ADVERTISING IN POST SOCIALIST COUNTRIES: INDEXING THE POST-SOCIALIST TRANSFORMATION
Issues arising from change and transformation in various contexts have increasingly become the focus of applied scholars across disciplines. Whether we are concerned with the altering of personal identities, turning groups into teams, organizational restructuring or reconstituting society, the nature of transformative processes is of considerable importance. Many applied communication scholars are involved in various ways in a variety of transformative activities in a broad array of organizations both creating a need for and producing research in this area. Although the major changes required for transforming a large bureaucratic organization into a flatter, leaner structure may seem massive and complex, such a change is dwarfed by the problems associated with the complete altering of nations occurring in eastern and central Europe. One way we can improve our application of communication theory and research in these situations is to analyze the various aspects of the transformative processes. To that end, this paper is focused on the development of advertising as an index of the post-socialist transformation of Europe.
There exists an inextricable link between a country's economic system and its ideology. Mumby (1989) points out that an ideology serves three functions for a social system: 1) ideology qualifies each subject to recognize what is, what is good and what is possible; 2) ideology is related to power and domination; 3) ideology is linked to discourse. These functions are tied directly to the economic underpinnings of society. In a Socialist system, such as that which previously existed, the discourse surrounding production lacked the concepts of superiority and inferiority, choice and competition. The absence of these concepts, or even a system that allowed for them, has led to a tension of change. Let us look at these changes through the lens of Mumby's functions.
While it is one matter to declare that society is now based on competition, supply and demand and other "capitalistic" ideals, it is quite another to grasp these concepts and change generations worth of attitudinal understanding. Transformation, as shown here, involves not only a change on paper, but also a change in perceptions. Economics impacts much more than just how monies are earned and spent. The economic system of a country pervades the entire social system.
A systemic problem that occurs in the conversion to a market economy from a communistic one is the role of advertising. In a society where there exists no competition, what is the purpose and where is the need for advertising? If a baker produces bread, "bread" is what is purchased. It is not a matter of choosing a brand such as Nickle's, Wonder or Tennessee Pride. One takes the bread that is on the shelf. In this context, advertising has no reason for existence. Early on, in Post-Communist Europe, "no-name" was the brand with the greatest market share (Dyson, 1991). Consequently, citizens of the post-socialist countries have literally spent generations without the concepts of advertising or product competition as meaningful daily messages. For Example, early in the transformation Balcerowska-Kwaterska (1993) concluded that indeed Poles see little or no function or value in advertising.
As communicants, we make a constant stream of choices around the use of language, nonverbal acts and, perhaps most importantly, decisions about the meaning structures derived from speech acts and conversations. That we often make these choices in a mindless manner does not make them any less of a choice, merely ones that are not thought about at the moment. Furthermore, it is difficult to make choices that go beyond our communicative resources such as vocabulary or the limits of our physical mobility. In the same way, we are unlikely to go beyond those choices that do not reflect what have heretofore not been our common practices. This is what makes change and creativity so difficult; each demands that we move beyond familiar resources and practices.
Change and creativity are further bounded by the various limits imposed by context, such as cultural convention, relationship history, time and space. This is particularly the case when people view these constraints as inviolable. While theorists of another school might agree with the position that context is determinate, from a communication perspective a reflexive relationship exists between these constraints and the speech act, such that the actor, through agency, may alter the practice and therefore the context, just as the context may constrain the speech act. By operating within the conventions of context we reconstruct the familiar social order, however, when we choose to violate the constraints, we create the possibility of constructing an altered definition of reality, or sense of the appropriate way to be in a given context, possibly even the essence of the context itself. Thus, the process of communication both constructs the novel and reconstructs the mundane in the choices we make as communicants.
