Popular culture, indeed, has always held athletes in high esteem, dating back to the days of the ancient Greeks and the first Olympiad events, thousands of years ago. However, in recent decades, talented athletes in sports which had in the past been relegated to the upper class, such as tennis, are now embraced by the masses of all socioeconomic levels. A case in point is the Russian tennis phenomenon Maria Sharapova. Admittedly, she is an excellent tennis player, but there are countless other talented tennis players who have not gotten even a fraction of the media attention as has Sharapova.
Taking a closer look at this pop culture frenzy, the adoration that has been showered upon Sharapova and many other athletes comes down to how our culture has influenced advertising (USA Today); more specifically, one can clearly argue that Sharapova and others grabbed their biggest share of fame once they began to commercially promote products such as Nike brand clothing and shoes, showing the power of advertising to focus the love of the masses on someone based on an image seen in commercials, as well as the ways that culture has influenced product brands.
The Rise of Consumerism
As was alluded to in the introduction of this paper, the common denominator in the rise of athletes to god-like status in society, and the growth of companies like Nike into multi billion dollar marketing machines, can all be attributed to the masses, leading to academic studies of consumers in such frequency that terms like consumerism have been coined to identify the analysis of the behavior and power of the consumer to dictate how the business world ultimately operates, what it offers to the public, and how the future of consumer goods will unfold.
Experts in the study of consumerism have attributed the rise of consumerism itself to the global spread of what can best be described as material desire; in other words, the economic freedom that many parts of the world have been exposed to for the first time over the last quarter century or so has bred a new generation of consumers, who have the desire to possess consumer goods and finally have the financial means to buy them (Sussman). Especially desirable are the “brand name” goods which consumers view as a symbol of affluence; the Nike “swoosh” symbol, for instance, is something that people consider a sign of success when it appears on their shoes or clothing.
This, in itself, speaks volumes about the extent of consumerism with the use of a simple, yet telling example. Because of the availability of foreign made, inexpensive clothing and shoes, it would make sense that if one merely wanted to keep warm or protect their feet, they would buy the least expensive, yet functional merchandise they could obtain; however, more often than not, consumers will pay much more than they have to for clothing items because of the presence of a Nike symbol or any of a score of others which have universal appeal.
In fairness to Nike and others, they do make products of sufficient quality and functionality, but also in fairness, one can find goods of similar, or even superior quality at lower prices, “sans swoosh” if you will. The difference, once again, is the power of consumerism to dictate what one should wear on their bodies to be considered worthy in society.
Catering to King Consumer
When looking at the role of the consumer, it can fairly be said that we are really looking at “king” or “queen”, as marketing efforts target, and effectively reach, both genders. In the case of Nike, the understated in fact speaks volumes; for example, the previously mentioned Maria Sharapova is presented by Nike as “just a tennis player” (Nike-United States). In this case, what is not said actually screams out to the consumer. The implication on the part of Nike is clear- their products hold the potential to bring out greatness, or to satisfy the highest needs of the most talented athletes like Sharapova. This speaks volumes not only about the power of advertising, but also a bit about our culture.
Culture’s Influence on Advertising
The all-powerful consumer also wields a great deal of influence in terms of how companies like Nike advertise their products. Going back to an example similar to the one in the previous section, Nike, in investing multiple millions of dollars in advertising, could purchase quite literally a ton of advertising year-round, but will spend the same amount for one quick television advertisement during the Super Bowl.
The reason why is that the consumer dictates that for Nike and others, Super Bowl advertising is a command performance, much like attendance at a family dinner party to maintain harmony with one’s siblings. This is indicative of both the power of the consumer to direct marketing strategy, and the power of the media to create powerful companies quite literally overnight in some cases (Kellner). In the words of our old friends at Nike, consumerism and culture are tied together as such:
“In a commercial culture that blends celebrity, product, and image, it is only natural that the sports shoe transnational Nike - as well as many other corporations - would purchase star power to promote its products. Accordingly, I argue that the Nike connection calls attention to the extent to which media culture is transforming sports into a spectacle that sells the values, products, celebrities, and institutions of the media and consumer society” (Kellner, p. 64) .
Culture is also a powerful ingredient in the consumerism mix; when one takes a look at the styles of clothing and shoes that Nike offers, as well as their advertising, it is clear that urban culture is a strong influence, leading to farm kids in Iowa, for example, wearing Nike gear, even though the closest they may have ever come to city life is seeing graffiti on a tractor trailer rolling through their town, on the way to somewhere else. The point to be made is that popular culture is a driving force in marketing today.
In an image-obsessed society such as ours, material goods can, and do, create legendary, larger than life individuals, who in turn sell billions of dollars in products, and the cycle continues. As a conclusion, perhaps the old saying is the best: “consumer is king”!
Kellner, Douglas. Media Spectacle. New York: Routledge, 2003.
(Nike-United States 2007)Nike-United States. 2007. Nike, Inc.. 5 Mar. 2007 <http://www.nike.com>.
Sussman, Charlotte. "Consumerism in World History: The Global Transformation of Desire." The Historian 66.1 (2004): 211+.
"Tennis Royalty Crowned by Prince." USA Today (Society for the Advancement of Education) Nov. 2005: 78+.