Examples of the Negative Aspects of Advertising and Commercials

An examination of the harmful aspects of advertising and commercials with examples, specifically their effect on education, morals, values, and relationships.

P. T. Barnum Was Right

By Edward A. Merlis

Dr. Natalie Shainess, a noted psychiatrist, has suggested that advertising, not only broadcast commercials, is damaging to society. You don't have to be a Freudian analyst to understand her theory and see its application to many of the advertisements to which we are daily subjected. Dr. Shainess suggests 4 negative aspects are prevalent in advertising today. She says:

1) Advertising is a powerful educational force, counteracting certain aspects of formal education through an appeal to illogic and irrationality.

2) Advertising, as it now exists, weakens character structure through appeal to selfishness and self-centeredness.

3) Advertising fosters greediness, discontent, and the wrong kind of competitiveness between people--that is, not the competition for excellence, but of things; it fosters self-esteem based on consumerism, and human worth is equated with brand names and conspicuous consumption.

4) It is hurtful to human relationships. The growth of selling through sexism and sexual exploitation is one important growing failure in man-woman relationships. It is one of the reasons why the woman over 45 is considered worthless, and tossed on the social dump heap.

Pick up any newsweekly or sit down to an evening of television and you will see Dr. Shainess's hypothesis borne out. The claim that propelled a toilet paper brand to previously untold market shares--"Please don't squeeze the Charmin"--best typifies Dr. Shainess's 1st point concerning appeals to irrationality. And as meaningless as the claim might be, the ultimate absurdity is that the American people have fallen for it.

Appeals to selfishness, Dr. Shainess's 2nd point, are exemplified in advertisements for houses and condominiums. However, consumer product manufacturers who like to think of themselves as luxury-oriented or trend-setters more often than not will use this approach. Who will ever forget the pitch in the Chivas Regal advertisements urging the buyer to save the Chivas for himself? For instance, the entire copy of one Chivas advertisement read, "When serving Chivas Regal, do you suddenly become exceedingly generous with your ice cubes?"

Dr. Shainess suggests that a 3rd antisocial aspect of advertising is the popularizing of negative character traits. This is particularly disturbing since it has most often been used as the foundation of advertising addressed to children. How often have our children been urged, "Be the 1st on your block . . ." or "Don't tell your friends . . ."? Appeals do not stop as we mature; as adults, advertisers continue to appeal to our less virtuous characteristics.

Lastly, and perhaps the most easily demonstrated aspect of Dr. Shainess's theory, is the negative attitude toward women which pervades much of contemporary advertising. Airline commercials are not alone in this area. A Sero King coat advertisement, for the Warwick model, best illustrates this feature common to much of contemporary advertising. The copy reads, in part, "If more girls treated men as considerately as an alpaca-lined wool coat, such as the Warwick, there'd be fewer bachelors." Talk about mindless simplification of complex interpersonal relationships!

Dr. Erich Fromm, the noted social commentator, 2nds Dr. Shainess's hypothesis about sex in advertising. Upon viewing a National Airlines commercial, with the entreaty "Fly me" uttered by an attractive young stewardess, Dr. Fromm was asked how he would analyze it. He replied, "Well, by a slight change of letters. And I think that is its meaning. And that is not even so unconscious. One doesn't even need a specialist in symbolic language for that. But it is just an attempt to shift the argument completely from the value of an airline to a sexual allusion."

In further support for her contention about the treatment of women in advertising, Dr. Shainess brought to the attention of a congressional committee the ultimate irony in 20th-century America--the feminine spray deodorant. It is most fitting that the crowning achievement in advertising belongs to the cosmetic industry, which is the primary bastion of unprincipled tactics. Dr. Shainess has explained to the Senate Small Business Committee that this wonder of modern science, the feminine spray deodorant, is nothing but a useless "remedy" for a nonexistent medical problem. To add injury to insult, there is considerable evidence that adverse reactions are caused by the product. Just think of it. Advertisers have tried to convince women that they have an antisocial problem which can only be cured with their product; however, in reality, there is no problem other than the one which the use of the product creates. If Madison Avenue runs true to form, we will probably see, in the not too distant future, a product on the market which treats adverse reactions brought on by the use of feminine spray deodorants.

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