Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Advertising as Cultural Production
by Cohen, Andrew Connolly, Ph.D., Yale University, 2017, 286; 10783444
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation presents three sociological essays analyzing advertising agencies through the lens of cultural economic sociology. Drawing on 12 months of ethnographic research and 81 interviews across four American advertising agencies, this dissertation presents three explorations of how meaning-making processes are central to the various processes of advertising production.

The first essay explores how market intermediaries help other market actors see the market and their opportunities for action within it. The essay article illustrates how advertising practitioners provide their clients with visions of what the market is and what opportunities for action lie within it, developing advertising campaigns to match that vision. These accounts of the market and its opportunities are dynamically negotiated, both reflecting and shaping the identities of the clients, their target audiences, and the intermediaries themselves. Because intermediaries dramaturgically perform these interpretations of the market for their client in micro-level interactions, they must also deal with disagreement, contestation, and negotiation over their visions of the market.

The second essay explores how advertising agencies consume and produce consumer research. Taking a relational approach to the production of advertising, this essay conceives of the work agencies do as part of establishing viable exchange relationships with their clients in which the client exchanges money for the agency's ideas for campaigns. The analysis shows how agency employees—in particular, account planners—first negotiate what kinds of consumers matter with their clients, then produce consumer research in ways that helps them generate particular types of qualitative materials. Agency employees then use those materials to craft aesthetic, material representations of the consumer that can serve as exchange media to facilitate the broader exchange of campaign ideas and money.

The third essay takes adopts a pragmatic sociological framework to examine conflict in advertising agencies, suggesting such conflicts can be better understood as inevitable clashes between different regimes for justifying the value of advertising work. The article examines three such regimes that advertising practitioners use to justify the work they do: the regime of partnership, the regime of expertise, and the regime of brokerage. Each regime supposes its own definition of what is good advertising work, how that work is evaluated, and how that work should be done, as well as what relationships there should be between the agents who do the work and their clients. Furthermore, each regime has its critiques of the others, and compromises between regimes are unstable and temporary. The different types of conflicts that arise from clashes between these regimes can be understood as the outcome of threats to the different social bonds supposed by each of those regimes.

These articles are prefaced by a broad discussion of the intellectual projects of economic sociology, in which the literature is divided into two camps: one that studies the economy of culture, and one that studies the economy as culture. After reviewing the different conceptualizations of production and consumption in each, as well as considering the role of materiality and the relationship between the economic and the social, this discussion concludes with a commitment to studying the economy as the enactment of cultural intentions, opting for an analytical strategy that preserves the relative autonomy of culture in exploring how narratives and codes structure economic activity.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Wherry, Frederick F., Alexander, Jeffrey C.
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 79/05(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Marketing, Social research, Sociology
Keywords: Advertising, Advertising Agency, Consumer Research, Cultural Sociology, Economic Sociology, Ethnography
Publication Number: 10783444
ISBN: 978-0-355-70910-0
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