These choices, embedded in language, form a history of actions and cognitions such that the constructs of the language determine not only what is thought of, but also what is remembered. This memory pool serves to reinforce collective thought as well (Giddens, 1991). So, while the actor is engaging in daily conversational acts, (s)he is also re-enacting memories and reinforcing these perspectives in the future. Since the conversational acts occur with others, there is an exponential reinforcing of the existing structure through others. Thus, in everyday conversation, the individual is not only gaining their own identity, but also engaging in a continual defining of the collective identity.
That language is the key instrument in the cognitive structuring of our world serves to explain why conversations function to perpetuate social orders. Shotter (1990) puts forth the argument that the language we use to explain our experiences is based in a reality of our previous experiences. Because of this, in daily conversation we typically are only able to express ourselves in such as way as to reinforce the existing social structures. It is a cognitive effort to "talk" about our world in a new way that challenges the existing language structure.
This perpetuating of social orders through language acts in a reflexive manner. As the individual gains their identity through the discourse of the status quo, the status quo is re-defined by the individual. The agents of mass communication are also constrained by this same principle. Just as individuals face barriers to understanding when conversing in ways outside of the accepted reality, so to does mass communication struggle when it fails to consider the constraints of the audience. The audience of any message must be considered as part of the message. Furthermore, when the rhetor alters the discourse that the audience is familiar with, the communicant risks being considered irrelevant (Shotter, 1990).
The market, as part of the social order, must acknowledge that the members of the society have been agents of social reinforcement if they are to attempt a transforming of the social mind. As stated earlier, individuals reinforce the existing social structure through the everyday use of language. This social structure, which is not a static thing and is actively involved in the discourse, essentially creates individuals which help to perpetuate itself. In any social order, there are individuals who are rewarded for engaging in activities and discourse that seeks to bolster and perpetuate the existing social structure. Over time the society achieves a level of stasis where members are in general agreement regarding what is desired thought and action. Consequently, the society creates individuals that are so intertwined with the ideals and ideology of the society that they become agents for continuation.
Knowing this, corporations, governments and other institutions must be aware of the onerous task of transforming economic discourse. This perspective of communication does allow for change (since language is not fixed and is continually undergoing redefinition it must be capable of being altered) but only when those involved are aware that there is a base of understanding that they must begin from. As the issue relates to advertising, it must be mentioned that redefinition is possible. All human activity contains meaning and operates in a reflexive manner through the enactment of practices (Pearce, 1989). Thus, as advertisers engage in portrayals of their product, they are pooling from an accepted meaning system and are able to alter that meaning system through subtle redefinition.
In a nation where mass communication was recognized as a vehicle for propaganda, advertisers need to be aware that they are occupying a role in the communicative process that they may not be asking for, but, nonetheless, must fulfill. As post-socialist Europe previously experienced, changes that are dictated by legislation (even at the bequest of the populace) must take time since it involves a redefinition of the role of both parties (Pearce, 1989). It is, therefore, essential that organizations moving into the region become cognizant of the reflexive nature of their communications. The reflexive process is an ongoing one in which we are constantly involved (Parrish-Sprowl, 2000).
Consistent with development communication is the notion that language is the agent of change in institutions and structures. Since, as argued earlier, the economic system of a country serves to define the individual and the collective, we can argue that any change in that system constitutes a change in the individual (Giddens, 1991). It is further argued by Giddens (1991) that this parallel between the self and the society are representative of the poles of the local and global in high modernity. This understanding forms the basis for the generalizations that can be made based on interviews with individual citizens.
The intent of a market democracy is to delimit the political and economic choices of the populace as much as possible and still maintain a civil society. The shift, in post-socialist Europe, from a centrally planned and controlled political economic orders to a market democracies is of a greater magnitude than the term change implies, it is better considered as a transformation. This order of change is considered a transformation in part because it completely reorders the contextual parameters for any given set of speech acts. Although a strong reflexive relationship exists between these macro level choices and the micro level of individual lives, they are not synchronous, at least through the period of transition. This creates a chaotic situation where people struggle to develop the requisite resources and practices, consistent with a redesigned political and economic context. People acquire new communicative skills at different rates, levels of enthusiasm, degree of proficiency and sense of understanding. Some resist the changes, while others, believe them to be too slow in arriving. Not only leaders, but every individual as well, should consider how they will change and develop their communicative resources and practices for the political and economic order to develop and prosper.
