When Brand Communication Becomes Childish. Infantilization in 21st Century Advertising

Doctoral Thesis / Dissertation, 2018

523 Pages, Grade: cum laude









1.1. Background and motivation
1.2. Focus
1.3. Strategy
1.4. Purpose
1.5. Significance
1.6. Disposition

2.1. The era we live in: key features of 21st century
2.1.1. Postmodern Times
2.1.2. Media Explosion
2.1.3. Massive Consumerism
2.1.4. Age of Uncertainty
2.2. Advertising
2.2.1. Definition and Key Characteristics
2.2.2. Postmodern Marketing Strategy in 21st Century Advertising Why Postmodern Advertising Appeals Features of Postmodern Advertising
2.3. Between western orientation and eastern tradition: TURKEY

3.1. Definitions, terminology, and metaphorical dimensions
3.2. Interdisciplinary spectrum
3.3. Historical background and usage
3.4. Between two poles: childhood versus adulthood
3.4.1. Childhood
3.4.2. Adulthood
3.5. Old concept, new twist
3.5.1. From Protestant Ethic to Infantilist Ethos: The New Spirit of 21st Century Capitalism Ideological Shift Core Traits Economic Imperative Formula of the Ideal Consumer: Kid + Adult = Kid-ult
3.5.2. Infantilization Becomes Mainstream: The Contemporary Media and Marketing Landscape
3.6.1. Serious Concerns: Infantilization in the Critical View
3.6.2. Irresistible Charm: Generational Motivations for Infantilization

4.1. A mass cultural desire for the childlike : PSYCHOLOGICAL DYNAMICS DRIVING INFANTILIZATION
4.1.1. On the Freudian Couch: Psychoanalyzing Infantilization
4.1.2. Trip Back to Childhood: Consumer Regression, Infantilism, and Postmodern Nostalgia
4.1.3. Archetypal Traces: Jung’s Eternal Child and Mother
4.1.4. Parent-Child Ego States: Berne's Transactional Analysis
4.1.5. Cute at First Sight, Young at Heart: An Evolutionary Psychological Perspective on Infantilization Cuteness Sells! Why Consumers Are Attracted to the Infantile Childlike Consumer Behavior and Psychological Neoteny
4.2. Semiotics of infantilization: reading signs of childhood in advertising
4.2.1. Semiotics: What it Means and Why it Matters
4.2.2. Science of Signs: Origins and Features of Semiotics Saussure’s Dyadic Sign: Signifier and Signified Peirce’s Triadic Sign and Typologies Barthes’ Mythical Sign and Orders of Signification
4.2.3. Advertising as a Sign-Creating System: Insights and Instruments
4.2.4. Infantilization via Signs of Childhood: A Theory Development Instrumentalizing Childhood for Adult Consumer Purposes The Kinder Surprise Effect: How Can We Reveal Infantilization?
4.3. Psycho-semiotic approach and case study methodology
4.3.1. Research Design: Qualitative Case Study Methodology
4.3.2. Psycho-Semiotic as Research Method
4.3.3. Research Process of the Study Cross-Sectoral Data Analysis and Selection of Brands Identification of Infantilizing Design Elements and Techniques in Advertisements Development of Multiple Cases Studies

5.1. Reinventing children’s traditional stories: adults’ adventures in the fantasy worlds of brands
5.1.1. “I Have a Dream...”: Like Alice in Consumerland Get Whatever You Want, Whenever You Want: Welcome to Odealand! Diving into Brand New Worlds: A Child’s Play with Yumo§ Toyota Joyride through Wonderland
5.1.2. Back to Idyllic Nature and Purity: A Heidi-fication with Rinso
5.1.3. Enchanted Brands Environments From Ikea to Cif: How Brands Satisfy the Inner Princess Enchanted Kitchen Ensemble: Sunlight Cif’s Beauty and the Beast
5.1.4. When Talking Animals Advise Adults in Financial Issues: Garanti Bank’s Fabulous Bremen Town Musicians
5.1.5. Following in the Footsteps of Nils Holgersson: Around the World with Turkish Airlines’ Wingo
5.1.6. Monstrous Insights into Brands’ Microworlds Infantile Germ Wars with Domestos Antibacterial, Tough, and Durable: Royal Hall and Dufa Boya Organic Food Style with L’Era Fresca Anadolu Sigorta’s Infantile Cyclopes: Nazar and Kismet
5.1.7. Consumer-Driven Neverland and Peter Pan in Turk Telekom: Are Consumers the Lost Boys?
5.2. Revival, remake, reconnection: infantile brand promotion WITH CHILDREN’S ENTERTAINMENT MEDIA FOR ADULTS
5.2.1. Retro Cartoons “Money Must Be Funny in the Rich Man’s World”:
Duck Tales in Enpara.com Peanut’s Snoopy inMetLife Betty Boop in Papia and Bernardo Wannabe Garfields: The Cats of Turk Telekom and Alarko Casper-ly Ghost: Turk Telekom’sBulut
5.2.2. Vadaa, Moneygiller, Emocanlar: Infantile Heroic Brand Creatures
5.2.3. Classic TV Shows: Fragments of Sesame Street and The Muppets If “Your Better Half” Infantilizes You: Spectres of Simulacra with Maximum Card Seeing the World through Children’s Eyes: Secret Sides of the ING Bank’s Lion Puppet
5.2.4. Cartoonized and Animated: Infantile Inner Lifes of Products Dyo’sMolecules, Margarine Girl & Co.: The Many Infantile Figures of Brand Spheres Banvit’s Lezzetgiba^i: The Imaginary Friend of Housewives Algida’s Ice Creams Making Propaganda: Political Election Spectacle as Infantile Infotainment From Brush Man to Manga Girl Ajda Pekkan: Polisan Boya Infantile Robotic Brand Character: Garanti’s Ugi From Pepee-Oriented Characters to Stick Figures: Brand’s Preschool Approaches to Serious and Sensitive Issues 370 5.2.5. Childlike Video Games and Virtual Reality Retro Video Games in Axe andDuracell When Life Becomes a Video Game: Street Fighter Legend in Anadolu Sigorta Avea’s Teletubbied Virtual Reality Opedo as the Turkish Mega Man
5.3. Renaissance of toy stories, tastes, places & co.: BRANDED ADULT VERSIONS OF CHILDHOOD SYMBOLS AND MOTIFS
5.3.1. Brand New Toy Stories
5.31.1. Consuming Barbie Worlds with Maximum Card and Axe
5.31.2. Toyota Auris’ Car Story
5.31.3. Commercial Teddy Bears
5.31.4. The Lego Life of Aras Kargo
5.3.2. From Children’s Day to Dirt: Childhood Habits as Reminders Promoting Children’s Day as Adult’s Inner Child Day Products as Symbolic Mothers: How Vitra and Selpak Cares Dirt is Good: Omo for Inner Child Development
5.3.3. Kindergartened and Schoolish Symbols Like a Kindergarten Celebration: The Hopi App Brand’s School Time for Adults Adultified Babies and Babified Men in Bruno’s Kindergarden From Nursery Rhymes to Bubble Play: Traditional Children’s Games for Adults
5.3.4. Milk, Ice-Cream & Candy: Childhood Tastes as a Ticket Back to Childhood Pinar, Torku, and Igim: Milk as Reconnector to Childhood Returning Back to Childhood with Panda Ice-Cream Candies Make Children Happy - But Adults Even More!: Haribo and The Gummy Bear Cult in
5.3.5. Baby Alarm: Striving for Infanthood The Baby Within the Adult: “Live Young ” with Evian Striving for Infantile Appearances with L’Oreal







The consumption orientation of 21st century capitalism - manifested in many ways, but key among them being advertising - is considered to be driven increasingly by an infantilist ethos that targets adults as if they were children. The purpose of the doctoral thesis is to examine and improve a deeper understanding of infantilization as an emerging phenomenon in 21st century with regard to its implementation in Turkish advertising. Consumer infantilization increasingly becomes a technique to attract adults by approaching them like children with advertisements based on the imagination and level of a child. With this regard, the present thesis will demonstrate how and why brands implement the concept of infantilization within the framework of their marketing strategy in Turkish advertisements. Using the qualitative multiple-case study research design, the thesis adopts a psycho-semiotic method within the postmodern worldview by analyzing selected advertising campaigns (226 commercials and 52 Facebook posts) of 60 well-known brands in Turkey between 2004-2018. On a global scale, academic research on infantilization in advertising context in-depth is scarce, and in respect to Turkish advertising even in total absence which is quite surprising. In fact, the Turkish advertising landscape is rich in elements from children’s worlds which originally address children, but actually are instrumentalized in particular for adult consumer purposes with the effect that psychic dynamics are activated. For this reason, the overriding aim of the thesis is to reveal how the ideal postmodern consumer - the chxld-like adult - is attempted to create through infantilization by the means of childhood signs in Turkish advertisements. Thus, the study will show that infantilization has the potential to serve as a catalyst to reinforce consumerist behavior and, therefore, is an effective strategy which is used by companies to manipulate adult consumers within unconscious processes. As a result, the thesis wants to fill this huge research gap by exploring infantilization both in theory and practice.

