Mass media culture has some interesting sociological patterns that seem to reflect each new generation that it serves. While each mass media technology has had its share of detractors in the beginning, after a few years there will be a gradual social approval of its benefits as larger audiences begin to switch over to the new technology. In the 21st century, innovations associated with the digital age are introduced much more quickly than in previous generations; yet the same patterns are repeated while cultural acceptance is gradually adopted by mass media audiences.
There are basically five stages which any new mass media development seems to follow. Innovation is the first stage, which is actually a two-part process where there is a high chance for failure due to the fact that so many inventions are patented every year–yet only a few of them are successful. This is true with any invention, whether it is a new way of reading—Kindle or Nook are good examples—or something much larger such as the World Wide Web. In the beginning stages, there may be a great deal of excitement, mixed with an equal amount of apprehension as well. Thus, it is very important for a marketing strategy to be included during the innovation stage.
The primary method for introducing a new mass media technology has typically been offered to the public by using the channel itself as a way to bring in large audiences—show people the benefits of the new invention in order to convince them, and repeatedly use the channel to condition the audiences (Potter, 2016). For example, the first film screenings actually took place in people’s homes rather than in movie houses, which only were built after the popularity of films had reached the larger audiences. The gradual introduction of any new technology is just as important as the invention itself, which is an interesting sociological pattern that has significance from a cultural perspective. After there is a more widespread interest, at least within particular groups, the second stage of development, penetration, reaches a level of importance. In the penetration stage, the channel is used increasingly to reach a larger, heterogenous population (Potter, 2016). This stage is a crucial one which will determine whether the new technology will meet public demands and qualify as a mass media development.
Television is probably one of the best examples of this effect from a historical perspective. When television was first introduced in America, there were many unknown factors related to how it would influence children on a daily basis. Thousands of sociological studies have been conducted over the past several decades to measure the effects of this mass media development. While television reached its peak stage—the time when it was the dominant mass medium technology during the years spanning the 1960s-1990s (Potter, 2016), even today there is ample research that demonstrates a relationship between childhood obesity and watching too much television. In one research study where several variables were tested to determine what this connection could be, the researchers concluded: “TV viewing and obesity is not due to the former being a sedentary activity, rather it indicates that it is the advertising on television that is associated with obesity” (Boyland & Halford, 2013, p. 237). So although television as a dominant mass medium is definitely on the wane—the fourth stage of mass media development, called decline—there are still numerous uses of this medium, both positive and negative, which seem to be of major importance from a sociological standpoint. There has been some carry-over from television to the internet use for children: “parents are attempting a range of mediation strategies, adapting from television strategies, where they prefer active co-use to technical restrictions” (Mendoza, 2013, p. 37). The fifth stage of the mass media pattern of development is adaptation. During this stage, the previously dominant channel must now adapt to the new technologies which are overtaking them in popularity. Otherwise, they will simply become obsolete and people will forget they ever used them—a good example of this effect is when DVD players replaced the VHS models for home viewing.
America is a consumer culture, a leading factor which has defined its economic basis for many years: “full of consumer goods and services and places where these consumer goods and services can be purchased” (Berger, 2015, p. 23). In a consumer culture, advertising is very much a part of how people make decisions on what to buy, and for what purpose. Most advertisements are fairly blatant about the connections between material success and what it will buy you, i.e., popularity, promotions at work, and even love; when it has to do with advertising geared especially towards children, the subtler aspects of consumerism are only just beginning to seep in. Of course, advertisers recognize that it will be the parents who make the purchases, so the commercials will need to appeal to the parents and grandparents as well.
The Lego company has been a popular children’s toy for several decades, and in their television and internet commercials they seem to target the nostalgic features of their product. This could be a way to appeal to today’s parents and their children, as a recent Lego ad depicted. revealed. In the ad, two preteens—a boy and a girl–were happily building a helicopter supply construction and planning the entire playroom around their Lego city (Lego, 2016). Every aspect of the presentation was family-friendly, which was a welcome demonstration of what children’s commercials can be. There were very few references to any outside interests—in fact, the preteens seemed very excited about their adventure and the overall presentation seemed to suggest that Lego-building would keep them pre-occupied for hours and hours. While this depiction was probably unrealistic by today’s standards (where were their iPhones? What about their friends on Facebook or Twitter?), the ad was well-done and believable. The advertising strategists apparently knew their target audience very well.
- Berger, A. A. (2015). Ads, fads, and consumer culture: advertising’s impact on American character and society. Rowman & Littlefield.
- Boyland, E. J., & Halford, J. C. (2013). Television advertising and branding. Effects on eating behaviour and food preferences in children. Appetite, 62, 236-241.
- Lego (2016, Nov. 2). City—volcano supply helicopter—LEGO build zone –season 4 episode 3. Youtube.com. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com
- Mendoza, K. (2013). Surveying parental mediation: connections, challenges and questions for media literacy. Journal of Media Literacy Education, 1(1), 28-41.
- Potter, W. J. (2016). Media literacy (8th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE