Social Communication in Canada (Second Edition)

William Leiss

Stephen Kline

Sut Jhally

This is a revised and enlarged edition of the 1986 book. Changes include a completely new chapter on political marketing; Chapter 12, "Issues in Social Policy," has been substantially re-written, as has Chapter 7 on the modern advertising industry. The revisions to Chapters 12 and 7 strengthen an already useful contribution to the literature that looks at advertising as something other than merely the manipulation of "false" needs. The new chapter on political marketing is less successful.

The many merits of this book issue from the authors' success in pursuing what they call a single thread of argument: "national consumer product advertising has become one of the great vehicles of social communication" (p. 1). To this end they briefly look at neoliberal and Marxist critiques of advertising. Part 2 takes us from the origins of the consumer culture through the linking of media and advertising to a description of the modern advertising industry. Part 3, the Theatre of Consumption, is the main course. The authors apply semiological and content analyses to advertising including a discussion of the pitfalls of each. The advertisements they choose to accompany their text are invariably apt, ranging from a lipstick recommended by a very young Henry Fonda to Castoria, the safe laxative for children.

Chapter 11, "Goods as Communicators," is key. As the title implies, the authors are in agreement with Mary Douglas and Baron Isherwood: commodities are good for thinking. The consumer society is treated as an anthropological type with an interesting discussion of fetishism. The authors argue that advertising since 1890 has moved through four periods, that is, cultural frames. The authors are sensible enough to recognize the limits of their interesting taxonomy: human events rarely can be filed into neat drawers. While their cultural frames (idolatry, iconology, narcissism, and totemism) are periodizing concepts, there is overlap. A cultural frame becomes less apparent as its successors become dominant but it does not disappear.

Chapter 12, "Issues in Social Policy," is a vast improvement on the first edition. There the chapter was short, abstract, and not particularly insightful. This time, among other issues, the authors have focused on tobacco. This permits them to discuss with reference to specific advertisements issues such as advocacy advertising, industry efforts to link advertising with freedom of expression, non-smokers associations' efforts to use advertising to forestall tobacco industry efforts to influence parliament, and associated issues.

The new chapter on political marketing is weak. In a few pages we roam from Bush versus Dukakis to 1865 New Brunswick. This chapter needs the rewriting job the authors prove themselves capable of in Chapter 12. The rewriting of Chapter 7 on the advertising industry permits the authors to track the globalization of the industry much more effectively than in the first edition.

A few final comments may be pertinent. Firstly, readers might wish to consult Colin Campbell's The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism. Published in 1987 after the first edition of this book, it adds appreciably to our thinking about the dynamics and origins of consumerism. Secondly, the authors assert that "metaphor is the very heart of the basic communicative form used in modern advertising" (p. 289). George Lakoff and associates' work (Metaphors We Live By, 1980, and More than Cool Reason, 1989) asserting that human thought, not just its communicative aspects, is largely metaphorical, takes the Leiss, et al., argument much deeper. Finally, in the introduction we are told: "among industrial societies, only in the United States does a significant part of the population retain a passion for religious rhetoric" (p. 1). What about the Muslim population of the United Kingdom, with or without the Salman Rushdie affair? Or Northern Ireland, for that matter? On the other hand, after Margaret Thatcher it is possible the authors mean that the United Kingdom is no longer an industrial society.

Quibbles aside, the authors have successfully attempted a judicious application of insights from anthropology, historical analysis, semiotics, and other disciplines to advertising.



  •  Announcements
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo
  •  Current Issue
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo
  •  Thesis Abstracts
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo

We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

SSHRC LOGO