Keywords: Infantilization, Advertising, Postmodernism, Psychology, Semiotics


The completion of my doctoral degree is one milestone of my personal journey; a journey that has not been travelled alone. Foremost, I would like to express my warmest thanks to my supervisor and instructor, Assoc. Prof. Dr. T. Emre Yildirim, for his care and commitment. His endless support, abundant knowledge and willingness to share his wisdom, insights, and experiences in the last years motivated and enabled me to expand my base of knowledge of the communication field but, most notably, to improve my way of thinking. For me and for many others, he is the “Time Doc”, really a kind of “Doctor Who”, who has always impressed me right from the start in his courses as every lesson was another adventure in a new dimension. This has strongly encouraged me to choose an extraordinary PhD topic which took me to a long and exciting journey. I am grateful to Yildirim for giving me an unforgettable experience of academic research.

I would like to thank to those who have accompanied me over the last years. I would like to deliver special thanks to Prof. Dr. Recep Mahmut Oktay of Yeditepe University, who has supported me with his kind words always with a smiling face. I would also like to thank Prof. Dr. Can Bilgili and Prof. Dr. Cem Pekman for their opinions and support at the beginning of my research, Prof. Dr. Aykut Arikan for his valuable tips, and Asst. Prof. Dr. Ozge Erbek Kara, who later joined to the committee but had an important impact with her crucial remarks. I am grateful for their comments and insight which helped me a lot in the research process.

I could never have reached this accomplishment without the support and patience of my family, friends from Germany and Turkey, and colleagues all over the world. But I am especially thankful to my father for always nourishing me with words of encouragement and cheerful thoughts, even in challenging times. This dissertation is dedicated to him because he is more than a father, he is a friend for life.


Table 4.1. Selected Product Categories and Brands


Figure 1.1 Examples of Foreign Covers Reporting on Infantilization

Figure 1.2 Google Image Search for “Infantilization in Advertising”

Figure 1.3 Covers of Turkish Magazines: The BrandAge, Infomag, and MediaCat

Figure 2.1 Evolution of Mass Media

Figure 2.2 Features of Creative Advertisements: “CAN” Elements

Figure 2.3 Features of Sticky Advertisements: “SUCCES” Elements

Figure 3.1 Etymological Roots of Infantilization

Figure 3.2 From Infant to Adolescent: Range of Positionings of the Infantilized Individual

Figure 3.3 Selected Images of L’Enfant Exterieur in 2013

Figure 3.4 Selected Images of Kindskopfe in 2012

Figure 3.5 When Are You Really An Adult?

Figure 3.6 Landscape of Child-Adult Dualism

Figure 3.7 Ikea’s Ball-Pit Party and Evian’s Playground for Adults

Figure 3.8 Adult Coloring Book on the Turkish Book Market

Figure 3.9 Katy Perry, Madonna, and Miley Cyrus

Figure 3.10 Funko Pop Figures

Figure 3.11 Hello Kitty Products for Adults

Figure 3.12 Turkish IT-Girls Esra and Ceyda with Hello Kitty and Hello Kitty Sponsorship with Fenerbah9e

Figure 3.13 Print Ads Promoting Baby Food for Adults: Hipp and Alete

Figure 4.1 Freud’s Model of the Human Mind: The Iceberg Metaphor

Figure 4.2 Google Search for Inner Child Imaginations

Figure 4.3 Structural Diagram of Transactional Analysis

Figure 4.4 Infantilizing Transactional Analysis

Figure 4.5 Kindchenschema: Supermodel Kate Moss and a Little Girl

Figure 4.6 Infantilization of Teddy Bear and Mickey Mouse: An Evolution

Figure 4.7 Like Toy Cars: Smart, Volkswagen New Beetle and Mini Cooper

Figure 4.8 Saussure’s Dyadic Sign

Figure 4.9 Peirce’s Triadic Sign

Figure 4.10 Peirce’s Typology of Signs

Figure 4.11 Barthes’s Mythical Sign and Orders of Signfication

Figure 4.12 Differences Between Childhood and Adulthood

Figure 4.13 Semiotic of Infantilization via Signs of Childhood: A Formula

Figure 4.14 Integrating Signs of Childhood in Advertisements: Three Techniques

Figure 4.15 Scale of Products Ranging from Adults-Only to Children-Only

Figure 4.16 Thematic Case Studies of the Research: An Overview

Figure 4.17 Examples of Baby and Childhood Icons

Figure 5.1 Falling Down the Hole: Alice’s and Hulya Av§ar’s Way to Wonderland

Figure 5.2 Duality of Alice Archetype

Figure 5.3 Symbols of the Wonderland Theme in Odeabank Commercial

Figure 5.4 Phantasmagoria and Dreamlike Imagery in Wonderland

Figure 5.5 Flowers in Alice’s and Yumo§’s Version of Wonderland

Figure 5.6 Flowers in Yumo§ Extra Creations Commercial

Figure 5.7 Toyota’s Wonderland Versus Fairy Tale Landscapes

Figure 5.8 Alice Archetype and Toyota Push Cart

Figure 5.9 Gulben Ergen and Bubble Man in Rinso Campaign with Heidi Imagery

Figure 5.10 Facebook Post “Heidi” of Gulben Ergen

Figure 5.11 Become a Princess: ING Bank’s Facebook Post

Figure 5.12 Disney Princesses with Birds and Ikea’s Birds

Figure 5.13 Becoming a Fairy Tale Star in Cif Commercials

Figure 5.14 Sunlight Cifs Dishes and Enchanted Objects from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

Figure 5.15 Sunlight Cif Product as Disney’s Belle

Figure 5.16 Sunlight Cifs Facebook Posts

Figure 5.17 Scences of Garanti Bank’s Launch Campaign with the Bremen Town Musicians

Figure 5.18 Garanti Bank’s Donkey: Adapted from Donkey Characters of Winnie-the-Pooh and Shrek

Figure 5.19 Turkish Airlines Homepage with Brand Mascot Wingo (1.6.2017)

Figure 5.20 NilsHolgerson in Turkish Airlines’ Brand Communication

Figure 5.21 From Realistic to Infantile: Representation of Monsters in Movies

Figure 5.22 Germs: Scientific Images and Domestos’ Representation

Figure 5.23 Domestos’ Augmented Reality Adverts

Figure 5.24 Screenshots of Royal Hall’s Commercials

Figure 5.25 Dufa Boya’s Hero Mascot and Monster Enemies

Figure 5.26 L’Era Fresca Commercial

Figure 5.27 Monster Math Squad and L’Era Fresca’s Monster Squad

Figure 5.28 Cyclops in Mythology, Populare Culture, and Events

Figure 5.29 Anadolu Sigorta’s Advertising Campaign with Nazar and Kismet

Figure 5.30 Disney’s Peter Pan and Turk Telekom’s Peter Pan Version

Figure 5.31 DuckTales in Enpara.com: “Herkese Zengin Faizi“ Campaign

Figure 5.32 Peanuts’ Snoopy in Metlife Turkey’s Commercials

Figure 5.33 MetLife’s New Brand Image after Peanuts

Figure 5.34 Becoming Betty Boop in Papia Commercials

Figure 5.35 Bernardo’s Tableware Set with Betty Boop

Figure 5.36 Garfield and Wannabe Garfields: Tekno Tekir and Alarko Carrier’s Cat

Figure 5.37 Tekno Tekir with Arzum Onan and Garfield with Its Owner Dave

Figure 5.38 Garfield and Garfield Double in Alarko Carrier’s Commercials

Figure 5.39 Casper and Turk Telekom’s Bulut Character

Figure 5.40 Creation of Infantile Brand Mythologies with Fantastic Creatures

Figure 5.41 Vadaa and Related Imagery in Biology and Popular Culture

Figure 5.42 Turkish Celebrities “Talking” with Vadaa

Figure 5.43 Moneygiller and The Flintstones

Figure 5.44 Turkcell and Snorks

Figure 5.45 From Legendary “Free Girl” Campaign (2001) to Infantile Emocanlar (2016)

Figure 5.46 Facebook Posts and Screenshots of Maximum Campaigns with Mert Firat

Figure 5.47 Characters of Sesame Street and The Muppet Show

Figure 5.48 Mert Firat and Gary Playing Piano with their Simulacra

Figure 5.49 §ebnem Bozoklu with her puppet and Raquel Welsh with Miss Piggy.

