The Evolution of Advertising “Health”

By: Jenna Ritter

What is Health?

According to most contemporary media, health is: buying the iPod, wearing Nike shoes, eating Quaker Oatmeal, drinking Muscle Milk, and reading Health Magazine. Health has been commodified into a media object that is packaged up and sold to us. Through advertisements, media has commodified the essence of health and has been made into another way to sell us things and support capitalism. We are told by advertisements that we need to look, dress, eat, and essentially think a different way in order to fit the contemporary status quo of “health.”

Advertising plays a huge role in not only determining what is healthy, but what our society considers is unhealthy. Media constructs certain natural body functions to be unhealthy, such as sweating or having a pimple. Media plays on our insecurities. It even creates false notions of being unhealthy, so we have more insecurities. By doing so, it forces us into believing the only way out of these unhealthy disasters is by buying chemicals to make us “healthier.”

Evolving Health Advertisements

Since the beginning of advertising, newspapers, store shelves, and billboards all claimed certain products to have “healing powers” and health benefits.  Americans were attracted to these products because of their limited access to qualified information from medical professionals as well as limited funds.

Little did we know, these medicines and products were not regulated. Most of them contained unhealthy ingredients like alcohol, borax, mercury, and formaldehyde. In the late 19th century journalists started reporting on these industries for the safety and health of the American public. These muckraking techniques led to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. The purpose was to protect the public against adulteration of food and from products identified as without scientific support. Then, in 1927 the Food and Drug Administration formed. It regulates advertisements for prescription drugs, while the Federal Trade Commission regulates advertisements done for over-the counter drugs.

The Numbers

In a recent report on food economics, data shows that a whopping 84 cents of each dollar we spend on food is actually toward the marketing and advertising for that product. Only 16 cents actually goes to what we are getting, when purchasing a food product.

Drug and health advertising is a HUGE business. Why? Because it works. It is one of the largest industries in the United States. Media has given this notion of health the means to flourish in our society. In 2007 alone, drug companies spent $5.375 billion dollars on advertising.  The cosmetics and toiletry industries spend around $468 million in advertising annually.

What Marx has to Say…

Karl Marx came up with the idea of historical materialism in relation to political economy of media. This approach is about  humans collectively producing the necessities of life for the development of society.  The idea of health has been collectively commodified to equal something that you must buy. The way our society work is humans evolve on nature to produce things people must buy. Below is a contemporary example of how Muscle Milk is shown as a product we need to “evolve.”

In Marxist terms, the mass media are the “means of production.”  In capitalist society this meas the ruling class has ownership. The mass media pushes ideas and ruling class views on us and deny anything else. This leads media to have the means to control material production. This is a stance “…whereby media products are seen as monolithic expressions of ruling class values, which ignores any diversity of values… and the possibility of oppositional readings by media audiences” (Marx, Karl).

Health as a Media Commodity:

Health: The Foundations for Achievement by David Seedhouse, discusses the theory of health as a commodity. He discusses that in today’s increasingly Westernized world, health is something that can be sold, bought, lost, and given. This theory is compatible with capitalism. The media has made health something that can be supplied “piece by piece if necessary without any effort from the recipient.” It can be purchased just that anything else tangible. He concludes by saying that if we seek health as a commodity we hold on to a false hope of health and that it undermines our spiritual and intellectual strengths in relation to health. This goes hand in hand with Marx’s concept of historical materialism.

In our society, media has cultivated false needs by creating health insecurities. Culture industry, a term coined by Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer, says popular culture produces standardized goods that people buy into because they have been manipulated into passivity.


So, who is telling us what is healthy? The answer: Media. Advertisements in the media commodify our notion of health and that notion comes from the companies that are trying to sell us things. Media companies let these other companies tell us what health is. As you can see, health=capitalism in some ways. Think about the products we buy into to be healthy, or to keep from being unhealthy. Media tells us in order to become healthy, we have to spend money. Here is an example:

Our bodies are regulated through ideas of profit maximization for companies. The concept of what is healthy and unhealthy has been used across all media industries. The advertising industry focuses on what is “unhealthy” since unhealthy preys on our fears and idealization of health.

In conclusion, health is related to wealth. The health advertising industry sells us much more than things. As Sut Jhally analyzes, advertising sells us ourselves and who we want to be in the name of private profit. Even though ads appear senseless, they carry a powerful unifying message of what we need to do prevent us from being unhealthy and buy into what the media tells us is healthy.

Food and Drug Administration

Food Economics

Federal Trade Commission

History of Health

Historical Materialism

Health Advertising Numbers

Jean Kilbourne

Cosmetics Advertising Numbers

Karl Marx

Sut Jhally

Culture Industry


Corporate Profile: Time Warner

By: Jenna Ritter

“Big media today wants to own the faucet, pipeline, water, and the reservoir. The rain and clouds come next.” -Ted Turner. He is right. Tuner sold his company to Time Warner. Today, media companies have to own everything up and down the media chain. Here is a look at one of the largest media conglomerates in the world: Time Warner.


In 1923, Time, a magazine that comes out weekly and was founded by Henry Luce and Briton Hadden. They had borrowed $86,375 from friends and Yale classmates to get started. From there, this company grew fast and turned over a profit in just one year. Time got involved in television when they bought $7.5 million of satellite time during HBO programming. In 1986 it acquired American Express share of Warner-AMEX Cable.

NYC Headquarters

The company then merged with Time Inc. and Warner Communications. Four years later they acquired Turner Broadcasting System of Filmed Entertainment, Cable Networks, Publishing and Cable Systems divisions. In 1996, Time Warner announced a joint venture with AT&T and just four year later in 2000, Time Warner and America Online announced a $181 billion merger. As you can see, this company grew fast and now is one of the largest media corporations in the world.

Time Warner’s Commodities:

Time Warner owns: Home Box Office (HBO),Time Inc., Turner Broadcasting System, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., CW Network (partial ownnership), Time Warner Investments Group, TMZ, New Line Cinema, Cinemax, Cartoon Network, TBS, MapQuest, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, Health, and People Magazine. To name just a few…here is the complete list.

Connecting the Dots:

There are two levels of corporate control: operational and allocative. Operational control is the management and CEO’s. They are elected at the allocative level, that includes the large shareholders as well as the board that deal with mergers, franchising, and acquisitions. Some important members of the board include Stephen F. Bollenbach who is also linked with Macy’s and American International Group. James L. Barksdale who sits on the board of Sun Microsystyms who is also linked to Bank of America, and Federal Express Corporation. Robert C. Clark who is linked with the giant Omnicom group and HAA-CREF, Richard D. Parsons with Estee Lauder and Citigroup. Time Warner is connected to almost every large bank in the U.S…. talk about concentration! All the power is connected. For a complete list of Time Warner’s board members and what large companies they are linked with go here.


There have been plenty of controversies involving Time Warner. Although they may not get a lot of news coverage because the company owns major news outlets. One major controversy was Time Warner’s merger with AOL. There was some public discontentment with this large deal being approved.

There have also been protests against this corporation on the individual side. Alan Moore’s protest over the intellectual property rights to his graphic novels (V for Vendetta, Watchment, League of Extraordinary, From Hell, etc.). Moore did not want these books turned into movies, but ended up losing the rights through litigation. Time Warner claimed ownership through its subsidiary, DC comics.

Another controversy was the construction of Warner Village in Abu Dhabi.

The local population may not be happy when corporations build properties around the world. But, who is listening to the minority voice?

“Globalization Theories” by: Annabelle Sreberyny says, the world is a single space and has the ability of spacial connectivity through technological convergence. The economic capitals logic central driving force is globalization. As you can see that is exactly what Time Warner is doing by having over 200 subsidiaries worldwide. This corporation expects globalization to provide “growth tonic” and large annual sales growth.


Time Warner has used it’s power to lobby the government for many reasons. One example is in 2005, Time Warner donated $250,000 to George W. Bush’s second presidential inauguration (the maximum contribution).


Time Warner is part of the big six media conglomerates that control the majority of all media we consumer. The main completion and other five huge conglomerates are Walt Disney, Viacom, News Corporation, CBS Corporation, and NBC Universal.

Financial Earnings:

In the most recent 3rd quarter, Time Warner Revenues revenues rose 11% to $7.1 billion. This is its highest growth rate since third quarter of 2007. Go here to see complete financial results and here to see quarterly earnings from 2008-2011 go here.


Time Warner has demonstrated strategies to maximize profit by merging with AOL and also Turner Broadcasting. When doing so, it acquired large and extremely powerful assets like CNN, TNT, and New Line Cinema. It  now has major control over not just old media, but new. As a current strategy, it is focusing on a stock repurchasing program and now has110 Million shares of common stock Time Warner 


Time Warner is extremely horizontally and vertically integrated. It has expanded into television, radio, print, web, news programming, and even the NBA. Because of this diversification it uses synergy between all its media outlets to promote their services and media commodities. This company has the ability to put advertisements EVERYWHERE. Through horizontal integration it bought out once independent magazines that cater to very different audience demographics so they can target EVERYONE. It is vertically integrated by owning internet services, production, distribution, marketing, publishing, music, and cable activities. Across every stream of media, it can be promoting one of their commodities. With this extreme cross-market promotion it has created a system greater than its parts with synergy, diversification, franchising, concentration, globalization, and essentially…..GLOBAL DOMINATION with the main goal of MAXIMIZING profit.

“Media Conglomerates”, by Daniel Biltereyst says when using the public sphere theory you see that corporations homogenize cultural production and restrict critical media which leads to Americanization, Eurocentrism, or cultural imperialism. We have restricted media now because these corporations are so large they can control content through almost all mediums.

 The Time Warner corporation controls the majority of what we watch, hear, and read and every single day. And when a corporation can control all of these areas of humans consumption they gain control over what we think. Americans need to stop and think about who is feeding them their information.

AOL Merger

History of Time

The Big Six

My Beef with Big Media

Time Warner Time Line

Time Warner

Media Ownership Chart

Time Warner Media Files

Time Warner’s Financial Results

Warner Center in Abu Dhabi