Advertising Educational Foundation
Abstract

Key Concepts in Advertising articles provide short lectures on important concepts to help understand advertising's place in society, culture, history, and the economy. This article focuses on the concept of dramaticrealism, which is defined and applied extensively in historian Roland Marchand's book Advertising the American Dream. A series of short videos provide background information about Marchand's book, define dramatic realism, and encourage viewers to apply the concept in their own creation and analysis of advertisements. In the end, viewers learn that dramatic realism reveals how ads represent everyday life and its problems. It draws attention to how advertisements can underscore the usefulness of a product or service by relying on anxieties and fears, as well as human wishes to be liked, included, and seen as desirable. A recommended reading list provides other sources to learn more about the concept and its associated topics.

Keywords

ad analysis, concepts, desirability, dramatic realism, fear, ideals, ideology, interpretation, Listerine, media literacy, norms, persuasion, representation, scare copy, self esteem, shame, social comparison, visual culture

Opening discussion about the concept of dramatic realism.
Video 1.

Opening discussion about the concept of dramatic realism.

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This opening video features a montage of infomercial scenes showing people unable to complete ordinary tasks without the help of an advertised product.1 Viewers are reminded that advertising can be defined as a tool of persuasion. However, critics of advertising have regularly asked, Is advertising a manipulative tool of persuasion?

Background about dramatic realism.
Video 2.

Background about dramatic realism.

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This video provides a background about the concept of dramatic realism, which is discussed in advertising historian Roland Marchand's important book Advertising the American Dream.2 The video also includes UK art historian John Berger's assessment of advertising as a tool to make people dissatisfied with themselves in order to imagine a better future through the purchase of products and services. The video also brings up important questions advertisers have asked themselves for some time: Are people convinced by friendly and kind words? Or do appeals to people's anxieties, fears, and insecurities persuade better? Based on these questions, viewers are asked to brainstorm how they would design a campaign for Listerine mouthwash.

Definition of dramatic realism and analysis of Listerine ads.
Video 3.

Definition of dramatic realism and analysis of Listerine ads.

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In this video, the concept of dramatic realism is defined and explained in detail by analyzing Listerine advertisements from the early 20th century.3 One learns that dramatic realism is an advertising tactic involving the exaggeration or over-dramatization of everyday problems. Products and services come in to "save the day" by addressing these problems. Often at the core of dramatic realism is making people feel insecure or worried about the unsympathetic judgments of others for not fitting in or being attractive or desirable.

Analysis of recent advertisements using the concept of dramatic realism.
Video 4.

Analysis of recent advertisements using the concept of dramatic realism.

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This video provides an analysis of several advertisements employing dramatic realism through their representation of insecurities that surround bodily functions: intestinal gas, defecation, sweat, discoloration of teeth, and menstruation.

Important summary points about the concept of dramatic realism.
Video 5.

Important summary points about the concept of dramatic realism.

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To summarize, this video reminds viewers that dramatic realism helps reveal how ads represent everyday life and its problems. It draws attention to how advertisements can underscore the usefulness of a product or service by relying on anxieties and fears, as well as human wishes to be liked, included, and seen as desirable. Dramatic realism also highlights social and cultural norms about what might be considered taboo and undesirable at a given moment in time. In the end, viewers are encouraged to think about what happens to people's self-image and self-esteem when advertisements rely on human insecurities and over-dramatized experiences in everyday life.

Gallery of In-Video Illustrations

Fig 1. HooperAoapjm, "'They talk about you behind your back'. Listerine ad promoting paranoia (1928)," reddit, June 12, 2019, . Women have tea in a sunroom. Two sit together on a settee and a third is walking out a doorway.
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Fig 1.

HooperAoapjm, "'They talk about you behind your back'. Listerine ad promoting paranoia (1928)," reddit, June 12, 2019, https://www.reddit.com/r/vintageads/comments/bzugmy/they_talk_about_you_behind_your_back_listerine_ad/.

Fig 2. Laura Clark, "How Halitosis Became a Medical Condition with a 'Cure,'" SmithsonianMag.com, January 29, 2015, . A woman in the foreground frowns as a smiling couple dances in the background. Listerine headline reads "Halitosis makes you unpopular."
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Fig 2.

