“Friends With Commercial Benefits: Social Media Users Do Not Want Their Likeness Used in Advertisements”

Jackie Widmann & Victoria Ontman

Digital/Social Blog Post

“Friends With Commercial Benefits: Social Media Users Do Not Want Their Likeness Used in Advertisements” – By Marie-Andrée Weiss

Within the past five years, technological advances have fostered the growth of a new age in today’s advertising techniques.  Social media has become a major staple within American culture, one that most people utilize in the workplace as well as their personal lives.  As we have discussed the many ways in which advertising affects the development of culture and consumer behavior, we have learned a lot about the effects of social media, both negative and positive.

In the article, “Friends With Commercial Benefits: Social Media Users Do Not Want Their Likeness Used in Advertisements,” Marie-Andreé Weiss examines several court cases and the ways in which social media affected users in terms of their ownership of personally uploaded content.  Weiss discusses multiple cases involving individual users of social media and the ways in which they felt taken advantage of by large corporations.  She elaborates on non-economic versus economic values of the uploaded content, and goes into depth regarding its implications in the greater scheme of advertising and social media.

Weiss begins by discussing the right of publicity and the ways in which people use their uploaded photographs on social media websites.  She references a court case, Chang Vs. Virgin Mobile, which occurred in 2007.  In this case, a young girl posed for a photo with one of her peers, who then uploaded this photo to her personal Flickr account.  Shortly after this photograph was uploaded, a bus-stop campaign appeared in Australia using Chang’s photo as the featured image of the advertisement.  Chang sued Virgin Mobile, claiming invasion of privacy, libel, and copyright infringement.  However, the court dismissed the case and the campaign continued to run despite Chang’s resistance.

Chang Vs. Virgin Mobile,  Image taken from Google.com.

Chang Vs. Virgin Mobile, Image taken from Google.com.

Weiss then continues to discuss another case, Robyn Cohen Vs. Facebook, which took place in 2011.  Facebook users claimed that the “Friend Finder” service violated the Lanham Act, which “prohibits using a name, or a false or misleading description or representation of fact likely to deceive as to the affiliation of this person with another person or this approval of his or her goods or service.”  Essentially, Facebook users were upset with Facebook for affiliating certain friends to various promoted products and/or services.  Facebook claimed “no commercial interest” in users’ identities or likenesses.  Additionally, the court found “no cognizable harm or injury” caused by the Friend Finder, and the case was ultimately dismissed (Weiss, 9).

Friend Finder, Image taken from Google.com.

Friend Finder, Image taken from Google.com.

Facial recognition systems have become a prominent tool among advertisers, especially in the retail marketplace.  Weiss references the “EyeSee Mannequin,” an electronic mannequin used in Italy in cooperation with a mobile app used to track consumers movements and preferences in-store.  With the constant advancement of technologies everywhere, facial recognition is a technique that will only be utilized more frequently in the future.

"EyeSee Mannequin", Image from Google.com.

“EyeSee Mannequin”, Image from Google.com.

Defining the value of uploaded photographs is an arduous process, even for today’s media theorists.  Weiss references yet another court case, PhoneDog Vs. Noah Kravitz, which occurred in 2011.  Kravitz attempted to remain in control of PhoneDog’s company twitter account following his dismissal from the company.  After eight months of tweeting what PhoneDog considered to be “damaging” to the company, Kravitz was sued by his employer and an attempt was made to calculate a monetary charge.  The case was ultimately dismissed due to the fact that each part of the generic Twitter account has a different value that cannot be calculated.  The number of followers, favorites, re-tweets, as well as the content of each individual tweet all hold different values that are far too subjective to compute.  As we have discussed both in class and within our course readings, the economic value of “big data” is difficult to decipher.  However, new technologies are emerging in today’s rapidly advancing society, and both companies and advertisers hope to eventually be able to calculate and monetize the data of individuals for advertising purposes.

