The Age of Influence

how media affects perception

March 17, 2017

“I think everyone, as a citizen of the world, should be able to learn how to recognize what’s behind something,” said Joe Buzzelli, 2008 graduate and manager of brand content at a media agency called Mediavest Spark. “I feel like, especially in the world where technology is advanced so much there’s just so much out there in terms of mass communication that you have to learn to make your own conclusions. It’s part of being a responsible human being.”

Being a “responsible human being,” however, is challenging if media users do not even agree on media’s influence. In a recent Bear Facts survey about media literacy, 6.8 percent of respondents said media does not influence them at all, while 19.5 percent believe media influences them a lot. This gap in understanding may be due to students’ lack of understanding on the impact of media. According to a government website, Too Smart to Start, “by mid-adolescence, teens have watched many thousands of hours of television — more time than they spend with teachers in school.”

One student, whose career revolves around media, says she has learned the purpose of media within society from the ways media have affected her.

“[When] I did a photoshoot and the photographer sent out my pictures, I [ended up having] a meeting with Ford Modeling Agency because they wanted to see me and talk to me,” Kendall Kearnan, sophomore model, said. “They said that they liked my look and everything, but I was too tall. Even the agency I’m with now says I’m too tall.”

Kearnan says she has to lie about her height to get past media’s perception that models have to fit a certain “look.”

“I think that there should be a variety of different looks and different weights and heights because that’s not what [clothes are] going to look like on everyone,” Kearnan said. “If you do have the perfect body and everything [though], I guess it’s just normal for society to think ‘they’re perfect,’ but I do think that there should be more of a variety in media.”

Some companies are hearing consumers’ feedback about the desire for diversity and are altering their approaches of advertisement. Darren Rothermel, business education teacher, says not all companies are changing their approaches, but the ones changing are altering media overall..

“I think really smart companies are starting to realize that you can show people in realistic situations and get just as good of an outcome. It’s a much more diverse audience of everyone in commercials, in print media, and in everything [now],” Rothermel said. “I think the needle is starting to shift to where normal people can be just as important in advertising and marketing as your Kim Kardashians.”

Though there has been a shift to more realism in advertising and marketing, Rothermel still believes “known brands” are always going to be influential.   

“There are so many different things that marketing does to try and get people to purchase a product, and a lot of that has to do with having a known brand. There’s no doubt that advertising and marketing influence people’s perceptions,” Rothermel said. “ I kind of look at it from even a Lake Zurich High School perspective. Ten or twelve years ago you would never see people wearing Converse shoes. Now, Converse shoes are the shoe to wear if you’re a high school girl.”

On the contrary, Buzzelli believes that younger generations, like those in high school, have also grown to question reliability before being influenced to buy a product solely because it is a “known brand.”

“Today’s consumer is more media literate, educated, and informed than any other generation,” Buzzelli said. “With the rise of technology, people have become smarter and entertainment and advertising have reacted. Obviously, with the advancement of technology, people have all of the information in the world in their pockets all the times so [companies’] representations are becoming more inclusive.”

But Buzzelli also points out that “brands have a target audience” and “messaging is tailored to those individuals” so not all ads will feel like they include every group. Buzzelli says that companies need to focus on their intent and approaching situations in responsible, authentic ways.


“A lot of times it makes sense for a [company] to give a relatable approach and put a spotlight on ‘regular’ people and showcase them; however, there are other times where it makes sense to put out messaging that is more aspirational: something people want to see to look up to,” Buzzelli said. “It all depends on what you’re trying to do.”

And if selling product — or an image — is the goal, some brands seem to have a look to maintain.

“Brands like [Victoria’s Secret] purposely have skinny, tall models because it makes their clothes look the best and it makes their brand look the best,” Kearnan said. “The media has more of a variety now, though, so I think having plus-size models and more curvy models in for Victoria’s Secret would be cool: not just having stick models for everything they advertise.”

But Kearnan says that some may never alter their approaches to their portrayal, even after seeing other similar companies change. According to Kearnan,this perspective is why she is still told she must to meet the unrealistic requirements to continue her passion for modeling.

“They said that I need to get my measurements down: waist, bust, and hips. When I first signed, they said if I get too skinny they’ll let me go, but you look at the models with the agency and they’re so skinny,” Kearnan said. “So [the company tries] to tell people that they don’t want anorexic models, but when you look at the models they’re all so skinny.”

Kearnan’s perspective shows how a person like herself, surrounded by aspects of media, knows how to be a “responsible human being,” like Buzzelli says    

Buzzelli said, “people are taking notice when you’re not jumping on that bandwagon and starting to realize that people are smarter than they were before.”

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