The Unintended Negative Consequences of Advertising

Adapted from Olson, Erik L. "How Magazine Articles Portrayed Advertising from 1900 to 1940" Journal of Advertising. Volume XXIV, Number 3, Fall 1995.

Criticism 1: Advertising increases the prevalence of materialism in society by:

  1. Creating new needs of desires.
  2. Spurring unneeded purchases.
  3. Increasing the propensity of people to judge themselves and others by their possessions.
  4. Stressing conformity with others as an important consumer goal.
  5. Encouraging a throwaway society.

Criticism 2: Advertising encourages irrational behaviour by:

  1. Encouraging instant gratification.
  2. Increasing short-sightedness.
  3. Reducing perceptions of responsibility for the long-term consequences.

Criticism 3: Advertising idealizes the "good life" by:

  1. Promoting products as the painless way to solve difficult problems.
  2. Creating unrealistic feelings of confidence and power.
  3. Showing a standard of living unobtainable by most consumers.

Criticism 4: Advertising promotes the good of the individual over the good of society by appealing to individual greed and selfishness rather than:

  1. Community ethic.
  2. Cooperation among individuals.

Criticism 5: Advertising's incomplete information, half truths and careful deceptions create general cynicism manifested by:

  1. Distrust of authority.
  2. Disbelief in cultural wisdom and norms.

Criticism 6: Advertising reinforces social stereotypes by:

  1. Portraying minorities and women in "traditional" roles and occupations.
  2. Linking certain people with products, such as women with household cleaners and senior citizens with medical supplies.
  3. Creating unrealistic "ideal" characterizations by using models that are more physically attractive than typical product users.

Criticism 7: Advertising trivializes community and spiritual symbols and values by:

  1. Secularizing and commercializing religious and community traditions.
  2. Reducing respect for family.

Criticism 8: Advertising uses bad taste and questionable morals that can cause emotional and physical disturbances by:

  1. Using fear appeals that prey on feelings of inadequacy.
  2. Using an appeal based on sexual themes.
  3. Embarrassing the ad viewer by promotion of sensitive products such as feminine hygiene products.
  4. Promoting the heavy use of products that are potentially harmful to the health of the user, such as alcohol and tobacco.
  5. Using appeals that take advantage of the immaturity of children.