Advertising: Friend or Foe?
Advertising in the United States has become an enormous and overwhelming multibillion dollar industry. No matter where you go or what you do, you will be inundated with advertisements. By the end of an average day you will have seen over 5000 advertisments (Berry & Howe, 2005). Advertising has been around for decades and has grown exponentially as more and more modes of advertisement have become available. Advertising reaches the public by way of television, radio, newspapers, magazines, junk mail,and internet, although more avenues are exploited, such as buses, bathrooms, and shopping carts. Smart phone apps are loaded with advertisements which you can avoid if you are willing to pay an extra fee. Driving around town, you can expect to see billboards, signs, benches, and posters all advertising some service or product. Sunday newspapers have entire sections dedicated to ads for various grocery and retail stores. There is no escaping the omnipresent realm of advertising and this issue has become quite controversial. While there are numerous benefits to advertising, it seems that most consumers acknowledge its negative effects. Consumers are persuaded by the advertisements to buy products that may have bad consequences. Instead of taking responsibility for their actions, consumers blame the advertisements. Ultimately the consumers, not the advertisements are to blame for any adverse outcomes resulting from advertisements.
Advertising has become the scapegoat for nearly everything wrong with this country. Instead of accepting the blame for their choices, consumers have sought other ways to shift the blame. Many studies have been done regarding the effects of advertising and some determine that advertising negatively affects children. These studies focus on how advertising leads to obesity, diabetes, and even mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depress. According to Gary Ruskin and Juliet Schor (2012), childhood obesity and diabetes are all results of advertising because they target children with foods high in sugar and fat content. According to a study titled “Obesity: A Public Health Failure?” by Glassman, Glassman, and Diehr (2013), obesity in children has been a growing issue since the ‘70s and more than 18% of U.S. children are considered obese. Ruskin and Schor also argue that advertisements are to blame for mental illnesses like depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. Another common complaint about advertising is that it is spiraling out of control, leaving consumers feeling bombarded and overwhelmed. It is true that advertising may cause some women to feel inadequate when they compare themselves to the supermodel images in many magazines (Cho, 2010). Advertising may cause consumers to buy products that they do not actually need. Some have estimated that as much as 40% of an average household budget could be saved if unnecessary products were been bought – things like expensive cars, fatty and salty prepared foods, designer clothes, brand-name perfumes, and electronics (Berry & Howe, 2005). Advertising makes consumers buy what they do not actually need. Nevertheless, as annoying and intrusive as it may be, advertising is not to blame for these problems. Consumers can only blame themselves. Advertising is the most successful way for companies to inform consumers about their products. There are many positive aspects to advertising that consumers fail to consider because they are too busy complaining about it.
One of the most important aspects of advertising is that it allows companies to get their products into public view and inform people about them. Without advertising, consumers would be less likely to know what products are available to them, nor would they know about the benefits the products have to offer. According to Richard Beltramini (2010), studies have shown that advertising of pharmaceutical products has been significantly beneficial. He explains that advertising has raised the awareness of product benefits, as well as its side effects, which gives the consumer a balanced view of the product, thus empowering consumers to make informed decisions on the medications they take. According to Berry and Howe (2005), advertising has made significant improvements in consumer health and appearance by promoting a healthy lifestyle. In an attempt to convey to the public the idea that exercise prevents diseases like diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease, advertisers have focused on the importance on an active lifestyle, fitness products, and products that enhance personal appearance. The benefits do not exist solely between the maker of the product and the consumer, but also between different companies offering the same or similar products.
Advertising is also used as a catalyst to ignite competition between companies offering the same or similar products. This competition keeps prices low and contributes to new innovative products. According to MacKenzie, Meyer, and Noble (2013), companies that want to stay in business have to keep their prices competitive because consumers will always compare prices and go with the lower price. Dana Griffin (2010) offered another option that retailers commonly use to keep their prices competitive. Many retailers and companies use coupons and sale which offer products at discounted prices. These incentives and competitive prices help to stimulate the economy because it motivates consumers to spend more money by buying more products. This competition between companies contributes to another important aspect of advertising. As companies use competitive advertising to win favor with the consumer, they also use it to compete with each other to see who will come out with the newest and most improved products. In order to stay current and competitive, companies have to look constantly at how they can improve their products or develop new products that are better than the previous products. According to Henry Chesbrough and Jason Eichenholz (2013), “new products design and development is crucial for the survival of a company” (para. 1). Chesbrough and Eichenholzexplain that companies are forced to enhance or tweak their products because of continuous technological advances and to meet the ever changing needs and desires of consumers. This is seen frequently in electronic devices, such as computers, laptops, tablets, smart phones, televisions, DVD players, Blu-Ray players, etc. According to Khin Cho (2010), competitive advertising not only results in new and improved products, but it also provides employment opportunities. Even in the midst of all these benefits, consumers insist that advertising is the root cause of all their problems.
I blame the consumer for any adverse reactions he or she encounters after begin persuaded to buy a product by advertisement. At no point are consumers forced to buy the product nor are they forced to continue buying the product. Each individual is responsible for his or her own actions regardless if those actions were influenced by advertisements. It is the parents’ responsibility to use sound judgment in what their children eat and drink. Allowing children to eat high calorie, fatty foods every day is bad for them. Of course it will lead to health issues like obesity and diabetes, but that would be the fault of the parent for not being more responsible and for not limiting these kinds of foods. It isn’t the fault of the company advertising the product. Consumers do not want to accept the blame for their actions and so they seek out ways to shift the blame on to someone else. McDonalds provides a good example of the way that consumers shift the blame from themselves to others. According to Erika Kendall (2014), McDonalds’ advertising targets kids because the restaurant puts toys in the Happy Meals. Because this leads to obesity in children, the reasoning goes, McDonalds should stop advertising toys in Happy Meals. This rationale, however, is naïve and ridiculous. Advertising Happy Meal toys does not cause children to become obsess. Parents allowing their children to eat unhealthy foods all the time are causing their children to become obese. Julie Gunlock (2011) accurately writes that “Americans don’t need a nanny government . . . monitoring salt intake, banning the toys in happy meals, trying to do away with trans-fats, or hitting us over the head with calorie information” (para. 12). Gunlock makes it very clear that we are all responsible for our own choices and actions and that it is up to each of us to make healthy, well-informed decisions. If we make unhealthy and foolish choices, we will suffer the consequences. Advertisements only suggest options that consumers have. Consumers need to stop blaming advertisements for their problems and recognize that they need to hold themselves accountable for their decisions and accept the consequences of their actions.
Companies invest billions of dollars every year into advertising in order to get their products in front of consumers.They help increase knowledge of the products, keep prices competitive, and stimulate the economy. They cause the development of new and better products. Sadly, a large portion of this country sees advertising only as an aggravating and deceitful way to coerce people into buying products that they do not need or want. Countless studies have been done in an attempt to blame advertising as the source of many of the problems faced by the consumer. They blame advertising for obesity, diabetes, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, etc. In an attempt to grab the consumers’ attention, companies have gotten very creative in their advertising. This makes the products much more appealing and desirable. It doesn’t change the fact that the product may not be good for the consumer. However, it is ultimately the consumer’s decision to purchase the product. No one isforcing consumers to purchase a product. As the ancient adage goes, “caveat emptor,” that is, “buyer beware.” As advertising increases, consumers must spend more time sifting through all the information and learn to make better informed choices. Otherwise, they have no one to blame but themselves. It’s so much easier for consumers to blame advertising than themselves when something goes wrong. Until consumers recognize this misplaced discontent and start taking responsibility for their own actions, advertising will remain their scapegoat.