Weiss also examines the notion regarding personal photographs having a non-economic value. According to the Copyright act, a self-portrait uploaded on a social media site obtains protection as an original work of authorship. However, users of social media, particularly Facebook, permit the site to utilize their material when they sign up to use the site. In 1990, following the enactment of the Visual Artists Rights Act, artists of visual works were given the right to prevent their names from being linked to their work in “the event of distortion, mutilation or other modification of the work which would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation” (Weiss, 12). Unfortunately, this does not apply to your average social media user’s profile picture. The deletion of personal data also blurs the lines of ownership, as data is always being republished and never really disappears. Weiss discusses Pinterest as a success story, considering people “repin” photographs left and right, whether or not they are protected. Pinterest, interestingly enough, retains the rights to their content even if users delete their personal accounts.

Furthermore, a recent EU Proposal enacted in 2012, may affect US entities. In order for big data controllers to utilize material belonging to third parties for advertising, they must consult them first. Should this proposal extend to the US, various social media platforms would be swept into this, too.

Consent also has proven to be an overarching issue. Weiss examines Facebook’s changing Terms of Use which, from April to December of 2012, better explained to users that they agree to give Facebook “permission to use your name, profile picture, content and information in connection with commercial, sponsored or related content served or enhanced by [Facebook]” (Weiss, 14). While these terms may more clearly delineate to people what they sign away, consent is seemingly too difficult to clearly define and could be as simple as clicking “I Agree” when registering for the site. Many people also do not go to the lengths to thoroughly read these terms and so are uninformed of what they sign away. In the EU, however, under the aforementioned proposal, consent is clearly established as “any freely given specific, informed and explicit indication of the data subject’s wish to agree to process of his personal data, either by a statement or by a clear affirmative action” (Weiss, 14).

This naturally leads to Weiss’s discussion of consent to facial recognition. In the embedded image, Jackie’s Facebook provokes her to tag Victoria in the photo, as Facebook’s intelligent facial recognition system aims to automatically help users tag their friends easily. With Facebook’s acquisition of face.com, they made obvious their continued interest in facial recognition. The Federal Trade Commission’s report in October 2012 claimed companies must obtain permission from consumers if they wish to use facial recognition to identify them and further use their images for other purposes.

Personal screenshot taken by Jackie Widmann.

Personal screenshot taken by Jackie Widmann.

In the US, tag suggestions and facial recognition continue to be an integral part of marketing in the social commerce world as advertisers use “friends” likeness and images to promote their products and encourage people to purchase straight off social media site. Weiss concludes the future of social media shall continue to experience a convergence of technology and the physical world, especially where advertising is concerned.

Social Commerce Example, screenshot from Jackie's computer.

Social Commerce Example, screenshot from Jackie & Victoria’s computer.

Social Commerce Example, screenshot from Jackie's computer.

Social Commerce Example, screenshot from Jackie & Victoria’s computer.


Targeting Women – Fast Food Advertising




In today’s modern world, there are many ways for different segments of consumer society to be reached through various methods of target niche advertising.  In some cases the target niche is portrayed in a positive light, while in others, that specific market segment may be targeted with some negative connotations.  The ways in which many different fast food chains choose to advertise their goods and services are very interesting to me.  Generally, the women and men featured in these ads are slim and attractive.  The food becomes an object that is sexualized through the discourse of the ad.  These actors/actresses/models are often portrayed as the typical and ideal customer of various chains, and look attractive and powerful while doing so.  However, there are many things that are not addressed in these advertisements, including the gender norms associated with being feminine or masculine and the realities of the fast food industry, among others.  I am choosing to critique these ads because I feel that these ads try to appeal to a demographic that is too vast.  The ads feature attractive, slim women, often sexually positioned with their fast food items.  The reality of fast food consumption is not sex appeal, which is exactly what the ads pictured above are conveying.

