Advertising and Fashion Shaping Social Identity

In this study, the following are the questions being investigated about the impact of advertising in fashion on social identity:

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  1. What is the relationship between fashion and social identity in modern society?
  2. How is fashioned shaped by advertisements in modern society?
  3. How has advertising in fashion impacted upon social identity?
  4. Why would people allow themselves to be influenced in decision making by fashion advertisements?
  5. What can be done to align emerging fashion with cultural values and identities?

Understanding the concept of social identity and its relevance in modern society

Social Identity and Group Membership

Kuada describes social identity as an individual’s sense of who he or she is based on group membership (44). Social identity is not unique to modern society. Traditionally, people belonged to various social groups that they identified based on several socio-cultural and religious beliefs. A human being highly values a sense of belonging. The feeling that one is acceptable within a given social group is emotionally rewarding, besides other benefits that it comes with, in the society.

Social Identity in Jewish History

According to Wood and Solomon, the biblical accounts shows how strongly social identity was valued by the people in the past (56). The Jews believed that they were special ones, chosen by God to rule the world. When they were faced with famine in their homeland, they went to Egypt where they eventually became slaves. They lived in Egypt for hundreds of years but they never embraced the Egyptian culture. They protected their social identity as much as they possibly could. They maintained their religion, their social practices, and the general way of life even though the Egyptians controlled much of their socio-economic lives. It is through this social identity that made it possible for them to remain united and move away from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land.

Social Identity in American History

A study by Buckingham shows that social identity is one of the reasons why most of the Native Americans stayed on reservations for a long time after the American Revolution (85). For a long time in America’s history, they have been fighting to protect their social identity. As the country went through a civil revolution in the 1960s when the minorities were fighting for an inclusive America where people could be granted equal rights to the country’s cake, most of them remained less active because they valued their social identity so much that they did not see the rationality of fighting for integration. It is estimated that over one million Native Americans still live on reservations. They try to maintain the traditional cultural practices passed to them by the previous generation.

Social Identity in Arab History

Evidence from Ruvio and Belk suggests that the Arab world can also be used as an example of how human beings highly value social identity (62). The Muslims in the Arab world have for centuries maintained their social identity, not only through their prayers, but also the dressing code and what they eat. Both men and women have maintained their dress code despite the increasing globalization that the world has witnessed. Among the Muslims who immigrate to other countries such as Europe and North America where they are the minority, social identity is never forgotten. It is easy to identify a Muslim simply by the mode of dressing, especially for women.

The Material Child

Buckingham, David. The Material Child: Growing Up in Consumer Culture. Polity, 2011.

Human beings are as individualistic as they are social. Whenever there is a common enemy, the need for unity becomes relevant. That is when the society forgets that there is the African American, Native Americans, the Whites, or any other social groups. However, when the common problem is solved, then the need to identify with a specific group becomes necessary. They start to realize that they are different in some ways and as such there should be identity differences created. The practice is often perfected during political campaigns.

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In modern society, a new driving force has emerged that is bringing about commonality in social identity. For a long time, some people tried to maintain the cultural practices passed to them by their forefathers. However, the increasing globalization has led to the constant interaction of people from other parts of the world. People borrow new identity during such interactions. The dress code is changing all over the world because of the interaction.

The strong bond that once held different communities together to the extent of limiting intermarriages or even simple interactions is increasingly growing weaker. The materiality of the modern society is pushing them away from the traditional social groups as they try to explore the world for greater success. Being a community hero is no longer enough for the modern generation. They want more from what the global society has to offer and they are keen on getting it at whatever cost, sometimes completely disregarding the social identity from a narrow perspective of a community or tribe.

Branding and advertisements in modern society and the role of media in defining identity

Arguments against media redefinition of social identity

In the modern corporate world, branding and advertising have become very critical as firms try to manage stiff market competition (Buckingham 34). Companies find themselves in situations where they have to fight for the market share and the only way of doing that is to be appealing to the consumers. As such, they start by developing a unique identity for themselves (branding) that makes them be easily differentiated from other companies.

Then they come up with promotional campaigns to make their brands and products popular in the market. Promotional awareness campaigns (advertisement) in modern society are invaluable. When customers go to the market, they want to purchase an item that they are familiar with. The familiarity is often created through advertisements. That is why people are often bombarded with advertisements through various platforms, especially in mass and social media so that they can be familiar with specific brands.

According to Buckingham (67), an advertisement is taking a completely new approach as society keeps changing. In the past, the interest of the advertising companies was majorly to inform potential customers about the existence of a brand in the market and the product that it offers. The message was more informative than persuasive. The potential customers would be informed about the brand, the products of the brand, where the products are available, and sometimes the average price.