Figure 5.50 From the Classic Lion to Puppet Lion with Neotenous Traits

Figure 5.51 ING Bank’s Lion Character: Mixture of Sesame Street’s Samson and Infantile Lion Icons

Figure 5.52 Scenes from ING Bank’s Commercials: Lion’s Visibility to Children-Only

Figure 5.53 Acun Ilicali and ING Bank’s Lion

Figure 5.54 Scotch Brite’s Sponge and SpongeBob

Figure 5.55 Infantile Dyo Paint Molecules

Figure 5.56 Sweet Tomatoes Family of Tat Gida

Figure 5.57 Sana’s Margarine Girl

Figure 5.58 Screenshots of Binbir^ek’s Campaign and Bee Movie’s Poster

Figure 5.59 Nestle Coffeemate Commercial “Kahve’nin A§ki”

Figure 5.60 Banvit’s Lezzet9iba§i and Ratatouille’s Rat as Cooking Confidants...

Figure 5.61 Banvit’s Cook Versus Ratatouille’s Cook

Figure 5.62 Algida’s Voting Results as Commercial Spectacle

Figure 5.63 Hyperreal Brands Spheres: Algida’s Public Voting Booths on Turkish Streets

Figure 5.64 Polisan’s Commercial with Brush Man

Figure 5.65 Superstar Ajda Pekkan: Before and After

Figure 5.66 Ajda Pekkan as Manga Girl Sailor Moon

Figure 5.67 Infantilization in Polisan Boya’s Brand Image

Figure 5.68 Garanti’s New Brand Face “Ugi”

Figure 5.69 Pepee-Oriented Figures in Advertisements

Figure 5.70 Bank’Olular Commercial

Figure 5.71 Axe’s Chocolate Cupcake

Figure 5.72 Okey’s Brand Comunication

Figure 5.73 Screenshots of Sarelle’s Commercials

Figure 5.74 Nostalgic Video Games in Axe Advertisements

Figure 5.75 Duracell as Tetris

Figure 5.76 Street Fighter Legend Ryu in Anadolu Sigorta’s Commercial

Figure 5.77 Scenes of Teletubbies Program and Avea’s Commercial

Figure 5.78 Opet’s Launch Campaign with Opedo and Ajda Pekkan

Figure 5.79 Opedo and Mega Man

Figure 5.80 Screenshots of Maximum BP Campaign

Figure 5.81 Barbie-Related Intertexual Features in Maximum Campaign

Figure 5.82 Maximum Card’s and Barbie’ Logo

Figure 5.83 Screenshots from “Ne Dilersen Dile Maximum Mobil’de“ Campaign.

Figure 5.84 Human Dolls Ken and Barbie

Figure 5.85 Barbie-Related Facebook Posts of Axe

Figure 5.86 Toyota Auris Commercial and Turkish Wedding Car Decoration

Figure 5.87 Turkish Commercial Teddy Bears

Figure 5.88 Facebook Post of Yumo§

Figure 5.89 Teddy Bear in Movie Scene from “Ted” and Domino’s Bear in Commercial

Figure 5.90 Domino’s Brand Mascot with Seda Sayan and Kadir £opdemir

Figure 5.91 Araslar and Lego Figures

Figure 5.92 Elements of Aras Kargo’s Company Homepage on 15.5.2017

Figure 5.93 Aras Kargo’s Valentine’s Day Commercial and Titanic’s Iconic Movie Scene

Figure 5.94 Turkcell’s “#£ocuk Oldum” Campaign

Figure 5.95 Enpara.com and L’Era Fresca’s Children’s Day Facebook Posts

Figure 5.96 VitrA V-care Smart Toilet Seat Commercial

Figure 5.97 Selpak - Always By Your Side Like a Mother

Figure 5.98 Screenshots of Omo’s TV Commercial

Figure 5.99 Childlike Colors and Shapes in Hopi’s Brand Communication

Figure 5.100 Hopi Simulacra Born Out of the Hopi Womb

Figure 5.101 Halkbank’s School-Themed Advertisement

Figure 5.102 DeFacto’s Valentine’s Day Commercial

Figure 5.103 Screenshots of CardFinans Commercial

Figure 5.104 Bruno’s Commercials for Baby and Adult Products

Figure 5.105 Screenshots of Gen9 Turkcell Ad Campaign

Figure 5.106 Bubble Play in Rinso

Figure 5.107 Screenshots of Pinar Sut Commercial

Figure 5.108 Pinar’s Facebook Posts

Figure 5.109 Screenshots of Torku Sut Commercial

Figure 5.110 Screenshots of pirn’s Commercial

Figure 5.111 Hande Yener and Muslum Gurses in Panda Ice-Cream Commercials.

Figure 5.112 Haribo Turkey’s Commercial “Haribo Land”

Figure 5.113 Gummy Bear in 118 80’s Commercial and in The Gummy Bear

Figure 5.114 Evian Live Young Campaign 2009-2015

Figure 5.115 L’Oreal Commercial with Fahriye Evcen

Figure 5.116 L’Oreal “Youth Code” Commercial


Feeling overwhelmed, interrupted, and even stalked by the volume of ads flying across billboards, computer screens, smartphones or TV, is a prevalent reality today in the first half of 21st century. If given the option, many people would choose a world where advertising simply does not exist or, at least, ignore and avoid it by any means. I belonged to those people who usually avoided advertisements and often even did not noticed them - until 2005, when I started to live in Istanbul in order to discover my roots as someone who was born and raised in Hamburg, Germany. Even if it sounds strange - one of the first things I strongly noticed and that influenced me so dramatically in my new daily life in Istanbul that years later I have decided to write a doctoral thesis about it, were Turkish advertisements! Actually, it was not their unbelievable omnipresence which astonished and concerned me. It was their content.

Over the years, I collected advertisements that somehow attracted my attention and which I found different in their entertaining, creative, and often funny way. I shifted from an overwhelmed consumer to an overjoyed one by starting to create enthusiastically a collage by frequently up-dating the advertising images as shown on the next page. Keeping a close eye on this mosaic, which was colorful and playful from the very beginning, I asked myself several questions: What do all these advertisements have in common, actually? Why do they attract me? Why do I not avoid exactly these advertisements whereas I forgot the many others immediately?

After a first view of this “big picture” we can say that, primarily, the eyecatcher is the dominant use of childlike aesthetics and content. Secondly, and here starts the interesting point, after checking the product categories, the target group of most promoted products must be adult consumers, not children. However, before these childlike advertisements, generally brands had a much more conservative advertising policy, centred around real life of adults by providing product-related informations. I asked myself if Turkish advertisements for banks, credit cards, automobiles or cleaning products - to name just a few categories - are actually not supposed to be more serious, trustworthy, and sophisticated with wise sounding actors and calm backgrounds having an adult quality in order to make the consumer an appropriate “grown-up” decision.

Thus, the process of writing this doctoral thesis has been a very special and exciting one. In this light, my wish is the attempt to illuminate the interesting phenomenon of infantilization we actually all are exposed to, but which in terms of advertising masks itself especially through signs of childhood with underlying intentions we can only be aware of and understand by reading this thesis. Hereby, we will start a different journey through simulated child worlds with adult references, which will make us dive back into our own childhood.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


Infantilism is possibly the hallmark of our generation.

- John Wells, British actor and satirist

The infantilist ethos is potent in shaping the ideology and behaviors of our radical consumerist society today.

- Benjamin Barber, American political scientist

1.1. Background and motivation

Living in a media-dominated age in which countless images circulate around the world, we are constantly faced with an environment that has become increasingly saturated by advertising. Being an important tool of marketing for promoting consumerism to inspire brand systems, advertising is an incredible means of persuasion with its textual, visual, and auditory components (Moriarty et al., 2009). An emerging phenomenon that can be increasingly noticed in a global sense, but especially in Turkish advertising of 21st century which will be explored in this thesis, is infantilization.

