Spending five months abroad taught me a lot of things, many of which were to be expected. However, I learned a few things that I wasn’t exactly seeking out- namely, not to believe everything that I’ve been told about the people in other countries. I didn’t realize just how deeply advertising affects not only what we think about certain brands or companies, but also what we think about whole groups of people. By promoting certain services or products, advertisers shape what consumers believe about their fellow humans across the pond and elsewhere- just Google what’s advertised as “American” in any other country and you’ll see what I mean. There were a whole slew of pre-conceived notions that I didn’t even know I had until they were proven wrong, such as:
All French people smell bad- deodorant brands have explicitly advertised that you “don’t want to smell like the French” in order to sell their products
All Italians eat mountains of pizza and pasta- songs, TV shows and restaurant chains are just a few of the things that characterize this nationality into a costume
All English people have bad teeth- from gum companies to toothpaste brands, the image that Brits have poor dental hygiene has been painted into our heads
All Swedish people are blonde- ok, this one is MAINLY true...but still, there are plenty of non-blonde Swedes, but you wouldn’t know it from the way they are advertised and played in the U.S.
None of this is to say that advertising is inherently harmful to people of other cultures. It helps us understand an aspect of each other in a way that is easy for our minds to grasp, and it’s a quick way for advertisers to make their points. However, it was an enlightening experience to have some of the stereotypes in my subconscious shattered, and it was interesting to note just how much advertising had affected me- even when I left the country they had been reaching me in.