- Editorial Introduction
The common thread underlying this issue of Advertising & Society Quarterly could perhaps be summarized by the title of a hit sci-fi movie from 1985: we are Back to the Future. In 2019, we face anxiety from looking at a future that will result from present elements that are strikingly similar to turbulent times from our collective past: civil rights and identity struggles of the 1950s through the 1970s, a skewed concentration of wealth and consolidation of large corporate powers in the late 19th century, calls for more safety for individuals and society during the Progressive Era of the early 1900s, debates about the need to build or keep social and government programs in the 1930s and 1960s, and calls for more environmental protections in the 1960s and 1970s. Our problems from the past have not gone away, and, in some cases, it feels like we have gone backward in finding solutions.
Throughout these time periods, and especially today, advertising has played a central role in how identities are shaped, communities are formed, and what solutions are pursued for various cultural, economic, environmental, political, and social issues. There has always been hope for a better future, and advertisers have worked to enact particular possible futures, which have had significant consequences.
In this issue, several articles provide insights into potential futures made possible through the work of advertising and branding. Henry Jenkins brings us back to Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth's bestselling 1952 science fiction book The Space Merchants. Pohl and Kornbluth imagined a future where advertising and branding controlled much of society—so much so that people were even willing to kill others to get their companies ahead. The book was written at a time when cultural critics like Vance Packard (The Hidden Persuaders) and Jules Henry (Culture Against Man) worried about the post–World War II rise of consumer culture and advertisers' use of new psychological techniques to convince people to take up new products, services, and ideas. Jenkins details how he uses this dystopian, but sometimes humorous story to teach about advertising's and branding's place in society and culture, and how science fiction writers like Pohl and Kornbluth engaged with media theory to reflect on the unintended consequences of relying on particular communication technologies and practices.
Kim Sheehan explains how companies like CVS and Dove are trying to fight body image problems created by advertisers' longstanding use of photomanipulation. Through companies' creation of self-created seals that indicate that they do not manipulate photos in ads, social media, and packaging, some major brands are expressing their commitment to showing more realistic images of bodies and products. However, Sheehan's research shows how consumers may not recognize the purposes of these seals. Additionally, there are major unanswered questions about the ethics of a company self-promoting its non-manipulated work without outside certification.
Huan Chen and Brittani Sahm's article provides insights into the increased usage of big data and analytics in advertising through their interviews with advertising executives. In the last ten years, the advertising trade press has focused heavily on the need to embrace the digital and data revolutions. Data and analytics are seen as the future. However, Chen and Sahm's interviews reveal, and remind readers, that the future of data and analytics relies on "old-fashioned" human intelligence and know-how that cannot be replaced by an algorithmic robot or the charts and graphs of an Excel spreadsheet. Data and the tools used to understand them are not the be-all and end-all. Rather, the future of advertising depends on the hearts and minds of the humans working with algorithms and big data.
To continue the journal's exploration of masculinities, this issue presents Part II of the Roundtable on Masculinities and Advertising and Kevin D. Thomas' interview of filmmaker and activist Byron Hurt about the ways in which advertising and media have constructed particular notions of Black masculinity. In telling the story of how he became a filmmaker who is sensitive to the issues of intersectional identities and social justice, Hurt offers insights on how media can be used for cultural, social, and political change. He has...