Infantilization (in Turkish: “enfantilizasyon”, meaning gocukla^tirma) - the practice of treating adults like children and, thus, viewing them as if they have never grown up - is an old concept which appears in a great number of fields, from natural sciences to social and cultural studies. However, infantilization received rarely attention until late 20th century, even processes of infantilization had been occurring for centuries in various areas of life from religion to politics. But although infantilization is not new, its contemporary range of development and its influence on consumers today is. Infantilization has now achieved a new twist reaching its ultimative breakthrough in the realms of marketing and is meanwhile an essential centerpiece of mass media culture (Dorfman, 1987: 177; Danesi, 2003; Barber, 2007). However, infantilization has not developed randomly out of nowhere; it is an omnipresent large-scale, strategically planned and industrially promoted postmodern phenomenon emerging in 21st century, which operates and establishes itself, slowly but surely, at the very centre of contemporary Western societies. This has further led to the point that the consumption orientation of 21st century capitalism - manifested in many ways, but key among them being entertainment-oriented media and advertising - is considered to be driven increasingly by the infantilist ethos - a notion coined by American political theorist Benjamin Barber in his book Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole in 2007.

Accordingly, this hedonistic-driven infantilist ethos seems to have the strength in shaping the ideology of the consumerist capitalism today, at least at the same level, as what German sociologist and political economist Max Weber (1864-1920) called the Protestant ethic - driven by an ascetic acceptance of values like hard work or deferred gratification - was an important force in shaping the entrepreneurial culture of the productivist early capitalist society based on the new religious spirit of Protestantism since the 16th century (Weber, 2003). The infantilist ethos, which describes the contemporary culture we now inhabit, is characterized by generating a “set of habits, preferences, and attitudes that encourage and legitimate childishness” (Barber, 2007: 81) by privileging of “the easy over hard”, “the simple over complex”, and “the fast over the slow” (ibid.: 83-86). In Arrested Development: Pop Culture and the Erosion of Adulthood, British popular culture critic Andrew Calcutt (2000) has already noticed in the late 1990s that popular culture increasingly embraces childishness due to its positively perceived qualities, and even evolves to a culture of children in retreat from adulthood. Similarly in Forever Young: The Teen-Aging of Modern Culture, Italian semiotician Marcel Danesi (2003) argued years before Barber (2007), how contemporary culture becomes infantilized with childish and teen tastes. This observations crystallize that infantilization begins to function as an ideology which aims to spread features of a childhood mindset, and impose a youth-oriented lifestyle as a model for adults to follow - ideally lifelong.

The seductive charms of infantilization, to which adult consumers are exposed to, develop to something more than just a phenomenon we have to analyze; it becomes a mainstream concern as it begins to influence and even reshape the ideas of adult consumers becoming a direct and influential part of the psychological journey of adulthood - a stage in life which places a single word on a very large part of the lifespan from 18 to, at least, 80 years today. Rarely in a positive but mostly in a worried tone, many critical voices have indicated to infantilization, already before but mostly after the turn of the new millennium, by arguing that mass media and popular culture have a great impact on societies in terms of rapidly affecting even transforming traditional life stages by blurring the line between childhood and adulthood, which actually are supposed to be separated (Postman, 1982; Meyrowitz, 1985; Dorfman, 1987; Bly, 1996; Calcutt, 2000; Epstein, 2004: 349; Samuelson, 2003; Mintz, 2004: 50; Danesi, 2003; Barber, 2007). Infantilization becomes a cultural process, which has the effect of fostering a form of consumer infantilism (tuketici gocuksulugu) by favoring of artificially produced pathological conditions in adult consumers. In Klinik Reklamcilik, Turkish scholar T. Emre Yildirim argues that features of personality disorders, including borderline and narcissistic personality disorder, are common in use for the purpose of brand communication as they trigger psychic mechanisms in consumers to make them purchase the promoted product (2013: 12). Similarly, it seems that patterns of infantilism, which originally is a personality disorder, are promoted by media and business companies in various forms to adults who actually do not suffer from the disorder but are encouraged to “get in board”. The aim is to “encourage adult regression, hoping to rekindle in grown-ups the tastes and habits of children” (Barber, 2007: 7). Evolving to a significant hallmark of postmodern culture, infantilization together with its result - infantilism or better in Ottoman Turkish “yeni zamanlarin alamet-i farikasi jocuksuluk” (Deger, 2016) - has the power to influence and redescribe traditional adulthood by showing us that other versions of it might exist, in terms of marketing, by gradually forming the ideal consumer who is certainly not a child acting in an imprudent manner, nor an adult with a completely rationalized mind, but something in-between: the infantilized adult, the kid within the adult, the kidult (Hensher, 2002; Barber, 2007; Brown, 2016) as the “new breed of adult” (Noxon, 2006). With respect to this, media coverage about infantilization has highly intensified. Many cover stories and articles have reported about the rise of infantilization, in general, and the increasing infantilism in adults, in particular (See Figure 1.1).1

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1.1 Examples of Foreign Covers Reporting on Infantilization

Today, infantilization is an important buzzword and a favorite topic of a rising tide of sub-academic and populist commentary in mainstream magazines and newspapers most notably from North America and Europe. Infantilization is an outstanding phenomenon, “any occurence worthy of note and investigation, typically an untoward or unusual [...] fact that is of special significance or otherwise notable” (Sandywell, 2016). Infantilization seems to hit the pulse of the era we live in, and has the potential to cause significant changes. Advertising, on the other hand, is the “most effective communicative method for changing the beliefs, values and interpetations of society” (Elliott & Ritson, 2005: 197). However, by melting the boundaries between adults and children, advertisements themselves begin to change - an interesting aspect to explore in this thesis with respect to consumer infantilization, the marketing tactic to address adults as children by creating advertisements based on the imagination and level of a child, that increasingly becomes the preferred style in form of an effective strategy to attract and convince adults. So what is the effect when two powerful forces - advertising and infantilization - are merging together? Applied in advertising context, the concept of infantilization offers theoretical and practical explanations to recognize and interpret changing characteristics of consumer capitalism during the first half of the 21st century, and exactly this will be the motivation of conducting the present research.

1.2. Focus

Over the last years, children and childhood related motifs generally have become a major theme in marketing, which definetly is not an accident. If we take a closer look to the trend towards infantilization in advertising, it certainly reflects the changing ethos in postmodern times with the relentless pursuit of novelty in the marketing realm, but it also springs from the increasing awareness of companies that children represent an important demographic, especially in Turkey as a country with a young population in contrast to aging Europe. Becoming the new market focus, children have their own purchasing power, influence their parents’ buying decisions, further are brands’ future customers (McNeal, 1992; Bridges & Briesch, 2006; Keillor, 2007), and thus “the epicenter of consumer culture who command the attention, creativity and spendings of advertisers; their tastes drive market trends and their opinions shape brand strategies” (Schor, 2004: 9).

Infantilization is literal in that advertisers are increasingly focusing their attention on children, but it is also metaphorical which makes this concept so special to investigate. Infantilization, in a metaphorical sense, is a process that must be triggered and initiated somehow, which further indicates the fact that the adult consumer has to be positioned as a child (gocukyerine koymak) and addressed as a child (gocuga hitap eder gibi yakla§mak) in order to be able to treat him or her as a child (gocuk muamelesi yapmak). Thus, when infantilization is the chosen advertising technique, this implies in some way that adults have to be attracted and persuaded rhetorically in visual, textual, and auditory terms as if they were children - but not in a way where an adult has the impression that he or she would really slip into the position of an infantile persona. This must happen in a hidden manner, as the “operation of ideology in signifying practices is typically masked” (Chandler, 2017: 191), and exactly here lies the crux of the matter: Infantilization, in a psychoanalytical sense, occurs in a way that adults are unaware of - it is an ideological, unconscious process and not recognized as such. However, infantilization is triggered, moreover, initiates itself through obvious and consciously perceptible signs. In the short amount of time that it has consumers’ attention, “advertising as a sign-creating system” (Danesi, 2004: 256) can only bring meaning and value to its unfamiliar products if it speaks to adult consumers in widely recognizable systems of meaning and colonizes upon pre-existing bodies of knowledge to quicken communication (Bignell, 2002). One of the best known and, thus, powerful sign system brands can make use of to produce meaning and trigger psychological processes by activating existing knowledge would be - without doubt - that of childhood, and in particular children’s culture. Such advertising would have the potential to seduce to a consumption that appears as a playful gateway to enter artificially constructed hyperrealities in form of children’s utopian fantasies, magical thoughts, and childlike visions and illusions of how brand worlds work and look like.

