Advertising - A Threat to Society!!

Posted in Marketing & Strategy Articles, Total Reads: 4122 , Published on 08 July 2014

The first imprint of advertisement was found in the Babylonian Empire that was in the late 3000s BC. The first advertisement in English was created in the year 1472 to sell a prayer book. As a profession, advertising was started in the year 1841 in The United States. Although, it has moved into several folds after that, but its impact is still existing. It has been years now, when physiologists and scholars have spent immense time in studying the human behavior on the advertisements.

According to a famous article “CEO Insights”, “Without advertisements not a single farm or company can grow in this world of competition”. Is this really true? In the year 2013, advertising industry spent around 500 billion dollars and this trend is expected to continue at a rate 5-8% in 2015 and 2016 (Source: .

Apart from expenditures in Advertising, it affects society in 3 different ways:

v  Rational decision making is discouraged

v  Consumer culture is created

v  Adversely affects the cognitive ability of the target audience

Rational Decision Making

According to experts in the field of consumer behavior, it is stated that, rational decision making is the realization of problem, establishing the evaluation criteria, creating alternatives and then taking the decision. This sense of thoughtful process is creating a real impact in taking right decisions. In this era of advertising, are we really applying these thoughts or we have just become a puppet in the hands of marketers? It is not the product quality that sells in the market but the aggressiveness of the marketers that forces customers to buy the products. In the lure of selling the products made by the company, marketers don’t change the production but make communications in such a way that products are sold.

“Richard Pollay”, the author of one of the renowned books “The Distorted Mirror: Reflection on the Unintended Consequences of Advertising” gave an analogy of advertising being a “brain surgery”. He states that advertisements are designed to change attitudes, create attention and command our behavior. The advertisements are presented in a way that we don’t think a lot and absorb the content easily within us. Lately, when things are bought, it will subconsciously affects our mind.

There are not one or two but examples of the insiders in advertising industry who have accepted the evils attached to advertising. A well renowned person, Jay Chait, who is known for bringing revolution in the advertising industry, in the sixties, wrote in his article ,”Illusions are Forever” about the insiders of advertising. He mentions, although the ads are monitored by the FTC(Federal Trade Commission) and other organizations which helps to keep the check on the content shown, still the ads shown to consumers are affected by the “Art of Advertising”. The methods in which the stimulations are provided to the public is no realistic.

According to a research done by ICM(Source:, 9 out of 10 people find broadband advertising misleading.

Just to give an example, if you want to buy a deodorant, before actually going to a shop the product, you see an advertisement of deodorant that would cater to your needs. You will yourself become a stimuli for that ad. You would look for that product in the retail shop and would be biased in buying that product. This is the power of an advertisement.

Consumer Culture

During the days of Christmas, people buy lots of Santa Clauses idols and caps and later put them on their roof top. During a research on consumer behavior,  It was asked, whether they really need them. The obvious answer was “No!”. Then why did they buy it. There is no actual answer for that. The main reason behind that is “there is very less real need”. This is all done to address one word “Consumerism”.

To understand consumerism better, we can take “Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of Human needs” theory. At the bottom of the hierarchy are the basic creature needs like safety, shelter, food, clothing, shelter etc. Until these needs are catered, this is not consumerism. Once these needs are satisfied and the focus shifts on affection, self-esteem and self-actualization, the basic acquisitions of goods and services happen. This turns the shift from consumption to consumerism. Consumerism, thus becomes a social disease. Therefore, current economic mess is some way or the other is related to the increasing trends in consumerism.

In a textbook chapter, “Psychology and Consumer Culture: the Struggle for a good life in a Materialistic World; by Allen Kanner and Renne Soule”, it is clearly stated that, commercials manipulate people’s strongest desires and greatest fears to convince them to buy preferred products. It is not always wrong in creating desires but when the advertising is done for products like fast food, cold drinks, alcohol etc. that are responsible for creating obesity and other harmful diseases, the effects would be hazardous.