Laura Clark, "How Halitosis Became a Medical Condition with a 'Cure,'" SmithsonianMag.com, January 29, 2015, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/marketing-campaign-invented-halitosis-180954082/.

Beccadovidavi, "Hilarious Gas Commercial," YouTube, March 11, 2007, .
Video 6.

Beccadovidavi, "Hilarious Gas Commercial," YouTube, March 11, 2007, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vVsvMbce5M.

Click to view video

Poo~Pourri, "Girls Don't Poop - PooPourri.com," YouTube, September 10, 2013, .
Video 7.

Poo~Pourri, "Girls Don't Poop - PooPourri.com," YouTube, September 10, 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZKLnhuzh9uY.

Click to view video

Larry Bridges, "Funny Deodorant commercial 'Sure:Unsure' by Lawrence Bridges," YouTube, May 30, 2009, .
Video 8.

Larry Bridges, "Funny Deodorant commercial 'Sure:Unsure' by Lawrence Bridges," YouTube, May 30, 2009, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wz5rYr-R2uM.

Click to view video

Fig 3. Sarah Everts, "How Advertisers Convinced Americans They Smelled Bad," SmithsonianMag.com, August 2, 2012, . A sad woman shifts a curtain as she eavesdrops on a group of men. Mum ad headline reads "And men can be such awful gossips too!"
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Fig 3.

Sarah Everts, "How Advertisers Convinced Americans They Smelled Bad," SmithsonianMag.com, August 2, 2012, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/how-advertisers-convinced-americans-theysmelled-bad-12552404/.

Fig 4. Walter Lim, "odorono ad," Cooler Insights, April 17, 2017, . A distressed woman overhears others saying "Hasn't she ever heard of Odo-ro-no?"
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Fig 4.

Walter Lim, "odorono ad," Cooler Insights, April 17, 2017, https://coolerinsights.com/2017/08/7-triggers-human-attention-digital-age/odorono-ad/.

Alfaz, "Colgate Sensation Whitening Commercial (1998)," YouTube, February 13, 2016, .
Video 9.

Alfaz, "Colgate Sensation Whitening Commercial (1998)," YouTube, February 13, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXorbw-1Wkk.

Click to view video

Fig 5. Jen Bell, "What advertising teaches us about periods," Medium, September 12, 2017, . Collage of 3 ads selling products related to feminine odor and periods.
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Fig 5.

Jen Bell, "What advertising teaches us about periods," Medium, September 12, 2017, https://medium.com/clued-in/what-advertising-teaches-us-about-periods-9ccb650114c2.

Tampax, "No Shame In Our Tampax Game | Time to Tampax with Amy Schumer," YouTube, March 8, 2021, .
Video 10.

Tampax, "No Shame In Our Tampax Game | Time to Tampax with Amy Schumer," YouTube, March 8, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4jaOWzfkJg.

Click to view video

Edward Timke

Edward Timke is an affiliated scholar with the Department of Cultural Anthropology and instructor of advertising, design, and creativity courses for the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative at Duke University. He is also Adjunct Professorial Lecturer for the School of International Service at American University. He is Associate Editor of Advertising & Society Quarterly and a contributor to ADText. Timke's specialties include advertising and media history, international advertising and media, and media theory and research methods. His work focuses on the role of advertising and media in shaping how different cultures understand and imagine each other. Timke received a Digital Humanities Advancement Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for the Circulating American Magazines Project (www.circulatingamericanmagazines.org). He has also received numerous awards and nominations recognizing his excellence in teaching and mentoring of student research.

