In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • The Content and Consumption of Advertisements
  • Daniel Miller (bio)

Miller, Daniel. 1997. The content and consumption of advertisements. In Capitalism: An Ethnographic Approach. Oxford: Berg, 195–242. Reprinted with the permission of Berg Publishers.

The intention of this chapter is to undertake the kind of textual analysis of advertising that has been developed in cultural and media studies, but in addition to place my interpretation within the wider context of ethnographic enquiry, including the reading of these materials by some of people who were also main informants within the ethnography as a whole. The text that was analysed comprises of 100 television advertisements, mainly based on whatever came in sequence while recording, but with some bias towards drinks, given my general emphasis upon that sector. The selected ‘sample’ consists of 16 adverts for alcoholic drinks, 18 for other drinks, 9 for medicine or vitamins, 12 for food products, 5 for utilities, 15 for household products such as detergents, 11 for building or furnishing materials including electronics, 4 for baby products, 3 for banks or insurance firms, 2 for cars, and 2 each for shops and clothes, plus single adverts for products and services ranging from education courses to security firms.

Television advertising in Trinidad includes groups with just still cards and voice-overs, usually lasting between 7 and 10 seconds. My sample were taken from longer adverts. Roughly half would be 30 seconds, and the other half 15–20 seconds. They all include movement, either with persons or animation or graphics. A few adverts are longer, and a quite exceptional advert is that of Huggins furniture, which lasted for a full five minutes. This is longer than some of the gaps between advertising breaks! It is possible that one or two adverts that I have taken to be local, were in fact made by agencies abroad, for example, with American black models, but in most cases there are clues that help one to discern whether there is a local element in the production. Imported adverts are particularly common for certain products, such as perfumes and hair products. By contrast, shops, utilities and insurance are largely local, as are most beverage adverts other than some Colas. Detergents and household objects may come from either source. I also have an equally unsystematic collection of radio adverts collected by tape recording and press adverts obtained from cuttings. In addition I have the information obtained by sitting around within the advertising agencies when campaigns were being constructed and on some occasions asking advertising executives to comment on the adverts that I had recorded from television.

Of the many perspectives from which the content of the advertising could be analysed, mine is derived from one of the sub-themes of this volume, which is to document the nature and extent of localization in Trinidadian commerce. This will first be addressed explicitly, including the industry’s own conceptualization of the local. I will then take four examples of aspects of advertising content involved in localization: the portrayal of Trinidad, of ethnicity, and of gender and sexuality, and the use of language and music. Much of this is based on relatively overt statements and contents. But, in parallel with the last chapter, I want then to move from this treatment of adverts as representations of society to a more analytical treatment of the role of the commodity itself as image in advertising. This analysis of content is then followed by an analysis of the way adverts are viewed by Trinidadians.

The Analysis of Content

The Issue of Localization

In Chapter 3 it was noted that advertising lies at the centre of one of the most paradoxical findings with respect to local and global business. It is advertising, often regarded as a major source of global homogenization, that turns out to be a fierce proponent of localization . This is because of a contradiction by which the local firm or even the local office of a transnational only becomes of a significant size if it is asked to create its own advertising rather than to use ‘canned’ adverts. This in turn can only be justified by arguing for the specificity of the local. Localization of theme need not imply...