Advertising has grown to be an industry worth many billions of dollars across the world. Online advertising alone is believed to be worth $24 billion a year1. Almost all public space has some advertisements in sight and all forms of media, from newspapers to the cinema, are also filled with adverts. Whilst this helps companies sell their products, and helps consumers to learn what is on offer, many believe that this huge amount of advertising can be harmful. It may make people want too much, or things that they cannot have, or it might make them feel inadequate when they don't have something. Research shows that children can be particularly open to these kinds of risk.
The sheer volume of advertising in our society is incredible. You cannot watch television, ride on a bus or even walk down the street without someone trying to sell you something or inform you of something. Recent research suggests people living in a city today sees up to 5,000 advertisements a day1. 50% of those surveyed said they thought 'advertising today was out of control'1. People shouldn't have to go about their lives having their minds saturated with such a vast quantity of, in most cases, redudant and profiteering information. They should be able to go about their daily lives in peace without being forced to watch, listen or view an advertisement.
Though there are a great many advertisements in everyday life, there are not so many that they can't simply be ignored. Advertisements attempt to get you to buy a product, if you're not interested, then don't buy the product. For every person who finds all the advertisements stressful, another person finds them enjoyable and something to read or watch while they make their daily journey to work or school. Out of control could mean simply that customers think businesses are spending too much on advertising. Without proof that the number of advertisements is having a negative effect, the point is worthless.
Advertising leads to many people being overwhelmed by the endless need to decide between competing demands on their attention – this is known as the tyranny of choice or choice overload. Recent research suggests that people are on average less happy than they were 30 years ago - despite being better off and having much more choice of things to spend their money on1. The claims of adverts crowd in on people, raising expectations about a product and leading to inevitable disappointment after it is bought. A recent advertisement for make-up was banned in Britain due to the company presenting its product as being more effective than it actually was2. Shoppers feel that a poor purchase is their fault for not choosing more wisely, and regret not choosing something else instead. Some people are so overwhelmed that they cannot choose at all.
1Schwartz, The Tyranny of Choice, 2004.
People are unhappy because they can't have everything, not because they are given too much choice and find it stressful. In fact, advertisements play a crucial role in ensuring that what money people have, they spend on the most appropriate product for themselves. If advertisements were not permitted, people would waste money on an initial product when, given the choice, they clearly would go for another.
A meta-analysis incorporating research from 50 independent studies found no meaningful connection between choice and anxiety, but speculated that the variance in the studies left open the possibility that choice overload could be tied to certain highly specific and as yet poorly understood pre-conditions1.
1^ Scheibehenne, Benjamin; Greifeneder, R. & Todd, P. M. (2010). "Can There Ever be Too Many Options? A Meta-Analytic Review of Choice Overload". Journal of Consumer Research 37: 409-425.
People cannot just choose to ignore advertising, because advertisers use many underhand methods to get their message across. Posters have attention grabbing words, or provocative pictures. Some adverts today are even being hidden in what seem like pieces or art or public information so people don't realise they are being marketed to. The introduction of digital screens allows businesses to alter their advertising to respond to specific events, making advertisements not only everywhere, but seemingly all-knowing1. By targeting people's unconscious thoughts adverts are a form of brainwashing that take away people's freedoms to make choices.
Adverts which use very sly methods like subliminal images (images which are shown so quickly the viewer doesn't consciously realise they saw them) are already banned. The other forms of advertising are just companies being creative. There is no difference from supermarkets being painted bright colours to make their food seem more appetising or even people wearing make-up to improve their image. People make unconscious judgements all the time, and we frequently try to influence these choices by the way we present ourselves. This isn't brainwashing, so neither is advertising.
Many adverts do more than just advertising products. Some try to make people feel inferior if they don't have the product, or if they have something which the product would change. Perceptions of beauty and fashion in particular have been terribly distorted. Many young people have low self-esteem, and lead unhealthy lifestyles because they feel they should be thinner and more attractive like the models they see in adverts. This leads to serious problems like eating-disorders and self-harm. Research that proved this effect also concluded that 'the media can boost self-esteem (happiness with one's self) where it is providing examples of a variety of body shapes. However, it often tends to portray a limited (small) number of body shapes'1.
