Special Session Summary Advertising and Popular Culture: Textual Poaching Or Hegemonic Gamekeeping?


Richard Elliott (1998) ,"Special Session Summary Advertising and Popular Culture: Textual Poaching Or Hegemonic Gamekeeping?", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, eds. Basil G. Englis and Anna Olofsson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 121-122.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, 1998      Pages 121-122



Richard Elliott, University of Oxford, U.K.

This session addresses the problems raised by regarding advertising as a cultural commodity, which may often be consumed without reference to the advertised product. Advertising as a cultural product is "no more immune to subversion, evasion or resistance than any other strategic force." Together with (or as part of) popular culture, advertising forms the leading domain of contemporary symbolism, where the 'grand problems’ of social theory: power vs. opposition, structure vs. agency, freedom vs. control are played out. M. de Certau’s portrayal of consumers as 'textual poachers’ who subvert the intended meanings of advertising through the exercise of symbolic creativity is contrasted with the Frankfurt School’s pessimistic account of the inability of the individual to resist imposed meanings, and the possibilities for (limited) freedom from ideological control are explored.




Stephanie O’Donohoe, University of Edinburgh

The notion of ambivalence in consumers’ attitudes to advertising is well established but undertheorised. This paper locates such conflicts and contradictions in the context of postmodernism, popular culture, and advertising literacy. Advertising is intertwined with popular culture like the twin strands f DNA (Fowles 1996). It is also characterised by postmodern practices such as the self-referencing and self-conscious use of parody, pastiche and juxtaposition (Brown 1995; Goldman 1992; Scott 1992). Such characteristics do not simply reside in advertising texts themselves, but pervade the consumption of ads by audiences who are increasingly recognised as advertising literate (Meadows 1983; Ritson and Elliott 1995; O’Donohoe 1995).

Following a brief review of traditional treatments of attitudes to advertising, this paper takes an interpretive turn. Reporting on a study conducted among young adults, it discusses three sets of tensions in their attitudes to ads and advertising. Firstly, they experienced advertising as a distinct yet intertextual entity; thus they saw advertising as having its own historical and cultural identity, and at the same time they drew on their understanding of genres and conventions from other cultural texts to make sense of particular ads. Secondly, the young adults treated advertising as something to be enjoyed as well as endured: as a form of popular culture it offered a number of hedonic, aesthetic and intellectual rewards, but at the same time its repetition of form and content jaded their sophisticated palates. Finally, the young adults’ advertising literacy skills encouraged them to feel immune and yet vulnerable to the persuasive powers of ads; while they prided themselves on their ability to "see through" ads, they were also aware that the effects of advertising were not necessarily immediate or obvious. The paper concludes by considering the implications of these tensions for our understanding of advertising production and consumption in postmodern times.


Brown, S. (1995) Postmodern Marketing, London: Routledge

Fowles, J. (1996) Advertising and Popular Culture, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

Goldman, R. (1992) Reading Ads Socially, London: Routledge

Meadows, R. (1983) "They consumer advertising too", Admap, July-August, pp 408-413

O’Donohoe, S. (1995) "Playtime TV: Advertising Literate Audiences and the Commercial Game", in T. Meenaghan and P. O’Sullivan (eds) Marketing Communications in Ireland, Dublin: Oaktree Press, pp 585-603

Ritson, M. and Elliott, R. (1995) "A Model of Advertising Literacy: The Praxiology and Co-creation of Advertising Meaning", in M. Bergaada (ed) Proceedings of the 1995 European Marketing Academy Conference, ESSEC, Paris: European Marketing Academy, pp 1035-1054

Scott, L. (1992) "Playing with Pictures: Postmodernism, Poststructuralism, and Advertising Visuals", in J.F. Sherry and B. Sternthal (eds), Advances in Consumer Research, 19, Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, pp 596-612



John Desmond, Heriot-Watt University

Pierre McDonagh, University of Stirling

Stephanie O’Donohoe, University of Edinburgh

This paper takes Elliott & Ritson (1997) as its point of reference for exploring conceptions of the counter culture as experienced by readers of ads; agency creative and the authors themselves. We seek to explore and problematize binary relations of "culture/counterculture" "mainstream/fringe"; "power/resistance". In considering claims that the age of "simulation" (Baudrillard, 1981) and hyper-signification (Goldman & Papson, 1996) is upon us, we explore the view that the "mainstream" is seeking to mould the "fringe" to its own agenda by camouflage: -the simulated appearance that it (the mainstream) is also the fringe. We consider this with respect to issues raised by Gelder and Thornton (1996) that counter culture can be said to feed off itself with various subcultures, and also with respect to an oppositional reading of controlled resistance where the manufacturers of images orchestrate counter culture to their own ends. We go on to consider the role of "resistance" in an age of cultural fragmentation; exploring issues such as the meaning of the "mainstream" and that of the "mainstream in the head". We also consider issues related to the commodification of resistance:Bthat in an age of hyper-signification difference, rather than perceived oppression is becoming celebrated as the only value which can be made equivalent to "resistance".