Hence, companies increasingly segment consumers with an approach we can name as uniage, meaning both children and adults are addressed simultaneously the same way in the same advertising but by operating at the level of a child - comparable with the term “unisex” concerning products that not divide between male and female anymore.2 This further implies that we have a dual audience but, moreover, an ambiguity of the target group, which might explain the proliferation of child-oriented advertisements over the last years that aim to positively influence children’s recognition, even if the promoted product - and here the interesting part starts - is ostensibly intended for adults, including life insurances, credit cards, and automobiles as adult-targeted products (McNeal, 1999: 217; Keillor, 2007: 5-7).

A crucial question arises, then: Is this all really happening only and especially to attract children? Notably, not only children are confronted to these advertisements, quite the contrary. What about adult consumers, then, who are exposed to such a childish marketing scenery, even in the night when children already sleep? Thus, another important consideration emerges: What if companies are not targeting as always argued younger audiences with this, but are particularly trying to reach and impress adults? Not to forget, it was American animator and producer Walt Disney who gave us the decisive hint decades ago by saying, “You’re dead if you aim only for kids. Adults are only kids grown up, anyway”! Besides, we live in a time of harsh and ugly realities where “the motif of escape back into childhood is frequently promoted” (Furedi, 2015), which makes sense, because to be honest: Where else were the majority of today’s adults most comfortable, gratified and in pleasure than their childhood?

With this in mind, if advertising is tempting adult consumers - as Australian cultural critic Robert Hughes (1993) would say - to abandon their inner adult and let instead their inner child out, and thus adresses and treats adults as children, media and marketing research, then, has surprisingly never really paid attention to this phenomenon which we have to change in this thesis. To reduce an adult consumer to the level of a child, who actually is not a child anymore, and to build on this basis whole advertising campaigns and even brand images must have specific reasons and methods, and raises many questions to which the thesis wants to find concrete answers. In this regard, the core research question explored in this study is as follows:

How and why do brands implement the concept of infantilization within the framework of their marketing strategy in Turkish advertisements?

Accordingly, the thesis can be further divided to specific sub-questions related to the main research question which will be investigated as presented below:

RQ1: What constitutes the concept of infantilization, and why has it emerged globally in media and marketing, but especially in Turkish advertising?
RQ2: Through which signs of childhood is infantilization revealing itself, and what are the methods and techniques that are used to engender it?
RQ3: What psychological dynamics are in work within the process of infantilization that makes it so powerful?
RQ4: What messages are given when adults are addressed as children, and to what extend is the postmodern-ironist worldview promoted by this?
RQ5: In what aspects, with regard to infantilization, differs Turkey and its advertising landscape from other Western countries, and what role plays Turkish advertising in the promotion of adult consumer infantilization?

1.3. Strategy

In order to answer these research questions, we need to clarify how infantilization in advertising context can be best approached and analyzed. When investigating a phenomenon like infantilization, a qualitative research approach is the most suitable one as it goes deeper than just measure the observable phenomenon by searching for the meaning and beliefs underlying it - the “why” and “how” (Marschan- Piekkari & Welch, 2004). The qualitative researcher, then, drafts the study’s roadmap as a bricoleur that “adds different tools, methods and techniques of representation and interpretation of the puzzle” (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005: 4). The complexity of infantilization makes it necessary to explore it from different standpoints by using multidisciplinary approaches deriving from Media, Communication and Cultural Studies, as well as Marketing and Consumer Studies. The research draws on postmodern, semiotic, and psychological theories and critical frameworks, which combine an important methodology from empirical research - the case study analysis. With this regard, the research is firmly situated within a critical-interpretive perspective by which infantilization will be explored as explained below:

- Postmodern-Ironist Worldview

According to American historian and philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn (1970), different worldviews dominate different eras and, therefore, influence the research of specific periods. Infantilization emerges in a time of worldwide change where scholars point out to the fact that “we are in the midst of an epochal transformation from the modern to the postmodern era” (Firat et al., 1994: 40) which “appears to have infected almost every arena” (Brown, 1993: 19), and meanwhile also 21st century advertising which becomes highly creative than in the past, compared to their more informative styled predecessors in modern times (Brown, 1995; Odaba§i, 2004; Firat & Dholakia, 2006; Odih, 2007). Political scientist and social psychologist Walter Truett Anderson (1995) describes postmodernism as a new paradigm of thought which belongs to one of four typological world views.3 Thus, rooting the present study within the postmodern-ironist worldview was appropriate as it served as a critical frame of reference for this thesis, by extending the application of postmodern theory to marketing with regard to infantilization in Turkish advertising. In this sense, especially concepts of hyperreality, intertextuality, and nostalgia will gain importance in the study.

- Psycho-Semiotic Approach

Infantilization is a psychological process, but also an ideological one. The analysis will, therefore, be a two-step one. Infantilization will be explored psycho- semiotically via signs of childhood to identify, analyze and interpret the dynamic processes of signification in order to reveal infantilization’s unconscious, ideological, and aesthetic potentialities in the context of Turkish advertising. In the field of advertising, the partnership between semiotics and psychology has proven to be a very powerful one (Beasley & Danesi, 2002: 33). Semiotics, the science of meaning-making or interpretations of signs, has become very popular and useful in the last decades concerning its application to advertising. As well as a tool to deconstruct advertisements, semiotics is also employed to create advertisements which makes it so crucial (Bignell, 2002; Kress & Leeuwen, 2006). Psychology, on the other hand, is understood as the scientific study of the mind and behavior, which provides a variety of concepts, especially in psychoanalytic terms, that on closer inspection drive the process of infantilization - including regression, magical thinking, dream theory, symbolism, archetypes, and transactional analysis.

First, a semiotic analysis which “always involves ideological analysis” (Chandler, 2017: 191) will be applied. Thus, we will investigate the role of advertising in the construction and circulation of meaning through certain childhood signs, especially in visual terms, that are displayed on the surface in advertisements, which stir up and excite various meanings at deeper levels on the part of adult consumers’ psyches, corresponding to the manipulative and hidden intention of marketers. These connotations refer to the additional meaning which usually an intertextual or symbolic reference gains besides its principal meaning. Because of this, in a second step, the semiotic analysis will be complemented by a psychological interpretation to dissolve the latent and symbolic significance of childhood signs that operate, similar as in dreams, in symbol-saturated advertisements. With this regard, we can develop a general theory of advertising based on the dialectical implication of psychic dynamics, on the side of the adult consumer, and semiotic codes of infantilization based on signs of childhood, on the side of advertising, that can be visualized with following formula:

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According to the founding fathers of semiotics - Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) and American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) - a sign is a “psychological entity” (Saussure, 1966: 66), “which stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity” (Peirce, 1985: 5). The attempt to mask the communicative intention, however, is a dominant theme in much of French semiotician Roland Barthes’ analysis. While the works of Saussure and Peirce are at the roots of semiotics and, thus, are essential to cover in this thesis, Barthes’s semiotics is added to the content, as it is also at the core of methodological framework. Besides, theories of psychodynamic psychology from Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), the father of psychoanalysis, and Neo-Freudians (C.G. Jung, E. Berne, J. Lacan, G. Deleuze & F. Guattari) will be taken up to figure out how advertising makes use of the basic elements of the human psyche to reach the consumers’ unconscious mind. Additionally, an evolutionary psychological perspective will be integrated as both the attraction to infantile patterns and reasons for infantile behavior can be explained with it, in particular, through the concept of neoteny.

- Case Study Methodology

In the thesis, a multiple case study methodology will be applied as it is well suited by offering better and valuable insights into phenomena in relatively new fields or research areas for which existing theory seems insufficient (Yin, 2003: 13). Within three major case studies, 17 mini-case studies are developed that involve the most striking key themes related to infantilization. For this, the study examines 60 brands of different product categories in Turkey by reviewing brands’ official websites, Facebook Pages, and YouTube channels. As every selected brand has chosen at a different time the infantilization strategy, this was only possible to show by not restricting the time period. As the infantilist ethos has especially emerged with the turn of the new millennium, advertising campaigns between a time span of 2004 and 2018 were carefully selected and analyzed. The focus lied on commercials (n=226), the “most powerful form of advertising” (Berger, 1996: 61), and Facebook posts (n=52), one of the most effective digital tools in brand communication today to keep in touch with consumers, which gave additional crucial insights into the research topic.

1.4. Purpose

The purpose of the doctoral thesis is to examine and improve a deeper understanding of infantilization as an emerging phenomenon in 21st century with regard to its implementation in Turkish advertising. Revealing symbolic advertising messages that brands try to send adult consumers through the mask of childhood, serving as an ideological camouflage, is the objective of this study. The thesis aims to illuminate the semiotic aspects of the psychologically-driven phenomenon of infantilization to make what is invisible, visible, by demonstrating that infantilizing practices occur through the reconstruction of the most obvious features of childhood that not only attract today’s children, but are especially instrumentalized for adult consumer purposes, including:

- children’s traditional stories in form of fairy tales, fables, and myths;
- children’s retro and popular entertainment media in form of cartoons, animated movies, TV programs, and video games; and
- childhood symbols and motifs representing components of children’s daily life in form of toys, tastes, places, and habits.

