Abraham Maslow wanted to know why some people were more successful than others, so he read the autobiographies and notes of some great thinkers and influencers to see if their personalities and motivations could help explain their intellectual and political achievements. The psychologist believed the need for self-actualisation inspired the likes of Albert Einstein and Abraham Lincoln to reach their full potential.
To what extent can marketing agencies connect with their target audience’s desire for self-actualisation to sell their products and services? Try applying the critical framework to this Nike advertisement to see if Maslow’s theory is still relevant to media studies.
Nike is a major manufacturer of sports equipment with a brand, such as their trademark “Just Do It” and swoosh logo. that is instantly recognisable. Since the 1970s, they have sponsored popular sports teams and high-profile athletes to promote their products and maintain their market dominance. Endorsed by Katarina Johnson-Thompson, who is a British heptathlete and two-time Olympian, this advertisement draws attention to their specialist tank tops for runners.
In terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the desire for fitness and competitive sport could appeal to several ranks of his classification. There is also an aesthetic quality to the product that is worthy of further study.
Analyse the following print advertisement in terms of self-actualisation as summarised by Maslow and his hierarchy of needs.
Points to Consider
Maslow initially divided our motivations into five categories of needs. Although sport and health is linked to our physiological needs, advertisements for sports clothing and equipment tend to appeal to the psychological need for self-esteem and even our desire for self-actualisation. We all want to fulfil our potential and Nike, according to the advertisement, can help us achieve this success.
It is important to support your ideas with semiotic analysis of the text. First, how does the main signifier of the professional athlete support this decoding of the text? Explore how Katrina Johnson-Thompson’s body language appeals to our need for self-actualisation? You could also think about it terms of her success on the track and even her position as an opinion leader and the two-step flow theory of communication.
The preferred reading is clear from the headline, which is encouraging us to improve our performance on the track and to be more competitive. Notice how it is written in capitals and a white font so it stands out against the sky background. Does the use of italics suggest a forward motion?
How might celebrity endorsement actually appeal to our desire for belonging?
Finally, Maslow suggested we also have aesthetic needs and we are motivated to find beauty in the world. Obviously, there is the icon of the knit tank being promoted by the advertisement. Does it look good? There is also a wonderful aesthetic quality to the athlete’s movement. She appears balanced and determined.
You could link your analysis to ways we use of the media to construct our identity. This concept is described very effectively by David Gauntlett, but it is also worth considering the category of personal identity from the uses and gratifications theories.
For more practice exploring the importance of Maslow’s ideas and our consumption of media texts, try analysing this advertisement for Liverpool Hope University.