The media and celebrity magazines do much more harm, by mocking unattractive or overweight people, and glorifying models who are often dangerously thin. Adverts never criticise people - that would be terrible for the companies behind them. Their aim is to understand and provide what people want, and so their adverts only ever reflect what people think. If people's perceptions are wrong, then it not the advertisers' job to put them right, but politicians, the media and schools.
Advertising gives the impression, especially to children, that they can and should have everything they want. This makes people too interested in material things. People are becoming more selfish and obsessed with their possessions, and losing their values of patience, hard work, moderation and the importance of non-material things like family and friends. This harms their relationships and their personal development, which has serious effects for society as a whole.
Our society is built around the idea that companies produce things that people want, and this is what makes us prosperous. If consumers suddenly stopped wanting to buy so many products then what happens to the people whose job it is to make them? The economy will suffer terribly. Of course some people take materialism too far, but most people buy just what they need and then a little extra when they treat themselves. This is a much better situation than one in which people can only afford to buy the things they need - that would be a step backwards.
If there wasn't advertising then small businesses would have no chance at all to make their product well known. Adverts can actually level the playing field - if you have a good new product, and market it in a clever way then it doesn't matter how small your company is, you can still make consumers interested. The more you restrict the freedom of information, the more this helps the large companies who everyone already knows about.
Advertising in fact gives an unfair advantage to big businesses. Small companies might have much better products, but they cannot afford to advertise them as well and so people don't find out about them. In the film industry, the big film studios spend more than $75 million on advertising alone1. Small films cannot compete. This restricts the quality of products for consumers, and places a huge roadblock to the success of small businesses.
Advertising has a positive role to play in modern society, helping us choose between competing goods. Many adverts are drawing our attention to products with new features, for example more powerful computers, telephones which are also cameras and music players, or foods with added vitamins. Other adverts try to compete on price, helping us seek out the cheapest or best value products. In most cases advertising does not make us go shopping – we would be planning to buy food, clothes, gifts and entertainment anyway. What advertising does is to help us make better decisions about how to spend our money, by giving us more information about the choices available.
Advertising does not help us choose, it merely confuses customer who are not sure who is offering what. This is particularly true with advertisements that compare products with other businesses. In Britain, advertising for broadband (internet) services confuse nine out of ten people1. With different costs and add-ons, it's hard to for a customer to know what they are actually paying for and whether it is better than going somewhere else. As a result, many customers end up stressed and confused.
Advertising is used to promote healthy activities, products and lifestyles and is further regulated to ensure that unhealthy products are not promoted. The School Food Trust in Britain, for example, used celebrities in advertisements to promote healthy eating in 20071. Furthermore, adverts which promote seriously unhealthy things are becoming very rare. Cigarette advertising is all but extinct, and alcohol adverts are being more restricted. With adverts such as fast food we see as well that companies are changing their message to promote healthier options. This is because it is bad for businesses to be viewed as harming children. Public pressure and successful regulation will always bring any advertising problems back under control.
Advertisers don't have the good of society in mind when they do their work - they only care about making profit. This means that they regularly advertise unhealthy or harmful things. Fast food adverts are a large part of the reason so many children are obese. Researchers have found that children aged 6-13 who were shown commercials for junk food were more likely to pick meals that were bad for them1. The adverts just try to make children eat as much bad food as possible without any concern for the health costs.
No-one is forced to put advertising on their property - for many companies it is an important part of their income. Football teams would have much less money if they were not sponsored. Manchester United's shirt sponsorship deal with Aon is worth £80 million. For the small annoyance of having to have a logo on the shirt, the football club can afford to buy new players and hopefully win more games. And no-one is forced to look at advertising - you can turn the TV off between shows, or just flick past adverts in newspapers. If you don't want to see the adverts, then just ignore them.
It is hard to ignore advertising when it is everywhere in modern life. Advertising may be welcomed by companies which profit from their sponsorship, but fans do not like it nor necessarily want it. Barcelona in Spain went without commercial advertising on their shirts for a long time, proving sponsorship is not necessary to win trophies and buy players.
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