Goldman, Heath, and Smith write about “commodity feminism,” a term that explains the ways in which advertisers endow certain meanings of femininity onto certain products and brands.  The physical act of consuming fast food is not something that is culturally more masculine or more feminine, but in many advertisements like the ones pictured above, traditional female gender roles are truly exemplified.  In the Carl Jr’s commercial, Kate Upton is portrayed as the quintessential sexy blonde bombshell.  She is thin, but still voluptuous; she is elegant, but still manages to devour a sandwich with jalapeno peppers, meat, and cheese in a way that keeps her composure.  Modern fast food advertising is attaching the idea of sex appeal to fast food and turning it into a commodity.  Women, no matter their size, appearance, or sexuality, will see these advertisements.  Goldman, Heath, and Smith note that advertisers are featuring women that they believe maintain the ideal feminine image in order to attract the feminine consumer.  Kate Upton is clearly experiencing some sort of sexual pleasure as a result of consuming the Carl Jr’s sandwich, and this advertisement is targeting the women who may have previously felt that large sandwiches are more “manly.”  This ad make its very clear that a huge sandwich can be very sexy on a woman as well.  This is also true of the Hardee’s ad, which is the third image above.  The advertisement makes a play on words by making the connection between worldwide beauty pageants contestants and consuming fast food.  It is not typical of pageant contests to consume anything unhealthy, but by creating this unrealistic parallel, woman are attracted to the turkey burger because it is seemingly a healthier option.

In the article, “The Rhetoric of the Image,” Roland Barthes explains the semiotic analysis of advertisements.  Ads are made up of the signifiers and the signified.  The signifiers are the images themselves and the signified is what it means, which can be culturally specific.  In the second ad pictured above, a woman is shown with her mouth open ready to eat a large seven-inch sandwich from Burger King.  This ad is real, and was run in Asia before receiving criticism from the agency at which it was created.  On a connotative level, we see an open mouth, a sandwich, and text reading, “It will blow your mind away.”  On a denotative level, the text paired with these two images has an extremely sexualized implication.  The word “blow” carries the idea of oral sex, and the way in which the woman is positioned ready to receive the sandwich is indicative of sexual behavior.  Not only is this advertisement on the inappropriate side, but it also implies that sexual behavior is associated with the Burger King brand.  This ad manages to reflect the logic of capital (Goldman & Papson) by encouraging the purchase of low-cost large sandwiches in exchange for some sort of sexual reward.  This ad was eventually removed.

Goldman and Papson also write about the ways that advertising carries ideology through culture in their article, “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning.” They explain that ideologies often suppress inequalities, contradictions, and injustices.  In the case of all the ads for Carl Jr’s and Hardees, the women that are featured are beautiful and thin.  This is a contradiction in and of itself.  Fast food menu items, especially cheeseburgers, have more calories than almost any other type of food.  Eating this many calories in a setting where the food is mostly fried and the low-cost manufacturing of the ingredients does not correlate to a “hot” body and glowing skin.  These ads are promoting a normative vision that fast food can have a beneficial effect on appearance and overall quality of life.  This can be true in the fleeting sense, as fast food temporarily satisfies hunger, but the aftermath of a fast food meal is often discomfort, weight gain (if on a frequent basis), and a crash in energy.  Heidi Klum is the exception to the rule, as the saying goes.  She is the fashion industry’s idea of fit and beautiful, but the fashion industry and the fast food industry do not work hand in hand.


In the article, “Culture Jamming” by Kalle Lasn, he discusses the ways in which groups of people that participate in culture jamming find ways to creatively appropriate brand images and identities for subversive means.  He notes that junk food is one of the biggest advertisers on television today, and culture jammers try to “contaminate junk food in the public mind.”  This could be don through posters, videos, memes, etc.  The overall goal is to “uncool” fast food, and expose the truths behind its processing and production.

In my proposal for a spoof target video, I will feature both a man and a woman that are not conventionally attractive according to society standards and mass media.  The man will be slightly overweight and not athletic, and the woman will be very overweight wearing clothing that exposes the imperfections in her body.  The woman will try to sexually eat her fast food meal in order to impress the man, but as a result of her larger figure, she breaks the chair she is sitting on and the food falls to the floor.  This is not meant to be offensive, but it is poking fun at the sexualized imagery in fast food advertising today.  Consuming foods covered in oil and high in fat is not something to be admired, nor is it healthy by any means.  Fast food is generally the most appealing to people with fairly low income as well as people who are not well educated about the health risks associated with its consumption.  This is not always the case, but the stereotypes are true to an extent.  This spoof will prove that women who know the calorie count and health risks of fast food will avoid consuming fast food, regardless of how “hot” the model in the advertisement may be.  The sexualization of consuming fast food is not only demeaning to women, but it also encourages unhealthy consumption behavior as well as unrealistic body image expectations.