The negative effects of advertising is tremendous in all regions and various sectors of society. But, the main impact was seen when the advertising agencies started targeting children and teen girls for their advertising channel. In “Kid Kustomers”, Eric Schlosser addressed the era of child advertising. This was the era of late 1980s when women empowerment took a great move. It was at this time when parents started spending more time away from home for job purposes and kids became the decision makers in watching television and viewing various advertisements. This era was termed as an era of “Child Consumer”. It was during this time when phone companies, auto mobile companies, as well as hotels and restaurant companies started targeting kids for all kinds of advertisements.

Another angle to this is the distorted perception of healthy body image. In the flurry of advertisements, be it on newspapers or televisions, there is an unrealistic view of female beauty with thinness. The perception behind creating an ad showing a slim women is to arouse a discomfort to the girl viewing the ad. She should feel that she is not in proper shape and to become like the pictured model, she would buy the product. This is applicable to girls having 80 Kgs of weight or even to 50 Kgs of weight. This image sometimes leads to disorders, depressions or even dissatisfaction of being self. The image shown by the ads would create a wrong image of self and people start hating themselves. Although, this pattern was prevalent in the ladies segment, but latest researches have proved that this pattern is increasing in men also. The increase in awareness of being fit and keeping the bodies in shape, has moved the production of all body shaping products and their advertisements that too are done by some of the biggest celebrities of that field.

Cognitive Ability

This ability is related to the decision making capability of any human being. There are many parameters considered during this decision. The main concept behind advertising industry is to advertise and then re-advertise the same thing until the customer gets totally involved into this. Harassing the power of media, the advertisements are used for creating irrational desires, trends and lifestyles in customers minds.

A report(Source: published by British Medical Association called for advertisers and asked them to stop the publishing of “Abnormally thin women” as this was impacting girls to emulate thin models. The ads shows the highly unrealistic figures of women that forced the target segment to try out those things. According to many advertisers, it was stated that they give what audience want. In the case of women also, it is a known fact that girls want to see themselves slim. But, the objection that is stated was in different lines. It was observed that girls went underweight to reach the slimming standards of models. This is because of the unrealistic situations shown in ads. It won’t be wrong in quoting a shocking fact mentioned in the report that 1 million men and 7 million women suffered illness due to eating disorders and amongst them 2% of the population have already reached to death.

It was observed that when we see advertisements, we are not connected to them intentionally but the way these ads are made and triggered using visuals, sound and text create symbols in our mind. There are times when we don’t even understand the meaning of the ad. But, subconsciously we tend to connect with these ads in the future and then the effects will show up.

The advertisements are somewhere or the other responsible for the increase of criminal activities in the society. The youth feels attached to the activities and try to replicate all the effects within them. Advertisement posters of various films where sexuality is shown much above the actual story of the movie is harming the society. This has turned consumers into mere materials that are being tested in various aspects. Also, the competition is increasing to such a high level that the success of one using false advertisement will be copied by other in a more prominent way. The final hit is always the consumer.

The reason for such an affect is not the wrong intention of marketers, after all its their job. It’s our greed and need of satisfaction that is being fulfilled. We are in lure of earning more and more money so that our needs can be satisfied by buying more and more products. But the fact remains the same, we are never satisfied. We just need more and more.

It is a fact that the products that are advertised more are expensive. This is because of the advertisement costs in them. This can only be recovered by more consumption. The more we consume, the more is the need of production. The more is the production, the more will be the need of raw materials. It is a round chain that is hampering us , society and environment.


Advertising as a communication channel not only discourage rational thought but directs to somewhere else. The conclusion of this paper sums up by saying that the advertising industry is an awesome medium to create awareness but the matter in hand can be seen from many directions. Although, these features relate to the impact on physiological and emotional attitudes of the consumers, quantifying with figures would not be possible.

I would conclude by saying that advertising has both positive and negative impacts on the society. What is important now is to shift the focus from what is useful then to what is not useful. Advertisements are creating contentment at one end but is equally creating discontentment at the other end. Our society and marketing products have created so much dependency on advertisements that even the negative impacts on society is not able to outweigh the social and economic effects. The very fact remains the same, most of the literature in this topic is done considering both the angles of advertisements but the fact remains the same and changes are hardly been implemented.

The article has been authored by Arpit Goel, TAPMI

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