceptual and linguistic identity. Hence the origins of symbolic expression were primarily sexual and genetic. These were universal and unlearned, transcending cultural differences. Freud did however accept culture and learning could have a secondary effect on symbolic processes. Positive associations have been established by experimental research and most authorities would now agree the association between geometric diagrams serving as abstract phallic and vaginal symbols and ratings of masculinity-femininity are valid for non-psychiatric adults and children. (Cameron, 1967; Jones, 1956; Lesser, 1962; McElroy, 1954; Ruth & Mosatche, 1985; Starer, 1955; Thouless, 1947). When experimental data showing positive effects for sexual symbols were interpreted from a psychological perspective, several researchers have cautioned that cultural stereotyping may provide a significant confound. Schoenbar and Davitz (1960) contended several sexual symbols were stereotyped according to prevailing cultural sex roles. This implied depending on which symbols were used what may be affected is not a subject's unconscious associations due to latent sexuality of Freudian symbols, but rather the subject's associations due to obvious male and female cultural connotations. The authors concluded that certain symbols may be more culturally stereotyped due to perceived sex-role connotations whereas others may be more culturally neutral, and perhaps universal as Freudian theory suggested. Barker (reported in Lesser, 1964 ) found where culture was not a variable, sexual designations did not differ from chance; where culture was a variable, sexual designation was in terms of cultural meaning, whether it agreed with or conflicted with the Freudian projection. Schonbar and Davitz (1960) found where culture was not a factor there was no clear cut definition of sexual meaning; where culture was a factor it was in general culture rather than form which determined the sexual meaning of the object. This was true for both the denotative and connotative designations of sexual meaning. The concept that cultural factors alone determine sexual meaning in a universal way can exist only to the extent the cultural elements were similar or identical for large numbers of people.
Freudian symbols and advertising liquor. Ruth & Mosatche, (1985) examined the effects on consumers of Freudian symbolism in the advertising of liquor. They found no main affect for sexual symbolism but sexual imagery and affect were significantly influenced in the presence of Freudian symbols in the adverts. These findings support the psychoanalytic assumption that phallic and vaginal symbols trigger unconscious recognition that is sexually arousing. Ruth (1990) suggested unconscious recognition of phallic and vaginal symbols in adverts for liquor may motivate an observer toward goal directed behaviour i.e. Freud symbols when paired with a product in an advert may motivate individuals to purchase that particular product. Results suggested that adverts for the same product may influence consumers differently when Freudian symbolism was present versus absent. The psychological theory would indicate the presence of phallic and vaginal symbols trigger an unconscious recognition due to their latent sexual characteristics. The authors held the belief the unconscious did not itself define objects or distinguish fine details but instead the genital symbols triggered an unconscious recognition of what was actually being symbolised, i.e. the male and female genitalia. Freud postulated the conscious awareness of genital sexuality was threatening for the ego and was therefore repressed in the unconscious. This could however still arose individuals without their awareness of the actual source of stimulation. The authors concluded observers were sexually aroused without being aware that the symbols in the advertisements were the agents responsible for their arousal. They believed this was supported by psychoanalytical theory. Key (1974) suggested the sexual arousal which stemmed from genital symbolism in the advertisement would, in turn, become associated with the specific product being advertised and motivated consumers purchasing behaviour.
History of footwear marketing. The advertising focus of shoe advertising has remained consistent over the last century with emphasis on quality of manufacture and fashion (Shoe World website, 2000) At the beginning of the 20th century most advertisements appeared in newspapers and magazines as simple sketches of attractive shoes accompanied with descriptive copy highlighting key features of the product. (Baren, 1998). Increased competition and new advancements in technology meant shoe companies developed more astute ways to attract their customers. Manufacturers and retailers worked to create recognisable identities for their products and by the middle of last century stores were developing their own styles, running large adverts in quality fashion magazines through Co-ops. Department stores would pay part of the advert in exchange for promotion. After World War II, changes due to urbanisation and developing suburbs meant new marketing strategies including direct consumer advertising throughout the media. New footwear adverts focused on products and lifestyles which was a radical change from the illustrations and characterisations. Nike, in the 1970s were the first to present new advertising campaigns with catchy logos that appeared in image laden print as well as on television. Soon popular personalities were paid to endorse their products in print and television commercials. As shoe firms launched increasingly attractive and complex campaigns, branding became the emphasis and in the 90's, advertising strove to turn brand names into household words. This strategy was paralleled in fashion marketing as consumers recognise branded labels as the all important feature rather than the old school qualities synonymous with style and fit. Vigorito and Curry (1998) described magazine pictures and adverts as carrying significant messages about cultural (material culture of capitalism) norms and values, including the norms of gender relations. The authors believed mass media was the lens through which people saw themselves. The benefit was people could aspire to models of masculinity and femininity but rarely attained the culturally idealised form of these. A convention of mass media was to elicit a positive audience response by presenting images which reinforced stereo-typical gender definitions. According to McKenzie (1997) the emergence of a sporting culture in the last 150 years has been the acceptance of physically fit athletic men and women as cultural and aesthetic ideals. The perfect body had become an object of desire and consequently most sports clothing were designed not just to be technically efficient and increase a competitor's effectiveness but also to reveal the body beneath it. From the first release of a keep fit, aerobic video in 1982 sports clothing became high fashion items with shoes to complete the outfit. Both media and cosmetic industries reinforced their belief in new health exercise and youth movement by promoting it as a market opportunity. Drab sweat suits became passé and were replaced by fashioned exercise gear, designed specifically to catch the eye in both gym and high street. Freedom of movement and fitness were reflected in contemporary popular music with loose fitting clothing the preferred style of the emerging 80's. Outfits were not complete unless worn with expensive sport shoes, usually endorsed by celebrities from professional sport.
