Advertisements try to sell values that enhance products, but do they reflect the market’s values or shape them?

Most advertising, no matter what the medium, tries to attach a value beyond the inherent value of the product or service being shilled.  According to standard ad theory, you do research to find out what values are of importance to the target market and work on connecting one or a few important ones to the product/service.

But as is often the case, the real world often works the other way.  Often the advertiser has to create the need for the value in the target market.  And sometimes it seems as if the advertiser has the choice of values—and which one it selects says more about its own needs and belief system than it does about the target market’s.

Take, as example, a current Home Depot radio ad.  Let me preface the impending diatribe by saying that Home Depot came into East Liberty, a poor minority neighborhood in Pittsburgh, several years after Sears had abandoned the neighborhood, and has revitalized the entire area by bringing consumers in and giving a lot of jobs to the local residents.  I always go to my inner city Home Depot instead of the Lowe’s in the new suburban lifestyle center.

Now to the radio ad:  A professionally friendly male announcer tells us that we can buy LED Christmas lights, which use much less energy than traditional lights.  The announcer then makes the connection to an important value to the consumer.

And is the connection to value that the LED lights let you save money? No, Home Depot doesn’t play on the frugality of Joe and Jane Sixpack during a recession.

Or, is it the fact that buying LED lights help you make the Holiday celebration more energy efficient? No. Home Depot doesn’t talk about green values either.

What Home Depot’s friendly announcer says is now you can keep your lights on longer for the same cost.

Of course!  It’s America!  When the cost of consumption goes down, consume more!  

So Home Depot misses an opportunity to distill the values of frugality and/or green consciousness, the very two values that we all need to cultivate to address the mess in which the human race finds itself, thanks to our massive over-consumption. 

Instead the “old-fashioned hardware store in an airplane hangar“ encourages the public to consume more.

Shame on Home Depot, but it’s to be expected.  To sell more of its consumer products, Home Depot wants to influence the buying public to consume more, even if what the public will be consuming is a) not for sale at Home Depot; and b) something of which our society really should be using a lot less.  Thus it imbues the product with the ideological imperative to consume more.

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