Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Imaginary Social Relationships and Advertising Part I

An interesting area of media research, according to John Caughey, author of Imaginary Social Worlds is the subjective social experience that people have with media figures. One significant avenue is the “smarm of bees” in the guise of media figures with which people surround themselves beyond their actual relationships. These pseudo relationships with media figures provide a false sense of intimacy.

Okay. So here it goes: I have an imaginary social relationship with Lance Armstrong the 7-time Tour de France winner and cancer survivor.  He is someone that I greatly admire, and he is someone with whom I have much in common. On the one hand, I’m a big fan of bicycle racing, and I am glued to the TV each summer during the entire month of July when the Tour de France is broadcast. When Armstrong retired from the sport several years ago, my love for the sport was severely deflated. But he came back this year, and I was riveted to the screen every day for hours, intently engrossed in this rather esoteric sport, at least by American standards. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I like bike racing, it’s not very popular in the States. In that way I can “own” it, and therefore be different in a way that adds to my individuality. It’s interesting to consider that I use Lance Armstrong in order to help craft my own individuality. Liking football or baseball puts one with the masses, but liking a sport that isn’t widely appealing and you’ve got the ingredients of a meaningful relationship.

But it’s more than me being a fan; I use to race bicycles myself – sometimes riding 8,000 miles a year when training. I was a proficient stage racer, which is what the Tour is – a stage race. So, the fact that I raced bikes and Lance Armstrong is the best stage racer there ever was provides the basis for an imaginary social relationship based on deep admiration. And it is through Lance Armstrong that I can have a vicarious relationship with the sport.

I have “known” Lance Armstrong for many years, as I became aware of him when he was a young rider, known as a brash and arrogant American and therefore not too likeable. He came up on the heels of the first American to win the Tour, Greg Lemond, who unfortunately was shot in a hunting accident that ended his career. Lance Armstrong as I recall rapidly moved up through the ranks of American cyclists, and for those of us American fans of a European dominated sport without Lemond there wasn’t anyplace else to turn – Lance had to me our man.

Irony of ironies at the height of his career, he was stricken with cancer that had spread throughout his body. Reading news accounts—all of this took place prior to Facebook and Twitter—was the only way to follow his journey through the maze of healthcare and eventually to the road to recovery. When he made his comeback and went on to win the Tour de France multiple times after being stricken by such a dreaded disease, my admiration knew no bounds. Remember that the root of the word fan is fanatic; yes, I was a fanatic when it came to Lance Armstrong. But the imaginary social relationship doesn’t stop there. Stay tuned for part two.

1 comment:

JeffFro said...

I am a complete supporter of celebrity endorsers for products. This a great way to relate the characteristics of a celebrity with the characteristic of a new product. I know that this tactic is sometimes risky, as celebrities are unpredictable and could put a negative image toward a product in the long-run, but I feel that this is a risk well taken. Take Tiger Woods for example- the epitome of a top-notch guy who made a mistake just like anybody human could make. Do you really think this occurrence will denounce his name lead people away from the products he endorses?- I certainly don't. What I am trying to say is that although celebrity endorsers can be risky, the reward can sometimes outweigh the risk. Celebrities will always have an influence on the people in this world and will surely create buzz throughout not only fans, but people who are indecisive about a product. If they see that a celebrity, who can chose any product in the world to endorse, chooses that specific product, a certain sense of reliability could be connected to that product. In addition, the chances consumers will at least research or make an effort to find out more about that product, I believe, will surly increase. Once again buzz about a product is a very big part in the success of selling, and good publicity or bad can create buzz about a product endorsed by that celebrity. Whether it be conversation between friends or even a quick personal connection between a product and a celebrity, this could be the deciding factor as to which product you chose off the shelf.