Lifestyle advertising in postmodernism - the accepted popular psychology

Essay, 2011

14 Pages, Grade: 70% (First)


‘The real world of postmodern culture ... has entertainment as its ideology, the spectacle as the emblematic sign of the commodity form [and] lifestyle advertising as its popular psychology’ (Kroker and Cook cited by Liu, 1998). This quote should demonstrate which changes postmodernism evokes. One of these changes is the emergence of lifestyle advertising explained here as a popular psychology which stands for its marketing character as being a persuasive and convincing form of advertising. Its aims are to fill the consumers with emotions of a specific lifestyle they should strive for to live. Therefore, lifestyle advertising can be seen as an important appearance out of the postmodern age, which will be defined and explained in this paper. Moreover, adverts will be presented in order to show how semiotic analysis can reveal the workings of lifestyle advertisements. With the aim of illustrating how this will work, three lifestyle adverts from the destination Australia were selected and analyzed by using semiotic terms and explanations. Nevertheless, the paper is also focusing on demonstrating how the emergence of lifestyle advertising is a reflection of cultural changes in the postmodern age. Those cultural changes will be illustrated and a connection between postmodernism and tourism will be drawn. However, this paper starts with explaining postmodernism from different points of views of scholars and authors, such as Featherstone, Lyotard or Singh, who defined and explained the term postmodernism in their way of experience and understanding.

According to Singh (2011, p. 56), postmodernism can be defined as a concept that follows the modernity as the ‘age of holism and interdependence’ influenced by all aspects of life such as history, literature, art, philosophy, technology, architecture, media or consumer culture. He also defines it as a combination of ideas which ‘refers to the intellectual mood and cultural expressions that are becoming increasingly dominant in contemporary society’ and also Jessup (2001, p. 290ff.) describes the postmodern world as a concept in which many diverse subcultures are living side by side. Moreover, according to Jameson (1998, p. 2), postmodernism led to difficulties in distinguishing between high or elite culture and popular or mass culture by stating that the high culture is going to be encircled by ‘philistinism, schlock and kitsch, TV series and Reader’s Digest culture’ which stands for the direct access and proliferation of information in postmodernism. It is also assumed that the postmodern age began when machines started to get smaller and when information began to increase (Voase, 2007 p. 543). Thus, Featherstone (1991), cited by Singh (2011, p. 55) sees postmodernism as the age in which ideology regarding culture and intellect as well as ‘our sense of identity’ has changed. Moreover, a common point of postmodernism refers to not judging by saying something is wrong or right, true or false. Similarly, the world is seen from a more extensive point of view as a flexible place where social boundaries are blurred and former strong ideologies are less influential. This can be found in works of Lyotard, Bourdieu and Derrida, usually considered as major representatives of the postmodern age. Furthermore, Jessup (2001, p. 293) refers to postmodernism by saying that ‘it becomes increasingly difficult to separate fantasy from reality’ and that is what advertising uses in order to increase people’s consumption. Furthermore, Jessup (2001, p. 289) describes the postmodern world as a place where self, national and international borders shift quickly and where consumerism shapes the society as it can be proved by the United States where ‘more shopping malls than public high schools [can be found], one new franchise opens every eight minutes, ... online shopping has become a multi-billion dollar industry, ... and cruise ships carry five-million passengers per year.’

As can be seen there are also cultural changes in postmodernism concerning tourism, destinations and tourism-related companies. Urry (1990) cited by Munt (1994, p. 102) considers the emergence of niche and specialist tour operators, which offer more unique and flexible vacations, as changes in the postmodern tourism called by Poon (1989) cited by Voase (2002, p. 2) ‘new’ tourism, that is in relief against the ‘old’ mass tourism. This ‘new’ tourism shows that consumers do not want to be a part of the mass, Urry (1990) argues cited by Munt (1994, p. 102), because more individual and specialized markets emerged in comparison to mass markets. This led to spatial and temporal changes that appeared first in the 1980s throughout the Western world. These changes can be seen by the traveller’s decision to go on holiday by choosing city trips and rural regions instead of beaches, stay often not longer than two till three nights as well as the consumer desire to become more active on vacation (Voase 2002, p. 2). This argument can be supported by the evidence that Berlin, as an example for a city trip destination, has attracted 9 million visitors in 2010 which is nearly twice as much ten years ago and stand for a strong development in city tourism. Furthermore, Berlin tops Rome with 20 million room nights against Rome’s 18.6 million overnight stays following London with 45 and Paris with 34 million nights (Travelpulse 2010).