However, this is completely changing in modern society because of the increasing competition. The message is becoming more persuasive than it is informative. The advertising agencies are under pressure to convince customers that products offered under a given brand are more valuable than others in the market. The persuasive nature of the advertisements in the modern society is driven by the desperate need by the companies to convince potential customers that products they offer are of good quality, even at times when that is not true. These companies want sales to continue surviving in the market. Sales can only be maintained if customers in the market are convinced that they offer quality in the market. The report shows that the pressure sometimes forces them to promise more than they can deliver.

Advertising Menswear

Jobling, Paul. Advertising Menswear: Masculinity and Fashion in the British Media Since 1945. McMillan, 2014.

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In a business world that is driven by the desire to remain relevant in the face of the increasing market competition, companies are increasingly turning on to advertisements as a way of achieving success. Firms are aware that customers currently have several options to make in the market. As such, they try to influence their decision making processes when they play to make a purchase. They pass a message to them informing them that a certain brand offers superior quality to others.

Sometimes customers find it difficult to make the right choice because of the constant adverts in both social and mass media. They are promised a lot in these adverts and sometimes when they make the purchase, they fail to get the value promised. They find it difficult to know which brand is genuine in its promise and which is not.

Companies are currently using social identity to promote their products in the market. It started by associating some products to animals that are revered in specific communities. It would be common to find car manufacturers associating their brand with powerful animals like jaguars. Knowing that the society cherished this animal as a prolific hunter, they want to convince potential customers that their car is as efficient in service delivery as the jaguar is when it comes to hunting or protecting the territory. This strategy demonstrated that the advertising agencies had understood that the best way of reaching the heart of the consumers is to identify with them.

They have to understand what they value and then develop a message associating their brands and products with these valued items. For instance, most of the advertising agencies in China know that Chinese are very sensitive to color and they specifically value the color red because it is associated with good luck and royalty. It explains why most of the adverts in this country actively use this color or its strains because it wins favor among the Chinese audience.

Social Identity in the Twilight Series

Morey, Anne. Genre, Reception, and Adaptation in the Twilight Series. Routledge, 2016.

The concept of social identity in fashion advertising is being taken to a whole new level. Soon after the end of the Second World War, there was a race of ideology, between capitalism and socialism. It was not just a race to influence the rest of the world economically but also socio-culturally. The West came out as emphatic winners not just in spreading their economic ideology but also socio-cultural ideologies to the rest of the world.

They did that with the help of the media. American movies became popular not just in the Americas and Europe but, also in the Asia Pacific and Africa. Children growing up watching these movies started idolizing the American movie stars. They wanted to be like them, talk like them, walk like them, wear like them, and have mannerisms that closely resembled these movie stars. A new breed of people is emerging from all over the world that is moving towards a similar identity that is portrayed in the popular Hollywood movies.

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Then there is the American music that is gaining popularity around the world. Legendary musicians such as Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston have made a massive impact on the identity of various people around the world. Their unique voice and commitment to the entertainment industry have had a massive impact on the lives of so many youths during their time as top musicians. The people who were influenced by these musicians find it difficult to go back to a traditional culture that was passed to them by their parents. They lead a life that is completely different from that of their parents before them.

The American dream is another area that has to lead to the redefinition of the social identity of people all over the world. There is a feeling that it is only in the United States that dreams become realities. It is true that after many years of commitment by the leaders and the society to develop working systems and structures, it is now possible for people to work towards their dreams and get the support of the society.

However, one must understand that it took time and sacrifice to develop such a society and that the environment is not unique to the United States. However, trying to emulate the American culture while one is living in the emerging economies may sometimes lead to social problems. The problem with the advertising agencies is that they portray the American culture as cool and relevant in the modern century. They forget that the United States is the largest economy in the world. They also forget that the purchasing power of individual Americans is one of the highest in the world. They sell to the people of the world a social identity that they cannot afford.

They get the image that things like cars, regular holidays, and expensive entertainments are very basic. However, the reality in these emerging economies is that these items are a preserve for the rich. As such, frustration emerges among those who try to embrace such new social identities. They embrace the American culture while in essence, they lack the financial capacity to lead such a lifestyle. Some end up being criminals, partly because some of these Western movies idolize criminals, and partly because they want to live the American dream.

Manipulation is another area that the advertisement agencies have become perfect. This is not just in the United States but also in other parts of the world. The society has superstars who have excelled in socio-economic and political aspects of life and they are admired for that. Many people admire Barrack Obama for having defied all odds to become one of the youngest presidents of the United States. Christiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are admired because of their talent in football.

Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson had a huge following because of their skills in boxing rings. Tiger Woods is known because of his golfing skills, while Michael Jordan is a legend in basketball. The advertising agencies often portray these superstars as heroes that should be emulated. They are viewed as the epitome of the ideal world. They get to manipulate their audience into believing in a new social identity as that brought out by these celebrities.