Semiotics/Creative Revolution – “A Hero’s Welcome” Budweiser Commercial


During this year’s superbowl, I found the Budweiser ad, “A Hero’s Welcome,” to be exceptionally interesting.  I was not impressed by the overall quality and messages of the commercials that I watched, but this was drew my attention.  Budweiser is a beer that appeals to Americans.  For years, they have been one of the leading brands, and currently comprise almost 50% of the market share among beers sold in America today.  However, their success cannot only be tied to its reputable history, but must also be attributed to the brand’s advertising.  Budweiser took into account the current political and social standpoints of the American people, and tried to appeal through an emotional commercial.

“A Hero’s Welcome” has many signs and signifiers that allow the view to infer many different meanings from its overall message.  At the very beginning of the clip, Lt. Nadd runs into a woman’s arms and hugs her closely.  This gesture signifies that the woman and the soldier are in a relationship, and clearly have not seen each other in a very long time due to the text at the beginning of the clip. The couple proceeds to drive into a huge parade, organized by the entire neighborhood.  From a denotative perspective, we see tons of people cheering with posters, men and women smiling, and people who seemingly hold positions of authority within the town applauding as the couple moves through the crowd.  The connotative meaning implies that for the most part, the whole town has come to this event to support Lt. Nadd.  It seems as if almost everyone has some sort of connection to him and his family. Towards the end of the crowd of people, there is one sign which is an older woman waving and crying frantically at the soldier as he passes by in his caravan. Lt. Nadd immediately runs to her and they share a warm embrace. This signifies that this woman is his mother, and she is finally reconnected with her son after being separated while he was at war. Through this emotional connection, people feel connected to the army and the war even if they don’t know soldiers personally.  This gives way to many emotions among viewers and people at the actual parade.  Feelings of fear and terror are replaced with relief and excitement upon Lt. Nadd’s return.

This commercial is intense.  By profiling a real soldier returning home from Iraq to his girlfriend and mother in the United States, audiences across the country and the world are able to connect.  This commercial is relatable on every level.  There are many ways in which people can be cynical of advertisements and the way in which products choose to sell their brand.  Many beer ads try to be “cool,” and use their commercials as a way of convincing viewers that drinking certain beers will attract women, make you appear wealthy, or give off a more “manly” vibe.  Cynical viewers will resonate with the message this commercial is giving because the values portrayed in this ad tend to match with most Americans. This ad does a really great job of appealing to those who question commodification because Budweiser is selling the story of Lt. Nadd rather than the Budweiser beer itself.  The brand image of Budweiser is briefly shown at the end of the commercial

I warn you against believing that advertising is a science,” is a quote from famous creative director Bill Bernbach, who is credited with the advent of the Creative Revolution in the 1960s.  Bernbach stressed the importance of advertising as an art rather than a science. He means that advertisements are not created with a static formula. Successful ads need to be innovative and break boundaries of past campaigns, and need to be designed through a creative brainstorming process.  This Budweiser ad is an example of a commercial that woul not have been creative prior to the Creative Revolution. At the end of the clip, Budweiser introduces the hashtag #Salute a hero.  This allows people to be interactive with this campaign through various forms of social media and share their own stories involving their heros, which may include soldiers and Budweiser. Not only does the commercial have an emotional appeal and includes background music and pop culture references, but it also features more than just a product.  Prior to the Creative Revolution, ads featured an image and text describing the product and its functions.  This commercial is the total opposite.