Baudrillard, J. (1988 [1981]) "Simulacra and Simulation" in M. Poster (ed) Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings, Cambridge University Press.

Elliott, R. & Ritson, M. (1997), Poststructuralism and the Dialectics of Advertising: Discourse, Ideology, Resistance. In S. Brown and D. Turley (eds.) Consumer Research: Postcards From the Edge, London, Routledge.

Gelder, K. & Thornton, S. (eds.) (1996), The Subcultures Reader, Routledge, London

Goldman, R. & Papson, S. (1996), Sign Wars, the Cluttered Landscape of Advertising, London: The Guildford Press



Richard Elliott, University of Oxford

The commodification of the advertising for Absolut vodka has now developed into a market with 100's of ads being offered for trade on the World Wide Web, and a telephone information line set up by Absolut's PR agency receives about a thousand calls a month from collectors. Highly-prized for their visual puns and verbal wit, the ads have been collected by college students and adults over the last decade and recently third-grade children in a New York school were restricted to trading Absolut ads on Tuesday and Thursday only (Rothenberg, 1996). Another form of advertising iconography has been described in relation to the portrayal of overt sexuality in an advertising campaign for Haagen-Dazs ice-cream in the UK which was adapted into the social practices of a group of women, where it was suggested that representations of sexuality in advertising may allow women to speak more easily of their desires through the consumption of advertising meaning and its use as a cultural commodity (Elliott and Ritson, 1995).

One important consideration of the nature of the consumption of advertising as a cultural commodity is the ability of individuals to 'twist' or 'divert' advertising meanings in order to achieve congruence with self image. Both Mick and Buhl (1992) and Elliott, Eccles and Hodgson (1993) show how consumers renegotiate intended meanings subjectively according to their own self-constructs, demonstrating the ability of consumers to rc-sig-nify commodity-signs in personalised, unintended directions (de Certau, 1984). At a societal level of analysis, Maffesoli (1996) has described the formation of >postmodern tribes' based on a collectivity of aesthetics, where the social nature of emotional experience constitutes the tribe. The shared emotional experience of consumption phenomena, especially advertising, is thus a prime factor in socialisation (Cova and Svanfeldt, 1993).

However, the power of advertising to influence consumers through subtle ideological manoeuvres cannot be ignored. Although the influence of advertising is often recognised and opposed by the consumer, advertising ideology engenders 'enlightened' false consciousness in the minds of the consumer as a means of acknowledging this awareness whilst maintaining its ideological influence. In effect, advertising perpetrates a semantic 'double bluff' by incorporating criticism. By becoming 'reflexive' a particular ad can distance itself from the identified influence of advertising and in doing so add ideological power to its own influence. By applying 'tongue- in-cheek' executions, undercut with a strategic "knowing wink" (Goldman, 1992) advertising ideology is able to wipe the slate of consciousness clean and begin the process of ideology anew with the new 'enlightened' consumer.

This paper explores these paradoxical positions and rejects postmodern pessimism but defends the belief that individuals can achieve (limited) freedom of action and sustain a (fragile and imaginary) integrated self. In particular it is suggested that advertising is a popular form of art which images a "way of experiencing" which can allow people to develop the cultural meanings for experience which already exist. This is related to Adorno's (1984) aesthetic theory of art which accords it a fetishistic status which gives it autonomy against the threat of commodification, and thus art may empower the individual to resist dominant meanings.


Adomo, T. W. (1984). Aesthetic Theory. trans. C. Lenhardt. London: Routledge & KEgan Paul

Cova, B. and Svanfeldt, C. (1993), Societal Innovations and the Postmodern Aesthicization of Everyday Life. International Journal of Research in Marketing, 10, 297-310.

de Certeau, M.(1984), The Practice of Everyday Life, Berkley: University of California Press.

Elliott, R., Eccles, S. & Hodgson, M.(1993), 'Recoding Gender Representations: Women, Cleaning Products and Advertising's "New Man"', International Journal of Research in Marketing, 10, 1- 14

Elliott, R. & Ritson, M. (1995), "Practicing Existential Consumption: The Lived Meaning of Sexuality in Advertising," Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 22, 740-746.

Geertz, C. (1983). Art as a cultural system. In: Local knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology. London: Fontana Press.

Goldman, R. (1992). Reading Ads Socially. London: Routledge.

Mick, D.G. & Buhl, C.(1992),'A Meaning Based Model of Advertising', Journal of Consumer Research, 19, 317-338.

Rothenberg, R. (1996), Absolut Madness. Esquire, October, 68-69.



Richard Elliott, University of Oxford, U.K.


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3 | 1998

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