Recommended Readings

Arthur, Damien, and Pascale Quester. "The Ethicality of Using Fear for Social Advertising." Australasian Marketing Journal 11, no. 1 (2003): 12–27. doi:10.1016/S1441-3582(03)70115-3.
Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin, 1972.
Cochrane, Lucy, and Pascale Quester. "Fear in Advertising: The Influence of Consumers' Product Involvement and Culture." Journal of International Consumer Marketing 17, no. 2–3 (2005): 7–32. doi:10.1300/J046v17n02_02.
Escalas, Jennifer Edson, and Barbara B. Stern. "Sympathy and Empathy: Emotional Responses to Advertising Dramas." Journal of Consumer Research 29, no. 4 (March 2003): 566–578. doi:10.1086/346251.
Ferranti, Michelle. "An Odor of Racism: Vaginal Deodorants in African-American Beauty Culture and Advertising." Advertising & Society Review 11, no. 4 (2011). doi:10.1353/asr.2011.0003.
Hastings, Gerard, Martine Stead, and John Webb. "Fear Appeals in Social Marketing: Strategic and Ethical Reasons for Concern." Psychology & Marketing 21, no. 11 (November 2004): 961–986. doi:10.1002/mar.20043.
Hunt, David, and Omar Shehryar. "The Nature of Fear Arousal and Segmentation of Target Audience in Fear Appeal Advertising: A Terror Management Perspective." American Marketing Association Conference Proceedings 13 (Winter 2002): 51–59.
Latour, Michael S., and Shaker A. Zahra, "Fear Appeals as Advertising Strategy: Should They Be Used?" Journal of Services Marketing 2, no. 4 (1988): 5–14. doi:10.1108/eb024737.
LaTour, Michael S., Robin L. Snipes, and Sara J. Bliss. "Don't Be Afraid to Use Fear Appeals: An Experimental Study." Journal of Advertising Research 36, no. 2 (March-April 1996): 59–68.
Marchand, Roland. "Keeping the Audience in Focus." In Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity, 1920–1940, 52–87. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.
Mukherjee, Ashesh, and Laurette Dubé. "Mixing Emotions: The Use of Humor in Fear Advertising." Journal of Consumer Behaviour 11, no. 2 (2012): 147–161. doi:10.1002/cb.389.
O'Barr, William M. "The Interpretation of Advertisements." Advertising & Society Review 7, no. 3 (2006). doi:10.1353/asr.2007.0010.
Pollay, Richard W. "The Distorted Mirror: Reflections on the Unintended Consequences of Advertising." Advertising & Society Review 1, no. 1 (2000). doi:10.1353/asr.2000.0012.
Reichert, Tom. "Advertising, Emotions in." In The International Encyclopedia of Communication, edited by Wolfgang Donsbach. June 5, 2008. doi:10.1002/9781405186407.wbieca019.
Richins, Marsha L. "Social Comparison, Advertising, and Consumer Discontent." American Behavioral Scientist 38, no. 4 (1995): 593–607. doi:10.1177/0002764295038004009.
Rotfeld, Herbert J. "Fear Appeals and Persuasion: Assumptions and Errors." Advertising Research, Current Issues and Research in Advertising 11, no. 1–2 (1988): 21–40. doi:10.1080/01633392.1988.10504926.
Schudson, Michael. "Advertising as Capitalist Realism." Advertising & Society Review 1, no. 1 (2000). doi:10.1353/asr.2000.0023.
Sherry Jr., John F. "Advertising as a Cultural System." In Marketing and Semiotics: New Directions in the Study of Signs for Sale, edited by Jean Umiker-Sebeok, 441–462. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1987.
Timke, Edward. "Key Concepts in Advertising: Social Tableaux." Advertising & Society Quarterly 21, no. 4 (2020). doi:10.1353/asr.2020.0032.
Yannotti, Danielle. "The Fear Factor in Advertising." Medium. September 27, 2017. https://medium.com/dumbstruck/the-fear-factor-in-advertising-f4e8cc473539.

Footnotes

1. The montage of infomercials discussed in this video comes from Jamin Schmitt, "Infomercial Montage [First World Problems]," YouTube, February 28, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qM4zMofsI7w.

2. Roland Marchand, Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity, 1920–1940. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

3. This video includes and discusses a short excerpt from an episode of Adam Ruins Everything: truTV, "Adam Ruins Everything - How Listerine Created Bad Breath," YouTube, November 2, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YdvFBxBD5g.

Additional Information

ISSN
2475-1790
Launched on MUSE
2021-04-28
Open Access
No
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