Semiotics and Consumerism

Advertising is one of the core business functions. Through advertising, firms not only make their products known to the existing and prospective consumers but also persuade them to make a purchase. The advertisers usually consider the cultural background, the financial status and tastes and preferences of the potential buyer when designing an advert. The advertisers aim at triggering the various items that may appeal and arouse interests. This essay examines two adverts by Guinness and Mercedes to determine their appeals and promotion of consumerism culture. Analysis indicates that through appealing to the consumers’ apparent points of weaknesses the advertisers cease to persuade; they covertly manipulate the customer into making a purchase. 

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The first commercial advert is a car advert by Mercedes. The product is a brand of Mercedes Benz known as the 2014 Mercedes Benz S65 AMG; one of Mercedes’ most expensive brand of cars. The visual starts by showing a black Mercedes car in close up. It then cuts to focus on some of the features of the car. For instance, the cameras pan the perimeter of the car to highlight its sleekness and remarkable contours. It also highlights the leather-covered steering wheel and seats. The message conveyed is this brand of Mercedes offers comfort and is a symbol of class that makes one stand out from the rest; an enabler of self-actualization. The advert then shows the car speeding on a road, slithering through an empty parking lot before climbing into a freeway at full speed. The advert then focuses on the scenic beauty elicited by the skyscrapers, the empty freeway, and a bridge. The Mercedes logo then appears at the end. There is no voice over or a human being participating in the advert. The car sounds, a mild soundtrack, and the visuals constitute the advert.

The second advert is a liquor advert by Guinness. The product is Guinness beer. The advert starts by showing an empty pub. The bartender pours Guinness drink into a mug and places it on a table with an empty chair. The next scene shows the pub is full with sports people apparently celebrating a victory, but the empty table and chair with a full glass beer is still conspicuous. The revelers would not touch it. There is also a similar scene of a girls’ night out. They, too, do not interfere with the empty chair and the beer. In another scene, a person tries to move the empty chair to another table but the bartender signals him to leave the empty chair right where it is. Eventually, a US military person, for whom the Guinness drink was reserved for, enters the pub. He looks startled by the gesture that the bartender had been making even in his absence, presumably in a battle field. The soldier places his bag down and lifts the glass; all the other revelers raise theirs to make a toast to the returning soldier. At the end, there is a voice over declaring “The choices we make reveal the true nature of our character.”


I chose these two commercial adverts because they appeal to different aspects enshrined in the American Dream. The two adverts appeal to social equality and privilege and distinction. The first advert by Mercedes appeals to the American’s desire for unequal social rewards while the Guinness advert appeals to our need to belong to a community. The Mercedes commercial’s main message is that purchasing a Mercedes car confers some form of distinction. It makes the buyers, as Solomon describes them, competitively elitists. As McKevitt pointed out, the consumerism culture has permeated every sphere of American’s lives. Today’s consumers are presented with a multitude of choices, but they still are unhappy. They are healthier, more educated and even more entertained, but they are not contented. In fact, McKevitt supposes that human beings got their priorities; instead of appropriating their innovations to solve the existing needs they instead create new needs. 

In this Mercedes car instance, the need is not only to go faster, to appear more refined, beautiful and afford more comfort but also to appear distinguished. As such there are no features that promote togetherness like a family or even a conversation. The need is to bring out individualism and accomplishment. The need is not merely to travel and arrive but to do so in style. The advertisers understand that human beings often have these desires, and they appropriate them to manipulate consumers into making a purchase. In the end, the buyer’s freedom of choice is nothing but an illusion of choice. The advertisers, through exploiting the discontentment fostered by the American Dream, appeal to the consumer’s need to enjoy unequal social rewards to their advantage. Instead of fulfilling real needs, the advertisers create a need for social distinction and status symbol and then pretend to fulfill it while optimizing profitability.

The Guinness advert sharply contrasts with the Mercedes commercial. The advert appeals to the American’s dream to belong to a community and enjoy social equality. The message is to recognize every member of the community and celebrate those we hold dear even when they are out of sight. It fosters egalitarian folksiness. It reminds Americans of the value of integrity; that the true test of a person’s character is what they do when no one is looking. Thus, even if the soldier in the advert enjoys a superior status, the status symbol is blurred by the sense of togetherness and care that the patrons in the bar express to one another.


In my opinion, the adverts are extremely persuasive as they explore a variety of appeals. The American Dream allows one to dream of excellence while at the same time fostering social equality. The Mercedes advert appealed to my sense of national origin. The desire to become distinct resonated with my cultural background that is informed by individualistic tendencies. I also reckoned I find the Mercedes advert persuasive since it had appeals that tugged my personal emotions. The Mercedes advert aroused in me the elitist need to enjoy comfort, speed, stimulation and self-esteem. However, I felt that the Guinness advert was persuasive for entirely different reasons. It elicited a sense of American populism. The advert appealed to my morals and emotions. I strongly felt compelled to make a toast for an invaluable member of the society who had arrived from an official duty. When I watched the commercial, I felt a strong sense of nationalism in recognizing the value of a fellow American. The advert had a social appeal that persuaded me to make a purchase if not for anything else then for affiliation and acceptance purposes.


In conclusion, different adverts have different appeals. In this instance, the Mercedes commercial, on one hand, appealed to the need for self-actualization and social status distinction. The Guinness advert, on the other hand, appealed to a sense of social equality and togetherness. The advertisers understand the variance in needs, tastes and preferences and employ behavior modification to appeal to the different things that their customers value to influence purchasing decisions. Consequently, even though it may seem that the customers have unlimited product choices, they do not. So long as the buyers are driven by consumerism, advertisers will continue to have a stranglehold on them when they are making purchasing decisions.

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