The thesis will show that infantilization is not an exceptional phenomenon, but exists in numerous cases in the Turkish advertising landscape where a new type of adult-oriented child culture - most notably on screen - is in development, which is a cloned one that frequently undergoes a metamorphosis, further leading to new formations of childhood patterns which rather appear as mutants. The mere projection of such childhood signs mediated through advertising become simulacra of childhood, which serve companies to create well-selling infantile brand mythologies operating with their own meaning-making rules and mechanisms. With this regard, the overriding aim of the thesis is to illustrate how the ideal postmodern consumer - the child-like adult - is attempted to create through infantilization by the means of childhood signs in Turkish advertisements. The study will show that infantilization has the potential to serve as a catalyst to reinforce consumerist behavior and, therefore, is an effective strategy which is used by companies to manipulate adult consumers within unconscious processes.

1.5. Significance

The relevance of the present study can be explained with, at least, four points. First, although infantilization is an old concept and a global phenomenon which can be observed especially throughout the media and advertising, many people do not recognize it, and actually know anything about it. The experience of the author of this thesis showed that only when people are confronted to it explicitly, they may recognize infantilization. However, it is a current and important topic as it concerns future development that could have significant effects and influences on 21st century societies. For the first time in history, a large-scaled and mass “controlled regression” occurs by “promoting puerility rather than maturation” (Barber, 2007: 111), which is surely worth investigating in detail. To draw attention to this emerging phenomenon will be the first contribution.

Second, the above mentioned circumstance might have led to the fact that contemporary research into this influential phenomenon remains incomplete. There is a general lack of theoretical and empirical research done on infantilization in marketing and advertising context. Further, if we search in academic databases and popular search engines like Google for “infantilization in advertising”, we mostly find articles about infantilization of women in relation to feminine sexuality, which gives the impression that it would be just a women’s issue. This concept of infantilization is investigated as a sub-topic by Canadian-American sociologist Erving Goffman in his book Gender Advertisements (1979), and is mainly seen as the portrayal of grown women acting and looking childish, often in sexually suggestive ways as shown in Figure 1.2, which is the most prominent form of infantilization being explored in advertising context so far.

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Figure 1.2 Google Image Search for “Infantilization in Advertising” (15.5.2018)

Nevertheless, this one-sided tableau may be deceiving because this is just one type of infantilization that can be observed. This will be, therefore, not investigated further in the present study. The contribution will be, instead, to explore and give insights into a more obvious and recurring version of infantilization, underestimated so far but that clearly shows itself in contemporary Turkish advertising, based on the idyllic notion of childhood consisting of innocent, playful, and naive features without any sexual undertone that, without doubt, is clearly to be distinguished from the above mentioned one.

Third, as academic research on infantilization in advertising context in-depth is scarce, it is in respect to Turkish advertising even not-existent. Until now, infantilization has not received scholarly attention in Turkey and is even an unknown expression there, whereas in other Western countries it is a hot topic which is discussed for years. With this regard, the total absence of Turkish academic publications concerning infantilization, in general, is quite surprising because, actually, it is a prevalent reality in Turkey. Moreover, it seems as if this issue is left to the columns of four Turkish journalists - Ha§met Babaoglu (2010, 2013), Gulin Yildirimkaya (2010), Kur§at Ba§ar (2012), and Abdulbaki Deger (2016) - who were the only ones so far having briefly pointed to an “infantilist trend” (“qocuksula§ma trendi”), but not to infantilization as its cause, and by only writing their personal thoughts. What else can be noticed is that infantilization is partially discussed, but under other prevalent topics and terms, mostly published in Turkish magazines that are specialized on business and marketing communication, reporting about current trends in outstanding cover stories (See Figure 1.3).4 For instance, infantile mascots for adult-oriented products are considered by many as cute and friendly, that are loved by children and embraced by adults as well. But which idea lies beneath them, and what psychological mechanisms are engendered having which impact on adults - concerning this there is hardly any research. Besides, infantilization has been examined so far mainly within Western societies (Wang et al. 2009), including the USA and Western Europe; it would be now interesting and crucial to explore infantilization with a special reference to Turkey as an emerging country between Western culture and Eastern tradition, which has one of the most exciting and challenging media markets in the world. As the literature is still embryonic, this thesis seeks to contribute filling this huge gap.

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Figure 1.3 Covers of Turkish Magazines: The BrandAge, Infomag, and MediaCat

Fourth, this study will be the first in Turkey, but also on a global scale, by focussing on infantilization in contemporay advertising from different standpoints by using multidisciplinary approaches. Thus, it provides a new illuminating perspective which makes the thesis unique in its approach to Turkish advertising. With this, the scholarly objective is to start and advance the discussion that concerns the great presence of infantilization in media and marketing, and further its impact on the audience. Through its originality of approach, this thesis is intended to a wide audience including advertising creators, researchers (in the field of Media, Communication, Cultural Studies, and Marketing), business companies of different industries and, of course, the target audience of the analyzed advertisements meaning the adult consumer itself. The research approach results in applicable knowledge which can potentially be used as a platform of thinking in practice and as grounds for further research.

1.6. Disposition

The research is composed of six chapters. After this introducing section, Chapter 2 illustrates the era we live in by highlighting key features of 21st century, further relates to the field of advertising within postmodern theory, and concludes with an analysis of Turkey to show various characteristics in order to realize its importance in advertising context and its interplay with infantilization. Chapter 3 aims to review the literature on infantilization to understand the meaning, nature, causes, and consequences of it as a phenomenon which emerges as a new ethos of 21st century in Western societies. Chapter 4 presents the theoretical foundation of infantilization in advertising context by providing a conceptual framework from a psychological and semiotic perspective. It concludes by giving an account of the methodology of the study and discusses the nature of research design, sampling, data collection procedure, and selection of the case studies. Chapter 5 presents three major case studies analyzing infantilization in contemporary Turkish advertising, including children’s traditional stories, children’s entertainment media, and childhood symbols and motifs instrumentalized for adult consumer purposes. Chapter 6 deals with the discussion on the results and the conclusions of the research. It gives a summary of the multiple case study analysis, an evaluation of the key findings, and makes recommendations.


Historians and archaeologists will one day discover that the ads of our time are the richest and most faithful daily reflections any society ever made of its whole range of activities.

- Marshall McLuhan,

Canadian communication theorist

In this media-saturated and competitive world we live in, an advertisement has only few seconds to make an impact and catch the consumer’s eye. In that time, a brand must communicate its message and convince the consumer to purchase the promoted product. When imagery and content suitable for children, then, is the chosen style to give adults advertising messages in order to attract their attention and convince them, the phenomenon of infantilization begins to start. Before we can explore infantilization and its implementation in advertising, we first have to understand the key features of the era we live in and its impact on advertising with respect to Turkey, which maybe is one of the most special countries, caught between Western culture and Eastern tradition.

2.1. The era we live in: key features of 21st century

The era we live in is characterized by the emergence of postmodernism, and with it, the increasing globalization and advances in technology leading to media explosion and massive consumerism as the main driving forces of 21st century we have to focus on. It is also an era of uncertainty, where infantilization has its breakthrough.