Beside changes in tourism also people and classes changed. Called by Bourdieu the new cultural intermediaries, the ‘service class’ is another cultural change in the postmodern era. This new class can be described as people who are weak in economic capital - capital assets and money - but rich in cultural capital - knowledge and education (Urry, 1988 p. 40f.). As an expressive example, Bourdieu (1984, p. 356) introduces Elizabeth F., a young woman who has done her A-levels with philosophy and lives alone in a one-room flat without furniture just with a mattress and her books. She loves hitch-hiking to the Mediterranean where she can experience something new, as she stated: ’I love travelling that way partly because it's so different from what I do the rest of the year, a different lifestyle’. This quote makes clear that travelling behaviors and requirements changed from going on holiday to the beach as being part of the mass to individual vacations where holidaymakers can experience a whole new lifestyle. Another considerable change was inter alia the emergence of the internet (Voase 2007, p. 543) which allows holidaymakers to research about destinations and book their vacations through using the World Wide Web. According to IPK International (2010, p. 19), over 40% of internet users in 2010 sought information about destinations by using their smart phones. As can be seen technological developments over the last recent years has changed the way of transmitting information which led to, according to Lyotard (1984) cited by Voase (2007, p. 543), a new cultural framework of society as an important cultural change in postmodernism.

However, Lash (1991) cited by Munt (1994, p. 109) argues that postmodern tourism is a cultural commodity where people consume as a matter of priority experiences and symbols and also Voase (2002 p. 12) sees postmodernism as a ‘regime of signification’ where products are purchased because they have a special meaning for the consumers as being a symbol for their way of living and not because they really need it for a special use. Singh (2011, p. 61) argues as well that consumer culture is about the consumption of goods that are not necessarily needed but wanted; and that ‘value has been divorced from the material satisfaction of wants and the sign value of goods takes precedence.’ Thus, marketers respond to this sign value consumption by advertising their products with a symbolic meaning for their customers in order to communicate a lifestyle (Voase, 2002 p. 12). According to Featherstone (2007, p. 84), lifestyle can be defined as the way people want to be seen from others by showing their individuality through vesting themselves with commodities, clothes, furnishing, home, cars, experiences and their appearance.

Voase (2007, p. 543) states that ‘lesser narratives [such as niche holidays] have to be presented in an increasingly creative and engaging way in order to make themselves heard’ which means that products and services need to be marketed through new forms of advertising, such as lifestyle advertising, which can be described as a concept in which a company wants to sell the customer a way of living instead of focusing on the product and its attributes itself in order to address a special target group. Javaid, Khan and Baig (2010, p. 118) define lifestyle advertising also as a personal way of media communication by focusing on individuals and their targeted image. As Baudrillard cited by Jessup (2001, p. 289 ff.) and Belk (1988, p. 139) argue, people consume and buy because they want to be different and stand out from the crowd and moreover, they define themselves through their possessions because they see their commodities as parts of themselves. This postmodern phenomenon led to the emergence of lifestyle advertising whose goal is it to let consumers feel to be individual in their identity, to create difference in their image and to obtain social status in order to ‘reinforce a personal sense of taste and distinction’ (Jessup, 2001 p. 289 ff.). Since the 1960s when the term lifestyle, like gay lifestyle or youth lifestyle, became known to individuals, it has started to turn merchandises into badges standing for social group membership and people began to associate products with lifestyles (Javaid, Khan and Baig, 2010 p. 115). Therefore, ‘lifestyle advertising has become the accepted popular psychology’ (Denzin, 1991 p. 151) in an age where entertainment and lifestyles have become so fashionable that the emergence of lifestyle advertising can be seen as a reflection of cultural changes associated with postmodernism.

According to Mick (1986, p. 196), consumers are living in a world full of meanings, signs and symbols and each of these signs are placed by marketers and advertisers for a specific reason. This interaction between signs and their meanings can be called semiotics also defined as the study of signs (Chandler, 2002 p. 1f.). In order to decode advertisements and their encoded meanings (Hall, 1980 p. 386f.) it is helpful to use semiotic analysis which relies on the relationship between signifier, signified and referent. The signifier is a word or an image and through the interpretation of this signifier, meaning is created. The signified is the meaning which is indicated by the signifier and the referent is the interpreter’s reaction to the sign and the meaning he gives to it. The combination of the signifier, signified and referent together make a symbol (Mick, 1986 p. 197ff). By using semiotic analysis it can be demonstrated how it can reveal the workings of lifestyle advertisements which will be illustrated by presenting and analyzing three tourism lifestyle advertisements.


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Lifestyle advertising in postmodernism - the accepted popular psychology
University of Lincoln
70% (First)
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lifestyle, lifestyle advertising, postmodernism, tourism, marketing, australia, advertising
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Alexandra Riepe (Author), 2011, Lifestyle advertising in postmodernism - the accepted popular psychology, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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