Social identity is now defied by material things like dress code, type of phone one has, cars that one drive, and food that we eat. It is no longer about how people behave and relate to one another. Individualism is becoming more common than was the case before because of the culture that is popularized by the advertising agencies.

Arguments in favor of media redefinition of social identity

It is important to appreciate that there are some benefits of media redefinition of social identity. Tsai and Linjuan say that several female genital mutilations that were part of social identity among some of the communities in the developing countries have been successfully fought and eliminated with celebrities (78). Top celebrities such as Angelina Jolie and Serena William have traversed the world campaigning against these social identities that are not only dangerous but also negatively impact the lives of women in society. Society admires these celebrities and would want to lead a life similar to theirs.

These celebrities have a massive influence on their lives and whatever the champion is likely to be embraced by their admirers. When they fight against the culture of female genital mutilation and regard it as a retrogressive culture, their admirers are likely to change their lifestyle because they believe in the new social identity championed by celebrities. Mitchell Obama has traversed the world during her time as the first lady of the United States championing for the education of girl child.

As a lady who is admired in the fashion world, ladies would want to be like her. Caring fathers would want their daughters to be like her. Using both mass and social media platforms, she has been able to pass a message to the global society that empowers the girl-child and women in general. Her redefinition of social identity is having a positive impact on the target audience.

The advertising in the fashion and the impact it has had on social identity has had benefits in promoting a united global society (Abrahamson & Prior-Miller 76). People from all over the world are realizing that we are facing the same global problems and that our goals in life are the same. In fashion advertisements, there is a new emphasis on protecting the environment. The advertisers have realized that the middle class is becoming sensitive when it comes to the issue of protecting the environment. As such, most of the promotional campaigns in the fashion industry often include how the brands are keen on delivering their products in a way that affects the environment the least.

Concepts such as going green and reducing greenhouse gases become trending in both the mass and social media because they are constantly mentioned during the promotional campaigns. Social identity is, therefore, is defined based on environmental conservation. People want to be seen as champions of the environment because it is what the media champion in modern society.

Identity and consumerism in fashion

The concept of consumerism has never been more relevant than it is in modern society (Buckingham 54). Competition in the market has become increasingly competitive as firms struggle to remain relevant in the market. To outperform the market competition, some firms come up with genuine ways of offering high-quality products that meet or even exceed expectations of customers in the market. The problem that consumers face is that they are bombarded with advertisements that make it almost impossible to make decisions about what is appropriate to meet their needs. Every brand and product in the market appeals to the identity of the customers.

If a product is not associated with a top footballer, then it would be associated with a top basketball player or any other celebrated person in the community. Little is done to ensure that consumers are well informed so that their decisions can be based on facts. Ensuring that companies offer what they promise is not enough. Consumerism also involves that buyers are properly educated. They should understand how each product relates to their social identity.

Entities exist which are keen to ensure that consumer’s rights are protected. Empowering consumers through education is not just a responsibility of the government. The stakeholders in fashion should also ensure that they hold themselves into account. The message they pass to the audience should be age-appropriate and in line with the values and cultural identity of the society. The message should be in line with the socio-cultural practices.

Greed in the current society has pushed the relevant stakeholders to find ways of protecting the consumers (Moss 45). Greed is taking different forms of fashion advertising. However, the scholar primarily focuses on the effort by the advertising agencies to manipulate the target audience. For a long time, advertising agencies were keen on aligning their message with the social identity of the audience. However, greed is driving some of these stakeholders to the edge.

They no longer believe it is important to align their message with the identity of their potential customers. However, they are fully aware that customers can only purchase an item if they identify themselves with it. As such, they are trying to create a new identity for people in a way that is favorable to them. They are shifting the post in terms of culture and beliefs, from what used to be the norm before to something likely to be beneficial to their products.

A good example is the promotion of Western fashion at the expense of the ones used by Arabic women. In most of the fashion shows, it is almost impossible to find the jilbab and hijab, some of the most common dresses for Islamic women. These dresses were worn not only to bring out the beauty of the wearers but also as a sign of respect. However, those in the fashion industry are keen on ensuring that a given dress style does not stay long in the market for them to make profits.

The advertisers in fashion design want a situation where people change from one fashion to another so that they can make money (Leavitt et al. 51). Unfortunately, some of the dresses worn based on some traditions do not make it possible to make significant changes from one fashion design to the other. As such, the advertisers in the fashion industry, because of their greed, come up with a unique way of changing the social identity of their target audience.