2.1.1. Postmodern Times

Infantilization has emerged, in particular, concurrently with Western societies’ departure from the modern world of the Industrial Age (1750-1950) into what it is rapidly transforming now that is mostly referred to as “postmodern”5 in the Information and Communication Age since the 1950s (Toffler, 1980; Harvey, 1989):

Over the past decades there have been persistent claims that Western societies have entered a new era of their history. While still being undoubtedly industrial, they have undergone such farreaching changes that they can no longer be considered under the old names and by means of the old theories. Western societies are now in various ways ‘post-industrial’: ‘post-Fordist’, ‘post­modern’, [...] In the information and communication revolution, in the transformation of work and organization in the global economy, and in the crisis of political ideologies and cultural beliefs, these theories see the signs of a turning point in the evolution of modern societies. (Kumar, 2005: ix)

Modernity is the time period marked by cultural trends and changes due to wide- scale and far-reaching transformations in Western societies during the late 19th and early 20th century. The ideals of the Enlightenment movement provided a basis on which modernism was built, developing features as rationalism (the belief in knowledge through reason), empiricism (the belief in knowledge through experience) and materialism (the belief in a purely physical universe), that guided individuals’ understanding of the human condition, and permeated all spheres of life from the operation of the economy to the organisation of communities. Postmodernism, however, rejects the modern premises and belief systems of the Enlightenment project that still continues to speak of reason, freedom, and progress, whereas “its pathologies tell another story” (Hicks, 2011: 14). Accordingly, modernism failed. The point is that many people have developed a distrust for modernity which was perceived to have promised wonders and intended to free people from superstition and tyranny; but it only delivered disillusionment, misery, and axiety as it has reached extremes in leading to a world of ideological fanaticism, facism, colonialism, political oppression, and most important, two devastating world wars, and poverty still marking our lives. The Enlightenment reshaped the entire world, and postmodernism, in this sense, hopes to do the same with its own philosophy (ibid.:21). Best known for his highly influential book The Postmodern Condition, French philosopher Jean-Fran^is Lyotard (1924­1998) famously described “postmodernism as an incredulity towards meta-narratives” (1984: xxiv). Metanarratives are prevalent grand theories which provide a single way of perceiving reality, and dominate and determine the meanings of life. They give explanations for a wide range of things and thoughts - including political ideologies, religious doctrines, or cultural and social constructions - based upon the appeal to universal truth and objective knowledge. These are stories which are constructed to legitimize power, authority, and social customs (Jameson, 1985). Thus, postmodernism deals especially with the collision of generally established metanarratives, the liberation from all conformity and the freedom to experience as many ways of being as desired (Firat & Venkatesh, 1993: 229).

First introduced in the field of architecture, the concept of postmodernism became a term for reaction to modernism by quickly extending to all other fields of art, then in the society as a whole since the mid-1960s (Lyotard, 1984). Postmodernism is associated with the historical transformations that followed World War II and with the cultural logics of late capitalism (Jameson, 1985). The use of postmodernism as a concept to describe the phenomenon of worldwide change, in this sense, has become widespread as scholars point out to the fact that “we are in the midst of an epochal transformation from the modern to the postmodern era” (Firat et al., 1994: 40) that “appears to have infected almost every arena of late-twentieth century intellectual endeavour” (Brown, 1993: 19), and meanwhile of early 21st century.

Postmodernism is associated with contemporary life patterns that are wide­spread in developed societies, such as a fast pace of life, technological innovation, continuous change in social tastes and trends, increasing dependence on media, consumerism, globalization, and multi-culturalism (Strinati, 1995). Postmodernism is primarily “an aesthetic movement, a revolt against the once shocking, subsequently tamed ‘modern’ movement of the early- to mid-twentieth century. It is considered as an attitude, a feeling, a mood, a sensibility, an orientation, and a way of looking at the world - a way of looking askance at the world” (Foxall et al., 1998: 239). An important contribution to the understanding of postmodernism is provided by sociologist Dominic Strinati (1995), who summarizes the distinguishing features of postmodern culture. In this vein, Strinati identifies five key features in form of societal shifts that reflect postmodern influences that break the old-established rules:

1. Decline of meta-narratives: Grand theories such as Marxism, Christianity, and modernism itself have lost their currency for postmodern societies. People are no longer believing in authorities and absolute ways to explain reality.
2. Breakdown of the distinction between culture and society: Postmodernism describes the emergence of a social order in which the importance and power of the mass media and popular culture means that they govern and shape all forms of social relationships, increasingly dominate our sense of reality, the way we define ourselves, and the world around us. Our perceptions are largely informed by mediated cultural representations such as news and advertising images.
3. Emphasis on style over substance: Our reality becomes more idealized and more media saturated with the effect that postmodern texts have little real substance to refer to. In media texts, especially in advertising, this can manifest itself in intertextuality where texts make their meaning through reference to previous texts. Superficially, we consume images and signs for their own sake rather than for their usefulness or for deeper values. Thus, we are strongly influenced by branding when buying - the label, packaging, and advertising image become more important than the product and its quality of content.
4. Breakdown of the distinction between high art and popular culture: There is no longer any agreed criteria which can serve to differentiate high art from popular culture - once a modernist distinction that is now threatened by postmodern media culture embraces both art and the popular by mixing the old with the new (e.g., Andy Warhol’s multi-colored prints of Mona Lisa, or pop songs borrowing catchy melodies from classical music). Art becomes now integrated into economy both because it is used to encourage people to consume through the expanded role it plays in advertising, and because it becomes a commercial product in its own right
5. Confusion over time and space: The globalizing tendencies and digital transformations of communication technologies are distorting traditional conceptions of time and space dimensions leading to increasing confusion and incoherence in our sense of reality (e.g., internet can send mails to someone on the other side of the world immediately, or satellites beam down TV links from other countries in seconds). The whole world is now quickly accessible to us because of the speed and scope of mass media and the relative ease with which people and information can travel beyond boundaries.

As a result, we can say that the current world in 21st century is characterized by four main cultural axioms (Lipovetsky and Serroy, 2011: 10):

- Hypercapitalism, which represents the driving force of globalization embodied by the homo economicus;
- Hyperconsumerism, which favors comfort and convenience above any other thing, but leads to growing disorientation in the hypermodern societies.
- Hypertecnification, which defines the digital era, with individuals living an abstract life, cloistered in their new technologies, while they may stay at home;
- Hyperindividualism, or life a la carte, which is centered on premises such as self-realization, subjective autonomy, hedonism, and following a narcissistic tendency.

2.1.2. Media Explosion

It was only in the 1920s that people began to speak of “the media”, and a generation later, in the 1950s, of “a communication revolution”. What then has developed as media studies, is the “study of the mass media as an academic subject”.6 Mass media is a relatively new idea in human culture, and incorporates all those mediums through which information is distributed to the masses. Mass media is communication - whether written, broadcast, or spoken - that reaches a large audience. In the late 2000s, a classification called the “seven mass media” became popular, that was coined by Finnish technology consultant and bestselling author Tomi Ahonen to describe the evolution and convergence of mass media from print to mobile. Accordingly, mass media can be categorized into seven branches: print (books, pamphlets, newspapers, magazines), recording (gramophone records, magnetic tapes, cassettes, cartridges, CDs, and DVDs), cinema, radio, television, internet, and mobile phones as shown in Figure 2.1.

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Figure 2.1 Evolution of Mass Media

The first four mass media are the traditional ones that are well known with established formats. Print (from the late 15th century) is the oldest, which has introduced long-form stories in books, advertising and subscriptions to newspapers and magazines. Recordings (from the late 19th century) introduced performance media separating the creative element (the writer/composer) and the performer with the global performance celebrity star. Cinema (from about 1900s) introduced moving images and multimedia content; and with it, many superstars were born. Radio (from about 1910s) brought the broadcast model with a streaming type of content delivery such as news, weather, and music. Radio, in this sense, was the first pervasive media, received simultaneously by all. The most dominant mass media for the past 50 years, however, has been television (from the 1950s), yet it did not really introduce anything new but soon dominated all other existing media forms by delivering combined forms of them. Television soon took over totally the news from cinema, and with the emergence with video cassettes and later DVDs even the movies; and it took over much of the drama series, concerts, and live sports broadcasts from radio to which whole families listened to. Television introduced series and shows that promoted celebrity, and later propelled “normal” people into temporary celebrity status such as game shows, reality TV, etc.

With the sixth mass media, the internet (from the 1990s) as a very complex and revolutionary invention, the world got globally connected. It is the first that is capable of replicating all of the other five previous media: we can read books, magazines and newspapers online; view movies; listen to radio; view TV; download recordings (e.g. MP3 files, computer software, videogames etc). Further, the e-mail technology was developed, evolving to the postmodern version of letter writing. Most notably, the internet introduced two new elements: interactivity and search providing us with information and connectivity. The mobile phone, then, emerged as a mass media from about the year 2000, more recently smartphones, which have brought about a major change in the lives of people. The youngest of the seven mass media with the small screen is by far the most powerful with its applications which have added comfort and convenience. Mobile, in this sense, has eight unique elements not available on previous mass media: it is the first truly portable personal media, permanently carried, always- on, having a built-in payment mechanism, available at the point of creative impulse (e.g. camera function), provides most accurate audience information, captures social context of media consumption, and enables augmented reality (Ahonen, 2008).

