Aspirational Consumption Of Advertising Content Cultural Studies Essay

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William Mazzarella says that the content of advertising reflects the consumer orientation of the times, public tastes and the cultural politics being proliferated.

Over the years, the discourse of aspiration in the country also changed. 1990s onwards, when consumerism was being sold to the audience, the advertisements started showing the consumer getting individual and collective fulfilment by means of pleasure rather than sacrifice, spending rather and saving. (Emphasis on saving going back to Gandhian philosophy and Nehruvian socialism).

With the help of advertising, this 'aspirational' consumerism was able to link individual desires to the ongoing globalisation and universal progress which was seen to be both material and aesthetic. It also combined the 'local' culture with the international feel using global images. Advertising attaches the word 'aspirational' to objects and images, creating a "longing or desire for that which is above one's present reach" especially for that which is "noble, pure or spiritual". A desire for such objects stems from an inner desire for personal transformation, for advancement on the generally accepted index of modernity or progress.

On the face of it, aspiration seems to be an inherent property existing within all of us. However, a closer examination reveals that discourses of aspiration are created through the circulation of multiple texts in advertising, movies, journeys, conversations etc. which go into constructing 'aspiration' in a social context.

As Pramod Nayar says in his book Packaging Life, we use material objects to complete/reflect our identity. Objects from which we derive "comfort" actually provide some pleasure to the physical body along with emotional satisfaction. However, to make sense of these material objects, we need institutional structures; for e.g., fashion is the structure which helps us construct meaning of our costume and accessories. "Pop culture", "coolness" are all social constructs under which consumers assess and take consumption decisions. (Nayar, 2009)

The Aesthetic image - creating a source of power

The association of the "aesthetic" with "fine art" has come from a modern European perspective. Our idea of superior aesthetics creates in our mind two distinctly separate categories of fine art versus everyday life, that of artistic 'freedom' versus everyday 'utility'. From here also stems what constitutes the idea of "good taste". The idea of having cultivated 'good taste' and having the capability to own possessions that qualify as high art brings in power equations and cultural superiority.

Thus, riding on the back of the aesthetic image is aspiration which stems from the need to possess more power in the social context and hence people want to possess more.

A simple example of this in our lives would be that a husband's salary simply must be more than his wife's (if she is earning at all that is). Because in a patriarchal society, it is important to maintain the power of a husband over his wife and one of the most important symbols of this power is his wealth. Situations where the wife earns more than her husband, therefore, come across as strange or incongruous to our minds which are so attuned to the power relations endorsed by the patriarchy we are living in.

According to Mazzarella, "aesthetic politics always involve a double claim"- that of the "natural" and that of "good taste". Since aspiration is constructed as an inherent desire it is natural and the aesthetic appeal of the imagery adds the good taste.


The term Orientalism refers to the depiction of certain aspects of the Eastern cultures of the world by designers, academicians, artists and writers of the West. Edward Said, in his book Orientalism, criticises the construction of the orient by the west as prejudiced outsider interpretations of the East - "Orientalism is a way of coming to terms with the Orient that is based on the Orient's special place in European Western experience" (Said, 2001). According to him, the roots of this construction lie in the European imperialism of the 18th and 19th centuries and reflect the colonial attitudes. "The Orient was almost a European invention, and had been since antiquity a place of romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences." (Said, 2001)

Said noted that the orient (east) had been constructed as a binary opposite of the occident (west) by Europeans as the "other" against its which its own identity was being built. He wrote that the long tradition of romanticized, false images of Asia and the Middle East that had been circulated in Western culture had served as an implicit justification for the Europeans and Americans to fulfil their imperial ambitions.

Orientalism was used as an instrument of empire

Mazzarella observes the trend of auto-orientalism in advertising for product categories linked with luxury or indulgence such as body care, jewellery, premium apparel, hotels etc.

Aspiration to luxury (Comfort to luxury) Conclusion part?

Aspirational consumerism is linked simultaneously to both personal pleasure and collective social progress. Its roots are in the desires of individuals.

The 20th century has seen a shift in consumer culture - from comfort to luxury. Underlying this has been the shift from functional utility to artistry and aesthetics. Luxury, quite literally, comes from de luxe meaning the excess. Luxury brands are characterised with exclusivity, superior quality and heritage

"Packaging comfort and luxury is the deliberate creation of fantasies of transformation: ordinary to attractive, weak to strong, bare necessity to comfort"

Luxury is power? internal as well as external?