What is the cultivation theory and how does it relate to advertising?
The Cultivation Theory attributes misconceptions about social reality to the potential heavy viewing of television. The chance of that negative effect increases especially when the regular TV viewer does not have much experience in the outside world. A comparison analysis has been conducted on regular viewers and occasional viewers, and the findings conclude that regular TV viewers see the world as a cruel and unsafe place.
Regular TV viewers overestimate the occurrences of serious crimes and are more fearful of the outside world than occasional viewers. The events you see in movies and TV shows can subconsciously plant exaggerated facts about the world, such as the victimization of women. The cultivation is not limited to violence and cruelty, but also includes gender roles, political attitudes, age groups, and ethnic groups. Attitudes and values of regular viewers are altered subconsciously, as most of them are unaware of the influence. The theory was developed in the mid- 1960s by George Garbner, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
How the theory relates to advertising
The cultivation effect of TV is not limited to exposure of symbolism in movies and TV shows. TV commercials want their share of cultivation time as well. The mere exposure effect is a trick necessary to reach the desired outcome by all commercials, wanting the product. It is perfectly summed up in this quote, “The more you see it the more you like it” (Benson, Nigel, 2012). As it has been proven that the more we’re exposed to a product, the more familiar it is to us; this familiarity increases with the constant exposure, which over time develops a sense of trust. When something triggers that cultivated response, the viewer recalls the advertisement he/she is most exposed to. For example, when in a detergents aisle in a supermarket, one is bombarded with many unfamiliar brands, when he/she spots the cultivated brand, it is highly likely to trigger the familiar feeling of trust and thus be chosen.
The strongest and weakest parts of the theory
The strongest part of cultivation theory is that it happens subconsciously and over time. Viewers whose intention of watching television is to pass the time, tend to be more influenced. Unaware of the cultivation, they watch too immersed to notice the messages they are being exposed to. Another substantial part of the theory is that discusses the influence being enforced by “resonance” effect. This happens when the regular viewer is living in circumstances that verify the misconceptions depicted on television. The real life experience he/she goes through in witnessing an act of violence against a woman in a violent neighborhood will reinforce the misconception of women being victimized. (Daniel Chandler, 1995)
The weakest parts of the theory are that it does not discuss how misconceptions can be due to any other factor in a person’s life. Cultivation theory is limited to the long term effects of watching TV. An individual who doesn’t watch TV at all can still have false impressions. These impressions can be a result of exposure to other media, or cultural values, or from a person’s life experiences. Also, measuring cultivation effect on the extent of viewing alone is not a credible determinant. Factors such as the type of content should be put into consideration. (Daniel Chandler,1995)
I didn’t write this piece to say don’t watch TV, or it’s a commercial, quick look away! Simply, being aware of the effect and rethinking your TV watching habits can reduce the chances of you falling victim to it. So, next time you’re at a supermarket pushing your full cart, take another look at it. Do you really need these or are you simply cultivated?
- Benson, Nigel. “The More You See It the More You like It.” The Psychology Book. New York: DK Pub., 2012. 230-35. Print.
- Daniel Chandler. “Cultivation Theory” aber.ac.uk. Np., 18 Sep 1995.
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