The rise of traditional mass media ranging from film to broadcasting was one of the major phenomena of the 20th century. But especially “televisual technology has undergone a tremendous revolution [...]. From the cinema screen through the television screen to the video screen, we have constantly been subjected to an increasingly Orwellian screen culture” (Woods, 1999: 218). In late 20th century and in early 21st century, new screens were added - computer and mobile screens. New media technologies, in this sense, have become powerful tools by greatly contributing to the creation of a globalized society unlimited by physical distance, altering the concepts of location, space, and time. Against this backdrop, we are seduced and reduced to place a high premium on these technological devices - actually being electronic toys - that have turned out to be so pervasive that our daily lives are becoming more and more centered around them, nearly transforming us to some kind of “Lord of the Screens”: The world is now at our fingertips, and with just one magical click we can attain anything we want! The effect is that people become technofetishized; they cannot live without technology anymore, that is contantly teaching them to adapt to and yearn for the next newness, urging them to instant gratification and screen addiction.

2.1.3. Massive Consumerism

Mass media, a significant force particularly in Western capitalist societies, is leading to mass consumerism. Consumerism, in this sense, is a social and economic state of an advanced industrial society which is based on the systematic creation and fostering of a desire to purchase and sell products in ever greater amounts mainly promoted by media. Media can play a critical role in informing citizens, influencing attitudes and values, and touting the latest trends. However, the explosive emergence and development of a mediated culture shows the overall impact and guidance created and exerted by the culture industry, a notion already coined in 1944 by the two German critical theorists Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, leading members of the Frankfurt School most known for their work Dialectic of Enlightenment. The culture industry refers to a commodified and uniform popular culture in the capitalist society, which functions like an industry in producing standardized products which, in turn, produce standardized consumers. The culture industry is a main phenomenon of late capitalism, enhanced and propagated by the media, which encompasses all products and forms of light entertainment - from Hollywood films to popular music. With this regard, in Society of the Spectacle (1967), the French theorist Guy Debord developed the concept of the “spectacle” to refer to the domination of media images and consumer society over the individual while obscuring the nature and effects of capitalism. According to Debord, the spectacle is a tool that distracts and seduces people using the mechanisms of leisure, consumption, and entertainment as ruled by culture industries and especially advertising. These forms of culture are designed to cultivate false psychological needs that can only be met and satisfied by the products of consumer capitalism, which are used to manipulate mass society into passivity. We see that already decades ago it was observed that the culture industry shapes a dependent consuming public that is offered with trivial content contributing to a “regressive” audience that is “arrested at the infantile stage” (Adorno: 2001: 41-47).

Consumerism, as a powerful symbol of capitalist mass society, has become central to the meaningful practice of our everyday life, where choices are based not only on a product’s utility value anymore, but especially from the personal symbolic meanings they invest in objects. Highly visible becomes advertising, permeating the public and private spaces with messages that affect how we think - consciously and unconsciously - about ourselves, others, and the wider world. We learn to live role models lives that are representative through TV, movies, and advertising, which promote lifestyles and products that are created to cater to the capitalist market. “I shop, therefore I am” is a striking slogan by American pop artist Barbara Kruger, who highlights that consumerism has turned out to be the lifestyle of postmodern society shaping consumer identities. However, the critique of consumerism lies in its huge power to play upon the desires and anxieties which attend the constructions of our identity. This is mainly due to five general consumer enticements we cannot escape, because they are ubiquitous (everywhere), omnipresent (always there), addictive (creates reinforcements), self-replicating (spreads “virally”), and omnilegitimate (self- promotional) (Barber, 2007: 222). Although those of us doing most of the consuming may feel better through our purchases, enjoyment often is fleeting after a short time. But then, we are again bombarded with messages from a multitude of media sources that promote not only products, but especially moods, tastes, and a sense of what is and is not important. Thus, it is difficult to break out of that vicious consumer cycle. Media studies helps us to understand and reveal “how media culture manipulates and indoctrinates us, and thus can empower people to contest the dominant meanings in cultural artifacts and to produce their own meanings and alternative media” (Hammer & Kellner, 2009: xxxiv).


1 Among many others, the most outstanding titles of cover stories and headlines are: “Kidult: Erwachsene werden Kinder beim weltweiten Konsum“ [Kidult: Adults become children in global consumerism] (Tagesspiegel, 2000), “Adventures in Agelessness” (Newsweek, 2003), “Kindliches als Megatrend” [Childishness as mega-trend] (Neue Zurcher Zeitung, 2003), “Die Deutschen werden immer infantiler” [The Germans become more and more infantile] (Frankfurter Allgemeine, 2003), “The Perpetual Adolescent” (TheWeeklyStandard, 2004), “They Just Won’t Grow Up” (Time, 2005), “Forever Youngish: Why Nobody Wants to Be an Adult Anymore” (New York, 2006), “Big Babies” (New Internationalist, 2007), “Erwachsene werden zu infantilen Kidults, und Kinder sind die neuen Erwachsenen” [Adults Become Infantilized Kidults, Children are the New Adults] (Spiegel, 2009), “Wenn Erwachsene zu kleinen Kindern werden” [When Adults Become Infants] (Welt Online, 2010), “Kindisches Zeitalter” [A Childish era] (Welt, 2012), “Generation who refuse to grow up” (Daily Mail, 2012), “Have our cultural tastes become too childish?” (TheGuardian, 2015).

2 Infantilization is, simultaneously, accompanied by its opposite, which is another phenomenon named as adultification: the process of treating children as adults by viewing them as if they have grown up. This would also be an uniage-approach, but this time with the dominance of adult features operating at the level of an adult. Adultification allows the child to enter directly in the realm of adulthood behaving and acting with reason and responsibility. In the present research, however, it will be concentrated on the notion of infantilization that targets adults operating at the level of a child.

3 According to Anderson (1995), there are actually four worldviews currently in use: postmodern- ironist, which sees truth as socially constructed; scientific-rational, in which truth is found through methodical, disciplined inquiry; social-traditional, in which truth is found in the heritage of American and Western civilization, or neo-romantic, in which truth is found through attaining harmony with nature and/or spiritual exploration of the inner self.

4 To give some examples: In “Markanizi Artik O [Genglik] Yonetiyor“ [Youth is managing your brand now] (The BrandAge, December 2011), it is argued that the youth is the main focus of brands because of its influencing power that is greater than any other age group forcing brands to reshape their image and campaigns according to it (p.64); in “Reklamin Cinleri | Reklamin Sihirli Gucu” [The Dschinns of Advertising | The Magical Power of Advertising] (Infomag, August 2012), it is argued that brands try to conquer the heart of consumers by using the magical power of advertisements by creating entertaining icons as, for example, the large teddy bear of the ice-cream brand Algida (p.99); and in “Olagan §upheliler: Marka Oykulerinin Qizgi Ba^rolleri” [Potential Suspects: Animated Characters of Brand Stories] (MediaCat, August 2014), the rise of brands’ animated characters in advertising campaigns is indicated with formulations like “in order to reach the consumer”, “cosy, truthful, longlasting solution”, “pleasant and loveable characters” (p.35) which are shown as reasons why animation advertising is successful and preferred by more and more brands.

5 Postmodernism curiously identifies itself by what it is not. The term indicates that it is not modern anymore but, then, it is to be questioned in which sense it is exactly “post”: Does postmodernism mean “the aftermath of modernism”, “a result of modernism”, “the afterbirth of modernism”, “the development of modernism”, “the denial of modernism”, or “the rejection of modernism” (Appignanesi & Garrett, 2013: 4)? It seems that postmodernism has all of these meanings, or some combination of these meanings. But the confusion surrounding the term stems from two primary facts: the postmodern “resists and obscures the sense of modernism” and it “implies a complete knowledge of the modern which has been surpassed by a new age” (ibid.).

6 Media studies can be thought of as a field of study rather than a discipline with its own discrete concepts, traditions and methods. On the one side, media studies seem to concentrate mostly on its core disciplines of communication by interacting with cognate fields concerned with journalism, film and television, popular music, photography and new media forms. But on the other side, media studies is influenced by many other disciplines and, therefore, may draw on traditions especially from both the social sciences and the humanities. These encompass cultural studies, philosophy, literary theory, psychology, political science, economics, sociology, anthropology, and history to name the most obvious. Thus, media studies refers to a meeting place for a lot of different approaches, questions and agendas. It further considers the transformation of the public sphere and individual imagination through the forms and effects of media upon social practices.

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When Brand Communication Becomes Childish. Infantilization in 21st Century Advertising
T.C. Yeditepe University Istanbul  (Institute of Social Sciences - Media Studies Doctoral Program)
cum laude
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Infantilization, Advertising, Postmodernism, Psychology, Semiotics, Turkey
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PhD Bengü Basbug (Author), 2018, When Brand Communication Becomes Childish. Infantilization in 21st Century Advertising, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/465677


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