What Are You Even Watching?

It’s no secret that advertisements are everywhere. I heard somewhere that the only place you can escape ads in in your sleep. But what are we being sold when we see these commercials, billboards, and posters? What I am talking about is called “pseudo-spiritual marketing.”

What is Pseudo-Spiritual Marketing?

Basically this type of marketing supports the idea that having loyalty to a particular brand will lead to a sense of identity and add meaning to the lives of consumers. This style of marketing is one of the many explained in the documentary The Persuaders. As an example of pseudo-spiritual marketing, we’ll use an example from the film which inspired this post. The Persuaders shows some of the marketing behind an airline called “Song.” The “Song” airline airs a commercial in which it shows people being happy and successful, feeling completely satisfied with their lives. Never once does an actual airplane appear in the ad. Never once does it explain why this airline is better than another. What it does do is associate happiness and success with “Song.” It perpetuates the idea that being apart of “Song” means that the consumers are a part of this culture that “Song” is creating around itself.

How Did We Get Here?

After television gained massive popularity in the 1950’s, the advertisers had a brand new territory in which to sell products. Advertising back then was all about showing how your product was better than your competitor’s. One way to do this in ads was to use the “‘er words.” Better. Bigger. Nicer. Cleaner. All of the ‘er words that showed that your product was superior to the few others that you were competing against. As time went on, companies could not make the same claims. Nowadays most detergents will clean your clothes. Most vacuums will  suck up the dirt. Starting in the early 1990’s, the content of advertisements began to shift from what a product DOES to what the product REPRESENTS.

hoover_ad                                             hoover_ad_2014

Take these two ads from the same company; the one on the left being from the 1950’s and the one on the right being from 2014. “Happier” is the famous ‘er word used. The ad is simple saying that  Hoover vacuum will make a woman happier. Therefore, the Hoover is BETTER than its competitors. The ad on the right illustrates the pairing of brand loyalty to lifestyle. Having the Hoover vacuum in the streets of a big city, an absolutely preposterous place to have a vacuum cleaner, it reinforces the idea of the consumer having freedom.


Pseudo-spiritual marketing is a style that focuses on building brand loyalty by exhibiting certain lifestyles that the marketers wish to associate with their particular brands. Red Bull has the active, extreme lifestyle, while Kellogg’s has the happy-home vibe. Advertisements are no longer about what a product does. It’s about sharing a memorable experience with your audience. So the next time you look at an advertisement ask yourself, “what am I really looking at?”

Want to check out The Persuaders for yourself? Click here!


Photo Credit:

James Vaughan:

Tom Magliery:







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