Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Advertising lifestyle:
What images are used in the advertisements for new building developments and condos in the city and why?
Whether you are an aging Edmontonian downsizing your living space, or a young couple buying your first home, a plethora of new urban condos await you. However one must beware, as not only are you buying a chic new condo, but you are also being sold a new lifestyle. With a vast number of condos being developed in the Edmonton area, all offering something unique, we as individuals are able to choose the one that suits us best. Often however, we do not have a choice in what condos we see, as advertisers target certain demographics to interpellate particular viewers in hopes of snagging the one who will buy into the advertised lifestyle. These images tell us the type of viewer we want to be and by identifying with that image, we mold ourselves in an attempt to fit this idealized image. Taken from a Marxist perspective, by the very act of desiring the condos, we support the capitalist system, as “the conversion of commodities into money and of money into commodities is a necessary function of industrial capital for the continuation of the process of reproduction” (Arriaga 1984, 59). Instead of striving to better ourselves or the conditions we live in, we see the advertisements, and strive to possess the material product (condo) being sold. This desire for the material then necessitates our need to work to keep up with mortgage payments and water bills. Moreover, with this we have situated ourselves as generic workers in the capitalist system.

Louis Althusser elaborated on some of these Marxist ideas employing psychoanalytical theory to focus more on the imaginary relationships of the viewer and advertisement, which entailed the advertisement attracting a viewer’s attention (Callari 1996, 79). Althusser called this process interpellation (Sturken and Cartwright 2009, 446). In this sense the imaginary plays a key role in an individual wanting to buy a condo, as the viewer can imagine him or herself living the lifestyle portrayed within the advertisement. Another perspective on the image aspect of advertisement comes from Roland Barthes and the myth of photographic truth. This poststructuralist concept suggests that viewers perceive a photographic image as being unconditionally true (Sturken and Cartwright 2009, 17). When applied to condo advertisements this may cause a viewer to perceive the lifestyle associated this new condos as providing guaranteed happiness. Through a critical analysis of condo advertisements, we present them as representing traditional materialistic idealizations of happiness, which though obvious to some, does not prevent our ability to be interpellated.

Century Park

Century park is a typical shopping complex, littered with its very own Starbucks, Spa lady, Safeway, gas station, and a couple of popular restaurants, where hundreds of people innocently breeze through each day. The enormous condo complex being built in the background seems to blend in, however, the advertising is everywhere. Simple white billboards line the outside windows of the community center in the middle of the complex, and hanging signs line the street way for anyone driving past the condos to see. These serve to interpellate viewers as they pass, noticing the smiling faces on the people featured, and identifying this positivity with the condos themselves. The billboards have a relatively simple appearance, with white backgrounds, people who look like they could be your neighbours staring out at you, and simple phrases like, “Lifestyle,” “Location,” and, “A nice place to live.” The unobtrusive nature of the pictures contribute to their ability to blend into the background, and on daily Starbucks runs it begins to seem as though that nice women staring out at you from the window is in fact a neighbour and you begin to believe that it is “A nice place to live.”

The identification that you begin to experience with these people

is both direct and indirect. The passerby is given the option of seeing themselves in these people, and ideally desiring to move and live in these condos, but is also given the option of identifying them as great for someone else, while still recognizing that this is the goal of the advertisement. The diversity in ethnicity, age, gender, and family type are all incorporated in the people displayed on the billboards and serve to interpellate a wider range of viewers to identify with those whom they most closely resemble. The simple white background eliminates taste prejudices, allowing the viewer to project their own stereotypes and ideas into the simplistic image so that each individual sees the advertisements and derives meaning from them in a different way. Direct instructions “Move in today” make it seem very easy, just as living there would be. Unlike the other advertisements however, the lifestyle you chose to see in these particular condos will be a reflection of which advertisement you identify with, and the unique context you bring to it.


Driving South on Rabbit Hill Road, you find yourself among new construction and empty fields. At almost every entrance to a community of new homes, there are billboards advertising some aspect of the property you may wish to purchase as a new homebuyer.

