Taking ADvantage
Let Us Build: Constructiveness and Advertising


Richard F. Taflinger, PhD

This page has been accessed since 29 May 1996.

For further readings, I suggest going to the Media and Communications Studies website.

The beautiful model with huge eyes and sparkling smile looks out of the page at the reader with confidence and joy. Her mascara has built up her lashes to draw attention to her eyes. She knows how attractive she now is, and the reader may be just as attractive if she only builds her lashes the same way.


The elementary school teacher wants to buy a new car and writes to the company about what she wants. The commercial follows the car through the factory as each worker proudly signs rher name as the car passes rher station. When the teacher receives her car, she is very happy with it.


The woman and her husband sit close together, waiting. She may be pregnant, and she's taken a home pregnancy test to find out. When the time is up, she checks the test -- she's pregnant. With tears of joy, she and her husband hug in anticipation of building a family.


Humans are unique. It is in the area of constructiveness that this uniqueness becomes apparent.

Constructiveness is an innate desire to build or create. This includes not only physical structures such as houses and cars, but a person's self-concept. The latter includes self-esteem, self-image, and world view.

We have the ability to plan for the future based on the present, drawing from the past. But that isn't unique -- chimpanzees do the same thing, perhaps not to the extent that we do, but nonetheless they do.

We symbolize, converting our experiences and perceptions into arbitrary symbols such as words to represent them. However, research with chimps indicates they also can form abstractions, and there is the possibility that dolphins and whales can communicate through arbitrary sounds.

However, humans are unique in our ability to create physical manifestations of our abstract ideas. We can literally build what we imagine, be it a house or a world view.(1)

Perhaps the greatest example of how humans turn abstractions into actuality is art. Art is one person's world view that rhe symbolizes then constructs and shares with the viewer. That is, the artist symbolizes how rhe perceives the world in terms of shapes or colors or textures or sounds, etc., builds a model of that perception using paint or clay or cloth or music, etc.. Rhe then exhibits the model for others to experience, perhaps affecting those others' world view.

The world view doesn't need to reflect reality. For example, let's create a thought model of a dragon. Various perceptible facets of a dragon could be a lizard's body, eagle claws, bat wings, dinosaur's head with long, pointy teeth. Some facets can be created: breathing fire, baleful stare. Combining these facets can create a thought model of a dragon: a bat-winged, eagle clawed giant lizard with huge sharp teeth, that can fly and breathe fire. Such a creature does not exist in nature and thus cannot be perceived by any other creature on Earth but humans. Dogs cannot smell them, hawks cannot see them, dolphins cannot hear them, nothing can taste or touch them. Nonetheless, humans can, through mixing and matching existing characteristics, easily create mental images. The dragon example has been done so often that it is part of folklore virtually everywhere, and believed a reality by millions of people.

Just about anything that impinges on our lives can affect our world view. An example from World War II illustrates this. During the war in the Pacific the Allied fighting navies established bases on many small islands in Melanesia. The people on these islands had no experience with so many white people, nor with the incredible quantities of goods that were flown in to supply those bases. At the end of the war, the largesse disappeared as rapidly as it had appeared. The island people believed that the cargoes had been brought by the planes, which they deified, and that the white men were just another type of cargo. In their world view, the planes are gods who will return, bringing riches, ending the need for work, and removing white people. The people in these cargo cults, as they are called, hoping for a return of the planes and their cargoes (and that the planes would remove the remaining white people), build runways and wooden replicas of the planes as enticement for the return of their gods. Thus, they construct their world view, and physical manifestations reflecting that view.


Where would an innate need for and sense of constructiveness come from? Why would it evolve in the first place? Some hints come from the animal world.

There are animals that build artificial structures to improve their survival and reproductive chances. Prime examples are ants and termites, which build nests sometimes eight or more feet in height for protection and, in the case of leaf cutter ants, to cultivate their crops.

Bower and weaver birds are also architects. In their case, the male bird builds and decorates an arbor or weaves a spherical nest in hopes of attracting a female with which to mate. The better his bower or nest (in a female's opinion), the better his reproductive chances.

Examples also appear in mammals. Beavers are nature's engineers, building dams to create ponds, and lodges in the ponds. These ponds and lodges increase their biological success, providing them with more food and protection from predation.

Primates are also constructive, particularly chimpanzees. Chimps make tools to fish for termites and use a hammer and anvil to crack nuts. They also build nests in the trees every night for a safe and comfortable bed.

However, in spite of all the examples from nature, humans are far more constructive than any other animal. What might be the reason for this? As stated above (see Biological Basis of Human Behavior), humans probably began their evolution from primates living in marginal environmental conditions. Richard Wrangham, who observed a community of Ugandan chimps, speculates that for the Kibale chimpanzees life is too easy and food too plentiful for the challenge of deprivation to elicit the response of technology. (Sagan, 1992) My speculation is that in marginal conditions, hardships might be the impetus for technology. Under such conditions, anything that might aid in survival would be welcome. After a first step was taken, perhaps a termiting or digging stick or a hammer and anvil, the harshness of conditions would impel protohumans to improve their tools. Combined with the other factors discussed above (the camp, interdependence of the sexes, evolution of language, etc. (see Human Cultural Evolution)) that probably pushed the evolution of the human brain, improvement in tools for survival could have led to the construction of other things. For example, chimps build nests, a new one each night in a new location, as they roam their territories in search of food. However, the protohuman camp and its attendant necessity of staying in one place for comparatively extended periods of time (days or even weeks), would lead to a greater sense of constructiveness. A more substantial "nest", such as a cave and, later, artificial structures, or the delineation of areas in the camp into living areas versus garbage dumps would be excellent improvements in living conditions.