They convince them that what they are using is old fashioned and not in line with the emerging trends. They remind them that to identify with global celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, they have to rethink about using traditional clothing. As such, the audience is made to believe that the social identity that they have embraced for centuries, in terms of dress code, must be discarded and a new one embraced. They change their social identity in the process, not because they feel it is the right thing to do.

They act under pressure from a society that is keen on emulating the West. As a way of being a member of the new society and being accepted in the culture of the West, they easily change their culture. This greatly benefits the advertisers in the field of fashion because that is just one step towards ensuring that they get as much money from them as they can in terms of sale of various products. The next step is to ensure that they regularly change from one fashion to another.

As trends in fashion continue to change under the new easily manipulated culture, the consumers get to spend a lot as the companies get to earn a lot from them. While the affected individuals believe that they are remaining fashionable based on the information fed to them from the media, the companies get to earn a lot of money, making them able to expand their operations and remain operational despite the stiff market competition.

Protecting consumers while ensuring that the fashion industry flourish

Consumer Culture

McDonald Matthew, Stephen Wearing. Social Psychology and Theories of Consumer Culture: A Political Economy Perspective. Taylor & Francis, 2013.

The fashion industry is very important and their need to promote their products and brand is justifiably important. However, it is also necessary to appreciate that the social identity of a person is also important. The players in this industry must understand that the social identity of a people makes them unique and it creates diversity in the society that is beneficial to everyone. Manipulating the audience to shift radically from their socio-cultural practices to something completely different from their values and norms may sometimes be immoral, especially if the pure drive is money.

The diversity in our society makes it possible for society to have different perspectives from which various problems in our society can be addressed. The media and the advertisers in the fashion industry should make a point of celebrating different cultural practices with the view of selling their promotional messages to a wider audience in the market. It is a fact that in the modern globalized market, it is easy for Multinational Corporation to come up with a fashion that can target the entire global market. However, this should not be achieved at the expense of the social identity of a people. It should not be the reason why the Native Americans or the Aboriginals in Australia get to forget their cultural practices and beliefs.

User Generated Content Consumption

Tamara, Ansons, et al. Handbook of Research on Digital Media and Advertising: User Generated Content Consumption. IGI Global, 2012.

Fashion and culture can be promoted concurrently instead of having situations where fashion is promoted at the expense of social identity. People are hugely influenced by what they see in mass and social media. When they are constantly exposed to promotional campaigns, films, songs, and national discourse that criticize their culture, they because of the need for acceptance, they are likely to have a new social identity.

However, it is important to note that some of these social identities promoted cohesion and social units as platforms where societal problems are solved. Unity in society is indeed critical in solving problems that we often face both politically, socially, and economically. However, when the emerging trends champion for a social identity that cherishes individualism at the expense of unity, then one can easily guess that shortly it will become impossible for people to work as a unit to address the social problems.

Many will be asking how they stand to benefit from any activity they undertake. The values embraced in the past where a win of a neighbor is a win for everyone else is quickly fading away not only among the Americans but also in other parts of the world. Unfortunately, the increasing culture of individualism is championed by advertising in the fashion industry. The stakeholders in the fashion industry need to ensure that advertising in fashion is aligned with the social identity of the targeted groups of people.

Works Cited

Abrahamson, David and Marcia Prior-Miller. The Handbook of Magazine Research: The Future of the Magazine Form. Taylor & Francis, 2013.

Buckingham, David. The Material Child: Growing Up in Consumer Culture. Polity, 2011.

Jobling, Paul. Advertising Menswear: Masculinity and Fashion in the British Media Since 1945. McMillan, 2014.

Kuada, John. Research Methodology: A Project Guide for University Students. Samfundslitteratur, 2012.

Leavitt, Peter, et al. “Frozen in Time: The Impact of Native American Media Representations on Identity and Self-Understanding.” Journal of Social Issue, vol. 71, no. 1, 2015, pp. 39-53.

McDonald Matthew, Stephen Wearing. Social Psychology and Theories of Consumer Culture: A Political Economy Perspective. Taylor & Francis, 2013.

Morey, Anne. Genre, Reception, and Adaptation in the Twilight Series. Routledge, 2016.

Moss, Mark. The Media and the Models of Masculinity. Lexington Books, 2011.

Ruvio, Ayalla, and Russell Belk. The Routledge Companion to Identity and Consumption. Routledge, 2013.

Tamara, Ansons, et al. Handbook of Research on Digital Media and Advertising: User Generated Content Consumption. IGI Global, 2012.

Tsai, Sunny and Rita Linjuan. “Motivations and Antecedents of Consumer Engagement with Brand Pages on Social Networking Sites.” Journal of Interactive Advertisement. vol. 13, no. 2, 2013, pp. 76-87.

Wood, Natalie, and Michael Solomon. Virtual Social Identity and Consumer Behavior. Taylor & Francis, 2015.

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