Negative & Positive Effects of Advertising

Searching for a better understanding of advertising as a communication model has led to some interesting research. As an engineer, I naturally want to apply science and mathematics to the equation. Newton’s third law of motion combined with the Chaos Theory comes to mind when analyzing the findings. The question “what are the positive and negative effects of advertising on the world” is still the motivation. I’ve tried to include information to serve as a starting point for the unpublished research. So far, I’ve discovered one consistent anomaly and constant feedback loop. The viewing audience’s free will is still a measure of incalculable value. Yes, marketers and advertisers have a surplus of tools to help nudge, persuade and even influence a person’s buying habits. From the classics like data derived from demographic, geographic and ethnographic sources to more forward thinking solutions like facial recognition, body language biometrics and even genetic profiling.

Public Service Advertisements

Public service advertisements are often the first things considered when people discuss the positives of advertisements. These advertisements market a social concept of importance to the general public. Many public service announcements run messages about health, safety and national security. In the United States, the Ad Council, a nonprofit organization, sponsors many public service announcements. Their famous lines include “Loose lips sink ships,” a 1942 advertisement run to promote national security during World War II. However, other nonprofit organizations, the government, faith-based organizations and private companies also run public service marketing campaigns. For example, the U.S. government has run a number of advertisements about the importance of disaster preparedness.

Social Benefits

In addition to public service advertisements, traditional advertisements that market a product or service can offer social benefits. This is especially true in countries where free speech has been suppressed. Advertising there, especially when it comes from the Western world where free speech is embraced, can encourage the idea that free speech is important. Furthermore, freedom of choice and advertising-supported entertainment, which is often a promoter of social change, are two important components of society that are both promoted through advertising.

Economic Benefits

Advertising has a number of positive effects on economies both in the U.S. and abroad. According to the International Advertising Association, advertising can encourage companies to compete and provide new products. This encourages more consumers to buy because these products meet the needs and wants of more consumers. Thus, the economy is positively affected. In addition, advertising can help create more jobs. As the demand for products and services goes up because of advertising, more people are needed to manufacture, supply, ship and test those products and services. Thus, more jobs are created.

Since the late 1800’s psychologist and scholars alike have been studying the ways in which advertisements can affect a person mentally and emotionally. The effects that advertising has on society have a long and heated debate, with a wide array of opinions on the subject. Opinions range from the advertising executive, who believes that their company is doing society a favor by providing them with valuable information, to the market researcher, who admits to their sneaky practices. Members of society, ranging from the parent to the psychologist, all have their reasons to back up why they believe that the prominence of advertising affects some sectors of society (be it children, a woman’s image, or a consumer society) in some way, negatively or positively. John E. Calf, a former Trade Commission Economist, argues the point that advertising is beneficial to society. He admits that the main objective of advertising is to persuade the consumer to buy a particular product, but Calfee believes that the communication between sellers and buyers are useful to the consumer. He references specific ad campaigns as examples to demonstrate the ways in which advertisements deliver what he believes to be “useful” information for the public. Calfee describes the ways in which companies bring certain issues to the public’s attention in order to get the public to realize the benefits that a certain product possesses.

Public Health

The 1970’ Kellogg All Bran Campaign. The public health experts realized that a diet consisting of more fiber could help prevent cancer. The National Cancer Institute wanted to get the word out to the public, but did not have the resources to do so. The Kellogg All- Bran Campaign quickly saw the opportunity in the situation because their cereal contained “nine grams of fiber”. With the information from the NCI, Kellogg began running “fiber-cancer ads”.

Comparative Advertising

Sellers are less likely to stretch the truth, whether it involves prices or subtleties about safety and performance, when they know it may arouse a merciless response from injured competitors. This means that if one company advertises their product in a misleading way, another company with a similar product can be relentless with comparative advertising.

Free Entertainment

Michael Schudson, a professor sociology and communication, advertising has little power over the consumer, if any at all. In fact, companies support our entertainment with their ads, while receiving little benefit at all. This is evident in the cases of sponsorship, in events like the Super-Bowl or the Olympics.

Capital Investment

Some in the field of marketing have stated that the benefit of advertising comes into play when the company is giving a presentation to investors. The company needs to have a good ad campaign in order for the stockholders and investors to maintain faith in the company and keep the capital rolling in, to produce the products.