As protohumans moved closer to being true humans, they also began to construct world views beyond anything, as far as we know, of which other animals are capable. As the human brain developed, we became able to remember the past as a series of discrete events that could be compared to the present, and thus make predictions about the future. Early humans would begin to notice cycles of events: seasons, celestial changes such as phases of the moon and yearly sun solstices, animal migrations, and even the females' menstrual cycles. Eventually, these cycles would seem, or actually be, related to each other: when the sun set or rose at a certain point on the horizon, animals would migrate; when the moon was a certain shape, a woman would menstruate; when the moon had gone through a certain number of phases, the sun would set at a specific point on the horizon, heralding the migration of animals, etc.. People would develop a world view based on these cycles, that the world operated according to a set of principles. For many, such a world view would involve a deity or set of deities that controlled the cycles they observed, deities that would require mollification, worship or sacrifice to ensure the continuation of the cycles. For others, a search for and understanding of natural causes for events is all there is. In such ways, people construct the world in which they live.


Advertising is very useful when it comes to selling those products that are used to actual build or work on things. Such products include tools, building materials, and improvement and repair products. It also includes how things are built for future purchase.

Although such products are useful in and of themselves, advertising usually links the constructiveness with other appeals to make the products even more attractive on a subconscious level.

One appeal that is linked with constructiveness is self-preservation. What is implied is that the product, while helping the consumer to build or repair something, is actually improving rher chances at survival. For example, oil or antifreeze or additives or an improved braking system or engine or building material will make the buyer safer. The ad may also tout the need for clean air or water or heat or cooling, and thus make getting a new water filter or different plumbing or safer paint or more insulation, etc. more imperative and thus more attractive.

When applied to products for purchase, manufacturers advertise how well they build their products. For example, car manufacturers emphasize how well they build their cars, and the safety features they've installed, all to ensure the safety of the purchaser.

Reproduction is rarely linked to constructiveness other than in the building of a physical appearance that may be attractive to the opposite sex. Such products include cosmetics and fashion, the purpose of which is to alter a person's facade that rhe presents to the world.

Greed is commonly linked to constructiveness. Many products are promoted as not only helping build, but saving and earning money at the same time. For example, using the right paint or stain will save you hundreds or thousands of dollars in repairs, the proper insulation will save on heating and cooling costs.

Greed is also commonly used in ads for products for future purchase. In these instances, the manufacturer emphasizes how much money the purchaser can save by buying the product because of how the product is made. The ad may emphasize improved gas mileage, lower insurance rates, no need to buy extras or peripherals, or anything else that implies spending money now means not having to spend money later. For example, a computer ad may say that when you buy the competition you also have to buy all the stuff you need to make the computer work, like a printer and a modem and memory and ports and software, but if you buy the sponsor's computer, everything is included. The manufacturer is saying that it's already built the computer the way you want it.

It is in building a world view, and how the consumer fits into that world view, that advertising relies on constructiveness to sell products. Even the examples at the top of the chapter, ostensibly promoting their products on the basis of building lashes, cars or families, are actually creating a view of the world in the consumer's mind.

As you may remember, advertising rarely makes absolute claims about a product, especially when the product is a parity one. However, if the ad can either make the product a part of or link it with the consumer's world view, then the product may be more attractive to that consumer.

For example, Liberty Mutual's "Facing the Issues" ads show problems that people face, such as the conflict between parents and their teenage children that are just starting to drive. The ad then promotes videos that help these families achieve detente, thus building a better and closer family. Since most families' world view include a sense of togetherness and avoidance of conflict, the ad promotes not only the family but how much the company cares about them, making the company look good. John Hancock Insurance does much the same with their ads promoting retirement accounts, building for the future.

Self-esteem can be linked to constructiveness in building a world view. For men, it is the establishment of themselves in a superior position relative to other men. This often appears in choosing the better tools and materials. For example, using the proper painting tools, such as a power roller or paint gun, makes you superior to the idiots who aren't bright enough to throw away their out-moded rollers and brushes. A man's position in the world is established in this way.

For women, use of the product demonstrates or improves their connection to others. It may be by building a better or closer family or better and closer friends. For example, many household appliances and food products show how her purchasing them and sharing the fruits of her efforts with family and/or friends brings them closer together.

Many ads apply constructiveness to their products by way of their slogans: "Building a better tomorrow," "Built to a Higher Standard," "We Build 'em Right," etc.. Such slogans rely on the technique of the dangling comparative, in which the statement appears to be making a comparison between the advertised products and other products, but doesn't actually do so. In the above examples, a better tomorrow than whom or what, a higher standard than whose, who builds 'em wrong are possible questions. Nonetheless, the audience will often fill in the blank, such as built to a higher standard than other similar products (of course, the slogan doesn't actually say that; it could be built to a higher standard than a slum).


Constructiveness is an inherent part in many animals' make-up. It contributes to their survival, their reproductive success, and their ability to gather resources.

Humans are the most constructive beings on earth. They build not only the most complex physical structures, but they also build a world view based on culture and experience.

Advertising promotes products and services that aid people in building their physical structures and world views. It usually links constructiveness with other appeals, showing how using a product to be constructive can enhance survival, reproductive success, greed, or self-esteem.


1 By world view, I mean how we as individuals think the world is and works, based on our a priori assumptions, education, interactions with the world and other people, etc.. For example, the world view of deeply religious people includes a deity's active involvement in their lives and day to day events. For non-religious people, their world view denies that anything but natural laws and personal efforts influence what happens. (see Consumer Psychology for a more in-depth discussion.)

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