Social Phenomena of Sports Shoes
Since the 70's sports shoes have become extremely popular and are now worn as fashionable footwear and not just for sport's purposes. This phenomenon is not new and was first recognised by Morris in The Naked Ape (1967) who postulated most shoe design innovations were, from antiquity, modifications of shoes designed for recreation such as athletics and dancing. Shoes contain a wealth of social messages both literally as well as symbolically and these are strongly affiliated with cultural rhythms (Hanna, 1985; Rossi, 1993). In terms of sales, baby boomers make up the bulk of the consumer market and one reason for the popularity of sports shoes has been this generation want to be fitter and healthier as they grow old. Although the relationship between young people's identities and their consumer patterns remains relatively uncharted. Miles, (1995) suggested at such a vulnerable time as coming of age one of the few things to make sense is their role as consumers. The author quoted the works of Willis (1990) who attempted an analysis of the relationship between young people’s culture and the state. He conceptualised young people's efforts to use the symbolic resources provided by the cultural industries as a means of creatively fashioning youth experience, identity and expression. The authors of this paper presented some of their findings from a project that dealt with youth, identity and consumption. As part of the information gathering consumers was asked what attracted them to a particular pair of trainers; or why did they think this particular pair was popular among their peers. The priority was for the consumer to discuss the role of training shoes had in their lives and that factors might influence their role. The meanings young people endowed consumer goods with varied according to a whole range of class, gender and ethnic influences. The authors believed consumption provided a language common to all which transcended perceived differences. Trainers were not viewed as simple shoes for sport but instead become a complex system of meanings associated with a specific brand. These according to Miles reflected a complex system of negotiated communal meanings between young consumers. It was not the specific qualities of the training shoe itself that appealed to young people but the meanings endowed in such shoes in peer context. Young people readily accept the value of consumption as a means of affirming status in the social group and as long as that social group was important to them then consumer trends inevitably played a significant role. Young people focused on their training shoes as an important means of establishing social hierarchies and self identity within their subcultures. This image is thought to transcend gender.
Positive associations have been established by experimental research and most authorities would now agree the association between geometric diagrams serving as abstract phallic and vaginal symbols and ratings of masculinity-femininity are valid for non-psychiatric adults and children. From the literature reviewed there would seem to be general consensus of opinion from informed sources as to the validity of Freud's theories on sexual symbolism. Some authors have cautioned cultural stereotyping may provide a significant confound i.e. some symbols may be more culturally stereotyped due to perceived sex-role connotations whereas others may be more culturally neutral, and perhaps universal as Freudian theory suggested. Key (1974) (cited in Ruth & Mosatche, 1985) hypothesised sexual arousal which stemmed from genital symbolism in the advertisement which could become associated with the specific product being advertised and hence influence the consumers purchasing behaviour. Ruth & Mosatche, (1985) examined the effects on consumers of Freudian symbolism in the advertising of liquor. They found no main affect for sexual symbolism but sexual imagery and affect were significantly influenced in the presence of Freudian symbols in the adverts. These findings further supported the psychoanalytic assumption that phallic and vaginal symbols triggered unconscious recognition that was sexually arousing. From an historical review of the history of shoes advertising it would seem the traditions of advertisements have changed dramatically over the last century. Subsequent to the fitness boom of the early 70's and 80's advertising copy has concentrated less on quality of manufacture and fit and more towards brand labels and life style image. With the vast majority of sports shoes selling to non- sport's persons the whole issue of marketing would seem an appropriate area for inclusion of Freud's sexual symbolism. Modern preoccupation with physical fitness as an aesthetic ideal means the perfect body or the cultural sensitive image has appeal to a wide market range i.e. from the Baby Boomer generation to today's youth culture. From the literature reviewed direct marketing of sports shoes to niche markets did contain advertisements with and without Freudian symbolism. Examples of pictures with text (no Freudian symbolism), and life style imagery (with Freudian Symbolism) were regularly featured within adult magazines.
From the literature reviewed there would seem to be general consensus of opinion from informed sources to support the validity of Freud's theories on sexual symbolism. Researchers have examined the effects on consumers of Freudian symbolism in the advertising of liquor and concluded the presence of Freudian symbols in the adverts had significant influence. There are many similarities between advertising liquor and sports shoes i.e. not gender specific and advertisement copy prefers the promotion of life style rather than text based presentation on quality of manufacture.
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