It’s recently come to my attention that the world is like a giant onion. It’s filled with all these layers of walls that we build to protect us from the harsh realities of the world. The first crumbling wall is usually the hardest. For most people, this was finding out that Santa Klaus wasn’t a big, fat man. He was just a big, fat lie. Following this first pitfall, it began to dawn on most of us just how many lies our parents told us to protect us. But these lies were built with kindness. When the walls around us begin to fall, it is innately human to seek to find a way to build them back up again.
Enter advertising. George Santayana once said that “Advertising is the modern substitute for argument; its function is to make the worse appear the better.” You don’t need a lesson in philosophy to know that people never really know what makes them happy, yet it is the eternal quest of human kind to find happiness.
Here are some of the beautiful traditions in life that advertising created for you, with love:
Diamond engagement rings:
Despite popular belief, Beyonce was not the first person to establish that liking someone directly relates to putting a ring on it. In the year 1939, engagement rings in the western world were mostly an indicator of wealth. Diamond company De Beers needed to boost the sale of diamonds, so they appointed N. W Ayer & Son to begin a vigorous advertising campaign. They infiltrated fashion magazines, asserting that all respectable males would offer a diamond ring in exchange for a woman’s hand in marriage. They later released the “Diamonds are forever” campaign, establishing the “two months salary” rule. This tradition is now worth billions of dollars world wide. I highly doubt that this news is about to make any women rush to return their rings in disgust.
Santa Claus and Rudolph:
Most people are aware that Santa Claus used to be dressed in green. The infamous red suit was developed by Cocla Cola in the 1930s during a Christmas campaign, and it stuck. However, even Rudolph, the loveable red-nosed reindeer was also concocted (or lovably crafted) by advertisers. Whilst he was developed to stand alongside Santa Claus, it was originally feared that his red nose would suggest he was an alcoholic. Fearing that this would promote immoral behaviour, advertisers wrote a jingle and a backstory to little Rudolph’s nose, building a commercial empire around Christmas. Today, little children all over the world sing of his plight each Christmas. Rudolph was an alcoholic all along. I can’t say that one didn’t hurt.
Bacon as a breakfast food:
Breakfast was traditionally founded on the roots of cereal, toast and coffee. However, when bacon sales were waning back in the 1920s, Beech-Nut Bacon knew they had to invent a meal where bacon was irreplaceable. Loose research suggested that a big breakfast was better for your health than no breakfast at all. Thus came the birth of bacon and eggs for breakfast. Original ads included doctors supporting the “healthiest” start to the day. Eventually the doctors had to be removed from ads for obvious reasons. Not surprisingly, such a complete reconstruction of the concept of breakfast was crafted by Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward L. Bernays. I ain’t even mad.
Before WW1, spreads in fashion magazines suggest that women felt no inclination to shave their armpits or legs, let alone remove hair from any other part of their body. Then, when advertisers wanted to increase the amount of people who acquired razors, they decided to bring the other half of the population on board. The aristocrats of society quickly picked upon the trend. However, it wasn’t until Harper’s Bazaar magazine started featuring women with hairless underarms and legs that us hairy, middle class citizens picked up on the trend. Despite knowing that shaving is a social construct, I’m also aware that it’s a public duty to avoid smelling like a mouldy rag in enclosed spaces. Therefore, I endorse this construct. Especially on public transport.
There you have it – just because something is made up, it doesn’t mean it’s not true. At the heart of all these constructed traditions are practices that genuinely make millions of people many happy. If you don’t like them, don’t follow them. But for me, even if they are lies, I’m glad they exist.
Words by CYNDALL MCINERNEY, an advertising student who hopes to one day change the socially accepted food pyramid to include 2-3 daily servings of Nutella.