Educating the Consumer About Advertising

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Educating the Consumer about Advertising: Some Issues. ERIC Digest. Advertising can be defined as communication which promotes the purchase of products and services, and advertisements are pervasive in the American culture. Ads are sandwiched between programs on television, interspersed with popular songs on the radio, and scattered among news features in the daily paper. While advertisements may distract from a TV program or a newspaper's other messages, might they also serve a more positive purpose? Can advertising advance consumer knowledge? At the same time, can consumer education help people become more knowledgeable and critical about the goals of advertising? This digest provides a basic overview of issues related to advertising and the consumer. ADS ARE EVERYWHERE

People sometimes complain about the perceived overabundance of advertising in daily life. While consumers are accustomed to ads on television and in magazines, commercial promotion appears to be cropping up in more and more places. A proposed cable TV channel (Channel One) for use in schools faltered when it was learned that the channel would carry commercials aimed at the students, but it now appears to be heading for success, even though school administrators are divided on its merits (Rist, 1989). A profile of Channel One founder, Chris Whittle, in "The New York Times" reported that, while many teachers and administrators extol the value of the newscast which Channel One presents, others will never accept the infusion of commercialism in the schools. Whittle, however, has already signed up the 8600 schools he needed to cover his capital costs and achieve the audience size he felt would interest advertisers (Kleinfield, 1991). Advertising is also found in some of the free curriculum materials which businesses supply to schools. A content analysis of materials within the areas of nutrition, energy, and economics education revealed that business-sponsored materials were found to contain significantly more advertising statements than did non-business-sponsored materials. Additionally, sponsored materials contained significantly more references to brand names/models and more company/brand logos and names than did non-sponsored materials. Many educators believe that the value of these materials is suspect, because of the preponderance of the commercial message over the informational content (Rudd 1986). Each time a new communications technology is developed, merchants are quick to devise ways of exploiting the medium for advertising purposes. Advertisers move rapidly to exploit the commercial possibilities of radio, television and cable. Facsimile machines are now used to transmit ads. Sports arenas' and stadiums' electronic scoreboards carry product names in yards-high lettering. The developing technologies of teletext, electronic mail, and interactive cable television are now being used to sell products as well. Research suggests that as a result of these developments, advertising is now less likely to contain meaningful product information, and more likely to be intermingled with other kinds of messages (Sepstrup 1986). Consumers, as the targets of these increasingly complex promotional strategies, must become much more aware of the persuasive nature of advertising. RECOGNIZING ADVERTISING APPEALS

Advertising serves some very important purposes. It promotes competition among producers of products and services, keeps prices low through the development of mass markets, encourages store owners to stock a variety of items, supports free expression by funding media sources, and spurs invention. In theory, access to all available information on a given product should promote all of these ends and allow a consumer to make the most intelligent possible product purchase decisions. In practice, no one takes the time to gather that many facts. The amount of information needed to make a knowledgeable product purchase depends on such considerations as the cost...
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