The Effects of Advertising on Society


Fr. Kavanaugh was on the mark when describing the effects of advertising
on society. Our moral values are being degraded by the bombardment of
impropriety by the media. Adler would be quick in pointing out the reason why
these messages have such a negative effect on people. There are two main
tactics advertisers use to sell their product: either imply that their product
will bring about the achievement of a particular (usually real) good, or make
their product the object of desire, therefore making it an apparent good to
people. The problem with associating products with the achievement of a good
lies more in the realm of truth than in good, because it lies in whether or not
the product can truly live up to its claims. The relation between a product and
the achievement of a good is an objective truth, though the goodness of said
product may not be. The statement that Product X will make you more popular,
solve your problems, or let you lead a happy life (statements usually implied in
these advertisements) are generally not true. When advertisers make these
statements, therefore, they are directly misleading the public. The other
tactic used, however, is a bigger problem, being not only harder to identify but
having more problematic effects. Since society likes to think of the good as a
subjective thing, it would seem to be acceptable for advertisers to qualify
their products as being good. However, Adler shows that some goods (namely
needs dictated by human nature) are universal to all people. Advertisers
commonly exploit this by associating their products not with the apparent good
they are truly associated with, but with one of those real goods. Though these
products are by no means needs, the associations make people believe that the
advertised product embodies the good they need, and to achieve that good they
must buy the product. Companies don\'t advertise perfumes, for example; they
advertise relationships. They don\'t advertise clothing; they advertise
independence. Slowly, as people hear these messages more and more, they start
associating more importance to the product than to the good involved, like a
sort of idol-worship -- and here is where the real problems set in. Now that
advertisers have people sold on the product, they can influence people\'s desires.
This is what Fr. Kavanaugh saw when he said that advertising is damaging
society\'s moral values. Calvin Klein, for example, has already become one of
those companies whose product has become more important than the good they
represent -- in other words, Calvin Klein products are now in and of themselves
the good some people try to achieve. Thus, when their ads show immoral
situations or actions (like the infamous child pornography ads that spurred many
debates and a lawsuit against the company), people associate these immoral
actions with the "good" Calvin Klein products, and people will slowly grow
desensitized to them. Advertising, therefore, plays a notable role in the moral
growth -- or stunting -- of society. Though their "job" is to make people
envision their product as good, they often make people envision the values their
ads advocate as good as well. Advertisers therefore have a responsibility to
society to advocate proper moral values in their advertising, or at least not
advocate improper moral values. And society should force them to uphold these
proper values instead of the socially damaging ones many advertisers now use.

Category: Philosophy