Conspicuous Consumption

The psychology of the human brain plays a critical role in advertising because uncovering the primitive transaction-inducing mechanisms means owning the knowledge to make millions in sales. One of these behavioural schemes is conspicuous consumption, and the aim of this blog post is to evaluate the idea that conspicuous consumption needs to be inserted in the right context in order to be beneficial to the consumer.

The term which was famously introduced by the Norwegian-American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen who defines conspicuous consumption as:

“[…] A means of reputability to the gentleman of leisure’


“[…] a consumption directed to the comfort of the consumer himself”.

Veblen, T., (1899), The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions, (4, 35–36)

Here the comfort of the consumer isn’t just provided by the leisure good itself, but rather by the reputability this consumption brings him. If we add the following further definition to Veblen’s initial concept,

“The tendency for individuals to enhance their image,

through overt consumption of possessions,

which communicates status to others.”

O’Cass, A., McEwen, H., (2004), Journal of Consumer Behaviour Vol. 4, 1, 25–39, Exploring consumer status and conspicuous consumption, (pp. 34—35).

we understand that the action is a form of non-verbal communication between the consumer and ‘others’. Feeding off Veblen’s research, O’Cass and McEwen conclude that this kind of consumption is unsuccessful unless ‘others’ observe and, as Wong and Ahuvia (1998) found, ‘the desire for conspicuous goods is determined by the consumer’s social networks’. 


This 2015 BMW ad was part of a revival campaign that showed how the German company made each year special by releasing  cars that became icons throughout the decades. It challenges the reader to consider the fact that the new BMW model could become the new icon of the summer. If the consumer wants to be seen as cool, confident and an expert that has great taste in cars, this car is the one because it will become an icon like the past models. The context in which the consumption of this product would work is stated right at the top of the ad: ‘BMW will guarantee a great summer’. This immediately transports the reader in the context of the hot season, when the social gatherings multiply and showing off, arriving in a cool car is something that would benefit the consumer’s image greatly.

the_palm_beach_post_sun__mar_27__1994_Source: The Palm Beach Post, (27 March 1994),

This Jaguar ad appeared in the Palm Beach Post in March of 1994. It features a beautiful 1994 Jaguar XJS convertible in what seems to be a hot Californian summer day, parked outside of a high school building. The copy states with confidence that this car would be perfect to show off at a high school reunion. Obviously catered to a wealthy male american, it puts the product in a very specific context where the opinion of the public is clearly important for the consumer’s image. This ad wouldn’t have worked if it was placed in a luxury automobile show, for example, because the car wouldn’t have stood out as being special and expensive.




Veblen, T., (1899), The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions, (4, 35–36).

Cass, A., (2004) Exploring consumer status and conspicuous consumption, Journal of Consumer Behaviour. (Vol. 4, 1, 25–39).

Wong, N. Y., Ahuvia, A. C., (1998) Personal Taste and FamilyFace: Luxury Consumption in Confucian and Western Societies.


Masculinity: a Smelly Issue

In this post, the idea of masculinity as a social construct is discussed. A look into fragrance advertising reveals the mechanisms that are exploited for profit.

Many scholars agree on the fact that the idea of masculinity is purely a social construct. Easthope refers to this issue as “the Masculine Myth” a constructed idea that is repeatedly reinforced by all sorts of media, including popular songs and advertising.

A quick look into the history of advertising brings us right at the heart of the problem.


As if the word “macho” wasn’t enough this advert shows a clear opinion on what it took to be a man in the 70s. Bearded jawline, open denim shirt that reveals a metal chain over a hairy chest, power pose and strong hands holding a bottle firmly. This man doesn’t even need a face, or an identity, to be a real macho guy, since it is all in his body.

The myth around masculinity is exemplified in an enormous number of ads that speak to men and especially in the perfume department. The same idea applies on today’s communications, what changes are perhaps the beauty standards.


This fragrance ad shows no hair, except for the nicely trimmed beard. Instead, tattoos have made an appearance covering a perfectly sculpted body that reminisces that of a professional athlete, reinforced by the huge football trophy he is holding on his shoulder, which is also the same shape of the bottle. Tiny, fragile and all-white women caress the product at the feet of the man, towering behind them.

The message is exactly the same, if not more amplified. It seems as though men and women belong to two completely different universes, completely ignoring the natural world. As Butler argues, the only reason behind the division of “human bodies” into female and male sexes is a mere economic necessity for the institution and naturalisation of heterosexuality, which is vital, especially for the perfume market. 

