Reality by Design: Advertising Image, Music and Sound Design in the Production of Culture

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This dissertation explores creative music, sound design and image production in the context of consumer culture (as defined by how its participants socialize in late-capitalist culture using commodities). Through the stylization of image, music and sound effects, advertisers communicate an abstract concept of a brand, and instantiate the brand through an audience member's heightened experience of the brand via the ad. Facilitated by socialized and mediatized frameworks for brand communications, branding is an embodied practice that relies on the audience member's participation with the brand through her/his real experience with an (audiovisual) advertisement. The effect of making the abstract brand tangible relies on successfully executing advertising objectives to create "impact" through stylized and often hyperreal representations of reality. At the same time, audience members' encounters with ads and branding practices represent bona fide experiences for them within American-capitalist cultural practices, and audience members take part in these practices as part of social participation and general making-sense of their everyday lives.

In late-capitalist consumer culture, the idea of the "consumer" operates within the liminal space of constructions of hyper-reality and the self. Through advertising, corporate interests mediate how people relate to and through commodities as consumers. Through ads, producers communicate an idea of a brand, that is, the collection and stylistic design of specific visual and sonic symbols, and the associated ideas, values or emotions that project an identity or persona about a company and its products or services. In attempts to increase the efficacy of their ads, ad producers fashion image, music and sound design specifically in ways they believe will generate "impact," that is, a physical, physiological or emotional response to audiovisual stimuli that are infused with symbolic meanings and values.

In their attempts to create effective ads, ad producers circumscribe identities of people based on demographics, behavior metrics, or a host of other measures intended to define what the industry calls "target audiences." With the belief that target audience members share wants, needs and values, ad producers build constellations of audiovisual signifiers that they believe will resonate with target audience members. These signifiers borrow from cultural narratives and myths to tell stories about brands and products, and communicate how people's lived experiences might be transformed through consumption practices.

With meticulous formulation of image, music and sound design, ad producers create a "hyperreality," that is exaggerated, heightened or stylized representation of reality. Through these carefully produced audio and visual artifacts, ad producers (re)circulate cultural narratives they believe communicate meaning and ideas of value, and make those abstract beliefs tangible through the audience member's sensorial experiences. With hyperreality grounded in an audience members' body and emotions, ad producers believe they can shape and direct audience members' ideas about their personal identities, and that of others and social groups. Additionally, ad image, music and sound design contribute to the naturalization of the ways people can socialize around branded identities and interconnect through commodities.






Kurpiers, Joyce (2009). Reality by Design: Advertising Image, Music and Sound Design in the Production of Culture. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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