Every time you turn on the TV, chances are you will see a commercial. Television advertisements have become a norm and are sometimes a nuisance and frequently ignored. More often that not, however, whether or not we are consciously watching a commercial or not, we are listening to a message that makes its way into our lives and affects us in the consumer decisions we make. One type of commercial often seen is car commercials. Every car company puts out some type of advertisement to get their product- their cars- out there in our everyday lives so that we will be more likely to by them.
However, many of these car commercials are about so much more than the car itself. In Practices of Looking, Sturken and Cartwright use the term ‘commodity fetishism’ to define one aspect of pop culture. They identify commodity fetishism as “the process of mystification that exists in capitalism between what things are and how they appear.” This is seen all the time in car commercials- people watch them and are fed the message that a car will give them self-worth, popular status, or a sense that they are a part of something important just because they have a certain type of car. Car commercials are largely about appearances.
Another way Sturken and Cartwright describe commodity fetishism is that things are “valued not for what they do but what they cost, how they look, and what connotations can be attached.” This is also seen all the time in car commercials, which advertise what car you should by if your want to look cool, be environmentally friendly, be affordable and several other suggestions but never really put much effort into informing viewers what the car actually does. With car commercials, that isn’t really necessary- everyone knows what the purpose of a car is- so companies try to sell other qualities of the car that they are selling.
One specific example of a recent car commercial is the ad for the Toyota Sienna Mini Van.
Here, the message is that if you buy this product, you could essentially be “awesome”, and this is especially catered towards parents. The commercial uses words such as “modern”, “stylish”, and “super good-looking” to describe the car.
Another Toyota commercial, this one for the Toyota Highlander, has nearly the same message.
The message here, which the kid is presenting, is: “Just because you’re a parent doesn’t mean you have to be lame.” These commercials also describe the car as stylish, cool, and classy.
There are many commercials that have similar messages, selling the car in a way that suggests certain images and attributes that go along with owning a certain brand of car. An Audi commercial puts value in being “green” and environmentally friendly while a Honda Civic commercial portrays than owning a Honda means that you’re “living cool.”
Sturken, M. and Cartwright, L. Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture.