Commodity-Image System

At its most basic definition, a commodity is an object that is bought or sold in our society. The commodity image system is referring to the process of advertising of these objects and how advertising processes affect our culture. Sut Jhally is a professor at Amherst who wrote “Image Based Culture” in 1990. He says that the idea of a society based in a commodity image system means that the advertising that we create shows us a better life. It leads us to believe that we can receive self-validation from the things that we buy based on the advertiser’s success in convincing us. The things we buy can give us happiness and a better life. He also explains that “the development of tv ensured that images were our primary commercial mode of communication”.  Advertising has taught us to comprehend these images for their benefit as well. The inclusion of more third world countries has contributed to the spread of this system.  (Jhally 1990). Later Jhally uses this concept to talk about how the resources in our world are affected (Daniel 1999). The example that he uses in the article is of a diamond rings meaning to our portrayal of a relationships value. We have been taught that the diamond is a symbol elizabethof our love for our spouse. However, it is not a natural human concept if not for the advertising that we have created that has taught us that “a diamond is forever.” He highlights the transition from an agrarian society to industrialization which has encouraged the transition in advertising to a commodity image system (Jhally 1990). This transition has created the commodity image system in which we are surrounded by images of our potential future and dreams which can be achieved by buying the products advertised.


Daniel, B. (1999). ADVERTISING AND THE END OF THE WORLD Sut Jhally. The Radical Teacher, (57), 34.

Jhally, S. (1990). Image based culture: advertising and pop culture. The World and I. Article 17591.

Image attribution: CCO commons, no attribution needed

Written by Elizabeth Bergstrom, 2017