One such advertisement for the Sandalwood development attempts to sell us a happy, nature filled lifestyle. This Sandalwood billboard interpellates us as consumers able to purchase the lifestyle of this young family. The top image of the man and woman leaning on a fence gives the impression of looking through at a horse rather than a neighbour’s yard, which is a more likely scenario in the city. This emphasis on the natural is reiterated in the second image of the child (whom we presume to be their son) running through tall grass behind smiling parents. We are to believe that if we purchase this product we will be closer to nature and will be able to enjoy it with our happy family. The images engage us in a relationship in which we identify with the human subjects (and the ideological family) and are left desiring their happiness and natural surroundings (Sturken and Cartwright 2009, 122).

Because the billboard is located far from major roadways, it targets a consumer looking for a home in this area, close to undeveloped fields or “nature”. The Sandalwood billboard focuses on the discourse of what is “natural” to create meaning within its images based on what it is not (Sturken and Cartwright 2009, 122). It establishes us and where we live currently as “the other” by using binary oppositions-- words such as “pure”, “natural”, and “true” indicate precisely what the city is not perceived to be, but that this development (and your new home) is. It contrasts the Sandalwood development (pure. natural. true.) with the false, unnatural, impure city. The irony of course being that man has exploited nature in order to build the (unnatural) paths and lake that make this development so naturally desirable.

Urban Village on Whyte

The Urban Village on Whyte is an inviting condo complex situated between Whyte Avenue and Argyll Road, where billboards encourage the everyday passerby to explore the possibility of owning a home there, or at least this is what the developers are trying to achieve. In reality the Urban Village on Whyte, is not located on Whyte, it is far removed from the bustling retail and trendy atmosphere of Whyte Avenue. It is instead located in limbo between the disappointing end of the Whyte avenue shops, and the factories, warehouses and landfills that welcome you into the suburban hamlet of Sherwood Park. The fact that the background landscape for the Urban village is, to put it nicely "less than ideal" the advertisements used to provoke interest in potential buyers have to be that much more effective in portraying the supposed positive lifestyle of the condo complex.

The advertisements for the Urban Village on Whyte use the same aforementioned techniques as most other Condo complexes. These roadside billboards easily interpellate the viewer, as they are a stark contrast against the bleak background surrounding them. By interrupting the viewer within such an austere context, the Urban Village on Whyte seems exponentially more inviting to even the most neutral onlooker. Along with the context of the advertisements is the successful nature of the actual advertisements themselves. By using easily identifiable idealized images, such as the happy monogamous couple, these billboards use the customs of human nature to evoke the neutral observer to identify with the individuals in the advertisements regardless of their status as potential homeowners.

Identification of the viewer with the subject is crucial to the success of these advertisements, as identification can be a powerful tool in influencing a person’s actions (Sturken and Cartwright 2009, 122). The success of the advertisement is based on the ability of the advertisement to cause the viewer to identify with the subject in a way that produces a feeling of lacking in the viewer (Sturken and Cartwright 2009, 122). Therefore, while the persons within these advertisements are seen as happy and fulfilled, the feeling in the no longer neutral observer will be one of emptiness and deficiency. It is this feeling of lacking that the condo developers capitalize on, using a different sort of advertisement.

After being interpellated by, and identifying with, the billboard advertisements on the roadside, a lacking observer may venture further toward the condo complex that is the Urban Village on Whyte. As one reaches the front of the condo complex, equipped with their newfound feeling of emptiness, a different advertisement appears at the foreground of the condos. This advertisement no longer uses images that appeal to human identification, but it outlines the various features and amenity center of the condo complex. Essentially this acts as a huge sign saying, “Hey look! That feeling of lacking you have, well you can satisfy it and be as happy as those people in the advertisements if you buy this new condo!” As simple as these advertisements seem on the surface, they are, in actuality, a complex sequence of proceedings that appeal to human nature.


Callari, Antonio, ed., Postmodern materialism and the future of Marxist theory. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1996.

Patricia Arriaga. On advertising - a marxist critique. Media Culture & Society 6, (1): 53-64. 1984.

Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright. Practices of looking: An introduction to visual culture. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

1 comment:

  1. Really great news!!! this information is well worth looking everyone. Good tips. I will be sharing this with all of my friends! Thank you for sharing valuable information.



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