It is, however, useful that communication be viewed as the centerpiece of transforming the order. If the role of communication is downplayed or ignored, those pursuing change risk alienating those with whom the ability to change rests. It is through the daily conversations of the people that changes occur. Speech acts serve to redefine the perspective of both the participants and others through the dissemination of thoughts, ideas and actions. Consumer choices are of particular interest because these will lead to some of the most radical reordering of the various cultures. These choices do much more than alter the material standard of living for the individual and their family, such purchase decisions reverberate throughout the cultural and completely reorder the relational and social fabric of society as well. Purchases have an influence upon how we spend our time, who we spend our time with, what we value as good, indeed our entire moral order may be transformed, depending upon the nature of our consumer choices. Furthermore, because these choices are so important in a competitive economy, an entirely new set of occupations develop whose purpose are to influence and manage these choices. This includes sales representatives, advertising producers, media buyers, public relations agents and consumer advocates. Today's children will aspire to occupations that just a few years ago were nonexistent in these economies.
Those whose occupations are focused upon influencing consumer choices will likely receive training, education and practice in the communicative skills designed to separate consumers from their money. Several U.S. scholars and practitioners alike have focused upon the nature of the speech act and persuasive effect in sales (Parrish-Sprowl, 1997). The development of consumer knowledge in the U.S. is left primarily to the family and schools with a substantial if not always welcomed assist from the various media. This is potentially problematic in post-socialist Europe because these nations do not have an intergenerational history of informing children in the art of consumer activity. Thus, the imbalance in resources and practices around sales talk will possibly be even greater than in the U.S.
Accordingly, consideration needs to be given to the impact of consumer choice on such constructs as family, image, status, security, health and success. As the market economy unfolds, the collective choices of all the people will likely begin to alter in both subtle and overt ways, the essence of life and the social structure of these nations. While it is not possible to predict with any certainty exactly how these changes will occur, or what they will be, it is inevitable that substantial change will result from the expanded consumer choice in the marketplace. The cumulative affect of these consumer choices will be to alter forever centuries old cultural traditions of dress, discussion, desire and other aspects of national discourse. Today's children will develop different nations than the revolutionaries of Eastern Europe envisioned even as recently as 1989. At the heart of these changes will be the choices born of the televised marketplace as embodied in advertising. Communication scholars in Russia, and elsewhere, must track, for their nation and culture, the role advertising plays in constructing the national social fabric.
- Balcerowska-Kwaterska, K. (1993). Market information in Poland. In J. Golebiowski (Ed.) Transforming the Polish economy. Warsaw: Warsaw School of Economics. pp. 325-344
- Dyson, E. (1991, January-February). Micro capitalism: Eastern Europe's computer future. Harvard Business Review, pp. 26-37.
- Giddens, A. (1991). Modernity and self-identity: Self and society in the late modern age. Stanford, CA: Stanford Press.
- Mumby, D.K. (1989). Communication and power in organizations: Discourse, ideology and domination. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
- Parrish-Sprowl, J. (2000). Communication, organizational management and industrial development. In A. Moemeka (Ed.) Development communication in action: Building understanding and creating participation. Lanham,MD: University Press of America. 179-202
- Parrish-Sprowl, J. (1997). Persuasion in and by organizations. In P.Y. Byers (Ed.) Organizational communication: Theory and behavior. Boston: Allyn & Bacon. 172-202.
- Pearce, W.B. (1989). Communication and the human condition. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.
- Shotter, J. (1990). Social accountability and the social construction of 'You'. In J. Shotter & K. J. Gergen (Eds.), Texts of identity (pp. 133-151). London, England: Sage.
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