Goldman & Papson are two theorists that wrote about the concepts of cultural cannibalism and the way in which ads are ideological. One of the methods they discuss is that advertising can disguise and suppress inequalities, injustices, irrationalities, and contradictions.  In my opinion, this ad does exactly that. While this commercial portrays the happiness and relief of Lt. Nadd’s hometown and family, they ignore the fact that many people do not survive the war and receive such a warm homecoming welcome.  Additionally, they promote the idea that this soldier is in a heterosexual relationship with a woman, while many soldiers may be gay.  They try to appeal to the socio-cultural ideal of the All-American man, but this does not include sectors of American that could not afford to throw a homecoming parade with horses and music, etc.  Many things are not mentioned, and this promotes the “normative vision” that Goldman & Papson explain.  The life that this soldier lives is much different then most, however.

This advertisement embodies many aspects of the Creative Revolution. The commercial has many signs and signifiers that help us as viewers to understand the meanings in many ways. We are able to understand the ad because of the social and cultural context, and the way in which it appeals to Americans and general feelings about the army and soldiers.


Historical Analysis: “Chick Flick” Progressive Commercial

This Progressive commercial combines both traditional and modern advertising techniques. Flo has been the face of Progressive for years as their commercial series has evolved. She uses therapeutic ethos to give the viewer what they are lacking, which in this case is car insurance.  Flo is used to show the consumer that life without Progressive insurance is bad, and that life with Progressive is secure, stable, and safe. This idealized lifestyle appeals to certain market segments, and allows the campaign to be successful.

The buildup of the soundtrack of this commercial adds to the soft sell appeal. It becomes evident that the clip is meant to be a parody of some kind, but the actual brand of Progressive is not clear until the last few sentences of dialogue.  The scene allows the consumer to be distracted by the humorous aspects of this parody, and eases into the brand recognition at the end of the clip.

The informational and transformational functions of this ad series is interesting as well.  On an informational level, this ad shows us a dramatized conversation between a man in distress and a woman who is wearing a Progressive apron.  This ad shows us that a solution is readily available to the man who’s car broke down, and makes it clear that Progressive is available at the customer’s immediate request.  On a transformational level, this ad has the ability to create fear in consumers that did not previously exist.  A television viewer who had no prior concerns about their car or having any issues driving could see this advertisement and immediately feel as if they need to get insurance.  The transformational aspects of this commercial change the subjectivity of the viewer.

On a contextual level, this advertisement fits in to appeal to the typical middle-upper class consumer.  The man is good looking and drives a mid-priced car.  Flo is able to help him solve his problems, and this ad makes it clear that everyone’s problems can be easily fixed by using the advertised service.  This problem-solving soft sell is similar to the Depression Era advertisements that tried to appeal to consumers with a quick, reasonable solution to some sort of problem.  In the same way that the 1900s ads used emotional appeals, so does Progressive.  The effectiveness is clear in that most people who regularly watch television can recognize the Progressive characters on a regular basis.

-Jackie Widmann

This commercial is one of many in the series of Progressive car insurance commercials.  This specific clip shows a man standing in the rain as his car breaks down.  He is speaking dramatically with a woman on the phone, who happens to be Flo, the face of Progressive’s television advertisements.  The two walk towards each other and attempt to solve the problem with the car, while simultaneously gazing into each others eyes as if in love. Flo then transitions into her normal, and fairly annoying character, and offers a rental car as a solution.



This commercial is very memorable for many reasons.  First and foremost, Flo is the protagonist in every Progressive commercial.  This continuity is key to their marketing strategy.  Secondly, Progressive commercials are shown frequently, and Flo’s character is very in your face.  Some may even say Flo is annoying, and people can often be found sighing, “ugh another Progressive commercial?”  However, this repetition is what makes the company so memorable.  Flo has become a figure on television that is so recognizable, and while the commercials are everywhere, they can be very funny and seemingly effective.  Lastly, the dramatic soundtrack makes this clip seem like a scene from a romantic film, but the contrast between the handsome male lead, and Flo, dressed in her Progressive white apron allows for some humor as well.  Progressive has made a name for themselves with their wit, and the use of the same female lead in each of their commercials.  Flo is memorable, therefore Progressive becomes memorable, too.  Placing the focus of the ad series on the lead character as opposed to the brand helps Flo to be relatable, and many customers trust Progressive because of Flo’s reliable character.

-Jackie Widmann