any free market society, advertising is pervasive and inescapable. On
billboards, busses, televisions, magazines, newspapers, flyers...and
on every conceivable public surface and in every conceivable spacefrom
park benches to t-shirts to candy wrapperswe can find ourselves
presented with slogans and pitches. They come from hawkers, vendors,
corporations, politicians, public relations giants, ad agencies, movie
studios, restaurant chains, religious groups, rock bands, private schools,
accident chasing lawyers, car dealers, and real estate queens. In virtually
every case, the aim is to sell us something, to shuffle our dollars
into someone else's coffers in the endless and bustling movement of
currency that is capitalism.
As Dr. Art Echerd suggests, there are inherent dangers in most advertising
here for Dr. Echerd's commentary). First of all, because the advertiser's
aim is to SELL, one rarely finds advertising that depicts reality in
an OBJECTIVE manner. As one student put it, advertising presents an
IDEAL reality, not an authentic one. Second, while he may purport to
offer the consumer the best deal or product, the advertiser typically
does not have the consumer's best interest at heart, but rather his
own. He wants to make money: plain and simple. Third, and most damning,
advertising often attempts to persuade us by the lowest means possibleby
appeals to our fears, insecurities, greed, and/or herd instincts. In
fact, much advertising plays upon our innate social urge to conform,
to belong to a select group. What American kid hasn't gone through the
period when she had to own a certain brand of shoes to be considered
"cool"? And while we think that we outgrow these childish
brand wars, just consider the homes we own, the cars we drive, and the
clothes we wear. Are these not also an extension of our desire to project
a winning identity vis-a-vis our peers?
is Advertising Really Dangerous?
we be concerned about advertising and its capacity to manipulate us?
Maybe. Many of us believe that our taste in music or dress is entirely
our ownsprung from our individual sensibilities and preferences.
Thoreau's quotation (above) suggests the contrary, that most of us are
largely social constructsunwitting stooges who follow whatever
trend is popular. A simple test will bear out this point, at least to
a greater degree than most of us would like to imagine (click
here for an explanation).
there are reasons to be concerned about advertising beyond its effect
on simple musical or sartorial preference. In her oft-cited social study
The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls, historian
Joan Jacobs Brumberg suggests that contemporary psychological maladies
like bulimia and anorexia spring directly from cultural messages, particularly
those in advertising and the popular media. Using diaries of adolescent
girls as her primary source of evidence, Brumberg asserts that one hundred
years ago body image disorders were rare to nonexistent because late
nineteenth century American culture emphasized a young woman's character,
not her waist or bust line. Not surprisingly, as the nation grew more
affluent and as companies sought ever new ways to sell products, marketing
increasingly focused on the physical, the materialthe body. Appeals
to elemental impulses became a normso much so that it is self-evident
today that sex is used to sell just about everything, from sitcoms to
sandalwear to food. Moreover, the advertising industry inevitably sends mixed messages to
an image-deluged public. For instance, we are urged to slim down, watch
our weight, and buy a host of 'lite' products to stay trim and fit,
but on the other hand we are bombarded with slick photographs of juicy
burgers, sumptuous pizzas, and a hundred other delectable temptations.
Such contradictions are inescapable in a free market society, but only
a vigilant and skeptical mind will regularly expose them. The old Roman
proverb caveat emptorbuyer bewareapplies now
more than ever. As silly as it may sound, a healthy indifference to
advertising may prove life-saving to you or someone you love. That said,
the cosmetics, fashion, food, and tobacco industries (to name a few)
don't sleep. They just keep urging us to buy, buy, buy.
be fair, anyone who owns a business understands the need to market her
products. Moreover, if the products are beneficial to a person's welfare
or the welfare of the public at large, then advertising has a crucial
role to play in seeing to it that the better products "win"
in the competitive arena. For instance, if you make the best medical
products, the most efficient computers, the most trouble-free and pollution-free
cars and trucks, then we would hope that you would win in the great
marketplace. You will need talented advertising specialists to help
you do so. In
this respect, altruism and self-interest are hardly at odds. In fact,
they may be one and the same.