Company Image

Many marketers understand that their ads do not affect the consumer, but they do affect the ways in which they are viewed by distributors and retailers. Sales people do not want to sale products that they have never heard of before, and whether the advertisements influence consumers or not, the sales people believe that they do, which causes retailers to have their products in stock to sell. So even if the ad does not influence the consumer, as long as the ad can influence the investors, salespeople and retailers, the company will be prosperous.

Mass Communications

Without advertisement, many forms of mass media such as newspapers, radio, magazines, and television, might not exist as they do today. Advertising positively impacts society because it helps maintain mass communications media, making them much less expensive for the public.

Universal Appeal

Some journalists and communication specialists have stated that ad campaigns can override cultural differences and contribute to those cultures in a positive way by putting us all on the same level.

Now for the flip side of the advertising coin.

Does advertising have negatives effects on society? Few consumer researchers doubt the pervasive and important influence that mood has on the processing of information and decision making by consumers. Strong evidence suggests that individual choice behavior can be based on affective as well as rational factors. Further, the impact of mood states on the consumer decision process appears to be a function of the valence of the current mood. Most of the studies that have investigated the role of mood or emotion in advertising have looked at the ability of ads to elicit different affective states. This work has popularized the “attitude toward the ad” stream of research which typically views this construct as an intervening variable that mediates the effects of the advertising message on brand attitudes and preferences.


Advertising aims to present a product in the best light possible. There is some leeway in the creative process. The problem arises when the dramatization crosses the line into falsely representing a product. Hefty fines can result from false advertising when levied by the Federal Trade Commission.

False Images

Advertising is ingrained in American culture, from children’s programs on Saturday morning to talk shows and prime time TV. Advertising even invades movies through product placement. Advertising influences how people feel about themselves — often in a negative way. These images are often unrealistic and unattainable.

Unrealistic Expectations

Direct-to-consumer advertising for prescription drugs has resulted in unrealistic expectations about the effectiveness of drugs and their side-effects, according to the Food and Drug Administration’s study. Voice-overs give the downside to the drug, but the visual images show healthy, happy people. It’s not unusual to hear that even death may be a side-effect of a prescription drug. Disclaimers are often hidden in very small print on product packaging and out-of-the way spots in ads.

Promotion of Harmful Products

Widespread concern exists about the potential effects that media portrayals of drinking, alcohol product placements, and alcohol advertising may have on alcohol consumption and problems among young people. Television, radio, film, and popular music are often identified as potential sources through which young people learn about alcohol and as potential influences on young people’s drinking and drinking problems.

Political Influence

Even though campaign advertising has been a part of politics for over five decades, scholars are still conflicted over the effects of different types of advertising strategies. As a result, the literature on political advertising is vast and multifaceted. Conventional wisdom holds that political advertising in general — and negative advertising in particular — is harmful to democracy

Corrupting the Youth

The negative effects of advertising on teenagers include increased cigarette and alcohol use, obesity, poor nutrition and eating disorders, according to Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Environment Threats

Contrary to the claim of free-market ideology, supply is not a response to demand. Capitalist firms usually create the demand for their products by various marketing techniques and planned obsolescence. Advertising plays an essential role in the production of consumerist demand by inventing false “needs” and by stimulating the formation of compulsive consumption habits, totally violating the conditions for maintenance of planetary ecological equilibrium.

Consumer behavior which is motivated by affective desires has been termed “hedonic consumption” (Holbrook and Hirschman 1982, Hirschman and Holbrook 1982). The basis of this approach is that the search for emotional arousal is an important motivation for individuals when selecting products to consume. Implicit to this perspective is the assumption that consumers consciously or unconsciously utilize the buying process to manage their moods.

Final Thoughts:

Advertising is a great combination of all my passions. I researched the works of scientists, scholars, marketers, and economists. The only common thread I discovered is no one really understands the true potential of advertising. Yes, it has the power to sway political elections and create financial monopolies when correctly implemented. And its unanimous advertising does affect human behavior when factors such as mood and opportunity are taken into account. It has the ability to reshape different cultures and influence civil action. Does advertising negatively or positively affect society though? At this point in my research, the data is inconclusive… I will focus on improving the resources and launching more experiments. With the information collected so far combined with the many datasets being analyzed, I’m confident that the journey is worth the reward. To be continued…


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