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Advertising (Criticism)

Advertising has been attacked by critics who charge that it goes beyond selling products or ideas to exert a powerful influence on society. According to this view, advertising in its many forms is so pervasive and so persuasive that it has the ability to shape social trends and mold personal attitudes. This influence is unwanted, intrusive and often detrimental to society, say critics. Defenders respond that, in addition to the economic benefits to improved competition, lower prices and more product choices, advertising promotes freedom of speech, as goods and services. Furthermore, advertising is actually influenced by society because it acts as a mirror in reflecting certain societal changes. For example, advertising must continually adjust their language and illustrations to conform to changes in socially acceptable practices.

This ongoing debate over the proper role of advertising in society is entirely separate from the ethical issues of deceptive or fraudulent advertising and it boils down to one basic question: Does advertising help or hurt society?

Language and Literacy

Advertising sometimes twists words or changes spelling and grammar to make a point. Advertising copy is accused of playing fast and loose with the rules of language, which encourages the audience to do the same. Some critics go further, complaining that people have less need for readily available in the electronic media both by advertising and by sponsoring news and entertainment programs. Why do ads bend grammar and use slang? Sometimes it’s to avoid sounding stilted, sometimes it’s for emphasis and sometimes it’s to sound like the people you want to reach. “There’s no real intent to damage the language.” When advertisers want to reach teenagers they try to adopt teenage speech patterns, advertisers often use unorthodox spelling so a word can be used as a legal part of a brand name as a trademark.

Manipulation and Exploitation

Does advertising manipulate people into buying what they don’t need? Critics contend that advertising is so powerful and persuasive that people have no choice but to buy what they see advertised, regardless of their actual need for these products. Advertisers exploit our inadequacies, anxieties, hopes and fears. Advertisers, using psychological or emotional appeals, get us to buy their products by making us feel that these products help us gain status, acceptance, even love.

On the other side of the controversy, defenders acknowledge that the whole reason to advertise is to persuade. There’s no magic or dishonesty about using the marketing mix to identify customer needs, to create an appropriate product and to advertise the product. Defenders contend the advertising offers people the information they need to choose among products in the marketplace. Advertising can be seen as building consumption not by making people purchase what they don’t need but by making the market more efficient for both consumer and producers by offering information about the product, its availability.

No amount of advertising pressure can force people to buy something they don’t want and anyone who is persuaded by advertising to buy a bad product (or a product that doesn’t meet a legitimate need) won’t make that mistake again. Far from being helpless to resist advertising’s persuasive power people are able to ignore or discount advertising messages, by zapping television commercials, turning down the radio, or simply turning the page in a magazine or newspaper. Most consumer are savvy about what they see advertised and research indicates that children understand and are skeptical about advertising’s persuasive power.

Advertising Old People and Minority Groups

Critics say that ads often portray entire group of people in stereotypical ways showing elderly people only as senile for example. These advertising can reinforce negative or undesirable views of these groups. This can contribute to...
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