There is no doubt that selling perfumes as magic potions that pave the way for heterosexual sex is in fact working very well. But what are the effects of this propaganda causing to actual men?

As Storey finds “[Easthope] argues that dominant masculinity operates as a gender norm, and that it is against this norm that the many other different types of ‘lived masculinities’ (including gay masculinities) are invited to measure themselves.” The constant exposure to the “Masculine Myth” is causing other, less masculine, men to compare themselves to these false representations, damaging their self-esteem and inducing sales tapping into their apparent lack of masculinity.

With the study of new gender theories and the progress of the queer world making its way into the public eye, there should be a more positive way to sell male beauty products, a way that actually reflects the changing perceptions around the male figure.

Lynx has done an excellent job in grabbing this thought and for the first time a spectrum of different types of masculinities has been explored.



This ad tells men to love those details that make them unique, pushing the boundaries of masculinity in literally every direction.

Watch the full commercial for Lynx – Find Your Magic here:


Storey, J., (2008), Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: an Introduction, Fifth Edition, Pearson Education

Easthope, A., (1986), What a Man’s Gotta Do: The Masculine Myth in Popular Culture, Psychology Press

Butler, J., (1999), Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Routledge

Gender Stereotypes: the role of Advertising

This post will look at the depiction of gender roles within the advertising industry. Given that the public recognises that notions of gender-specific social roles have evolved over time, examples will be made to show that this evolution is documented in advertisements.

Whether it is advertising that follows social norms or society that shapes its ideas around the media is a tough question to answer. If we look at a time frame of 50 years, there is no denying that society has had its progresses and gender-based norms have come a long way. Sexism in media is still a hot topic nowadays and it is difficult to weigh in on the state of stereotyped depictions of genders. As Eisend finds, it much depends on the type of outlook. Is it pessimistic or optimistic?

“Pessimistic studies stress that women are still being portrayed in a negative, stereotypical way, and this kind of stereotyping is even becoming worse. […] Optimistic studies consider women as gaining substantial ground on their male counterparts and breaking out of negative stereotyping. They suggest that role portrayals in commercials are more representative of contemporary women and are gradually becoming equal to men (Furnham and Mak 1999; Sharits and Lammers 1983).”

Eisend, M., (2009), A meta-analysis of gender roles in advertising, (p. 420)

This could seem rather a simplistic conclusion, especially because it focuses on only one side of the issue, the way women are portrayed.

But what happens if we consider the male counterpart?


This famous image was part of Louis Vuitton’s Spring/Summer 2016 womenswear campaign. The casting of male model Jayden Smith to showcase pieces that are meant for women was positively acclaimed and considered as groundbreaking and example-setting. The campaign sparked a review of gender norms in the fashion industry and it paved the way for non-binary clothing and mixed sex fashion shows, which are on the rise today. The acceptance of gender-fluid fashion and fashion personalities comes at a time where trans awareness is made public by gender non-binary celebrities and characters in TV shows, especially on Amazon and Netflix — all of which are actively changing the perceptions of society. 

If it was for the optimistic route, one could say that if society changes for the better then advertising must follow. But the ultimate goal of an advert is to create revenue, this stands with no compromises, whether society is ready or not. A great example is the following ad.


This 1973 Barclaycard poster caters to women, promoting their personal use of credit cards. This came at a time where credit cards and loans were usually denied to women and only allowed on special circumstances, under the supervision of a male figure, either a husband or a father. The gender norm was that women were less reliable when left with financial responsibility, as they were mainly involved with housekeeping activities. This preceded the introduction of the Sex Discrimination Act in 1975. Shortly after the Government started pushing for more lans to help the economy.

This goes to show that advertising, with the mere aim of making profit, can lead a change in gender stereotypes ahead of its time.


Scott, J., Clery, E., (2012), Attitudes to gender roles: change over time (30th edition)

Eisend, M., (2009), A meta-analysis of gender roles in advertising, (p. 420)

Friedman, V., (2016), New York Times: Gucci Calls for End to Separation of the Sexes on the Runway. [online:, accessed 14 February 2017]

Murdoch, C., (2016), Vocativ: The Unstoppable Rise Of Gender-Fluid Fashion, [online:, accessed 14 February 2017]

Bates, C., (2016), BBC: Credit card sexism: The woman who couldn’t buy a moped, [online:, accessed 14 February 2017]