Advertising: Friend or Foe?

Topics: Advertising, Consumer protection, Federal Trade Commission Pages: 10 (3200 words) Published: August 1, 2007
Although advertising has been around for centuries, explicit "branding" is a product of the late 1800s and came about during the Industrial Revolution.1 Due to the lack of regulation within certain industries and the prevalence of hazardous products, brands were introduced to increase the reputation and value of a particular manufacturer.1 Much like today, brands were synonymous with certain attributes, like quality and safety, that manufacturers wanted to convey. Despite its many benefits, advertising has been met with an onslaught of debate and criticism. This paper addresses the criticisms and the benefits of advertising so that, hopefully, readers can make their own informed decision on whether advertising is a friend or a foe in our society. However, no matter the controversies surrounding advertising, it's safe to say that it's here to stay. Everyone's a Critic

Advertising is "accused of encouraging materialism and consumption, of stereotyping, of causing us to purchase items for which we have no need, of taking advantage of children, of manipulating our behavior, using sex to sell, and generally contributing to the downfall of our social system."2 Sut Jhally, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, goes as far as to say that advertising will eventually lead to the end of the world. In his article, Advertising at the Edge of the Apocalypse, he claims "20th century advertising is the most powerful and sustained system of propaganda in human history and its cumulative cultural effects, unless quickly checked, will be responsible for destroying the world as we know it."3 He further goes on to argue that advertising isn't about informing consumers but fooling them into believing that consumption of commodities is the only means of attaining true happiness. He poses, "Do we get happier as a society as we get richer, as our standard of living increases, as we have more access to the immense collection of objects?"4 The United States alone spends, on average, $175 billion a year5 on advertising trying to make consumers believe that the answer is yes. However, according to the article in BusinessWeek magazine, Rating Countries for the Happiness Factor, the United States was ranked 23rd.6 In fact, Bhutan, a small South Asian nation between India and China, is ranked 8th and has a GDP per capita of only $1,400.7 One could assume, then, that commodity purchases is not what makes the people of Bhutan happy.

Whether you agree with Professor Jhally or not, it is easy to see where he is coming from when you look at the various types of unethical advertising, specifically subliminal, deceptive, advertising to children, and economic censorship. Subliminal Advertising

Modern day subliminal advertising originated in 1957 by James Vicory. He claimed to increase concession sales at a movie theater by subliminally directing the audience to buy Coca-Cola and popcorn. His technique was to flash a visual stimulus "eat popcorn" and "drink Coca-Cola" on the screen for 1/3000 of a second.8 His technique is one of three ways in which subliminal advertising can be communicated. The other two are by using sub-audible messages and by using embedded stimuli. Sub-audible messages are auditory stimuli that are played at a low volume and under a "carrier" of music, ocean waves, etc. so that they cannot be heard, whereas embedded stimuli are words or pictures, usually of a sexual nature, hidden within larger illustrations.9 Much of the controversy around subliminal advertising stems from the misuse of the word. In psychological terms, "limen" is the threshold of consciousness. Therefore, a subliminal stimulus, by definition, is below the level of someone's conscious awareness.10 The ethical debate around subliminal advertising is that it controls human behavior through manipulation because people are unconsciously aware that it's happening. For example, much controversy surrounded the...
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