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Is Advertising Out of Control?
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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A way to gain appreciation about advertising is to read opinions about it from professionals from all over the world. The Middle East has professionals who are just talking about advertising's role in a rising economy. The United States is focused on the best practices of social and digital media. Now what about our friends across the pond in the UK? Well, they are waging quite the interesting war of words about advertising. The authors of the book Think Of Me As Evil? are discussing whether or not advertising is evil and what should be done about it. One of those authors wrote a follow-up piece in the Guardian's Sustainable Business Blog about why advertising is out of control.

This should be interesting.

Jon Alexander, one of the authors in question, clarifies immediately that he does not think advertising is evil, but understands why people outside the industry would end at that conclusion. But he does say that advertising is spiraling out of control, and if we (as ad professionals and consumers) do not halt this encroachment on our daily lives, our culture and society as we know it are doomed.

I would love for you to read the article, so I will only provide a summary. First, he explains why advertising exists in the first place. His reason for advertising is for people to "sell more stuff to more people more often." And since the world was building economies based on production and consumption, this was needed. As businesses grew, as did advertising. This thought process, though simplified, is difficult to argue with. 

Alexander then goes into what is happening now in the world economy and advertising. He notes that there is shift in how advertising is operating and brings up human behavior. He believes that advertising "tips the scale" in the order of how humans operate and provides validation for people to work longer, save less, buy more, and pursue self-interests such as status, sexual victory, and the like versus fulfillment of purpose and living for the greater good. This perspective, we believe, again overstates the power of advertising, and assumes people cannot (or refuse to) think for themselves. Plus, it totally underplays the power of the entertainment community has on human influence. It could be better argued that advertising has a hand in and jumps on the coattails of the entertainment industry and reinforces the idols, products, and lifestyles the entertainment industry tells consumers to love. 

Unlike other "thought leaders" who say things without providing solutions, Alexander actually suggests ways we can help advertising from taking over the world as we know it. The first solution is obvious: banning advertising directed at children. This is a bothersome solution, but since everyone is afraid to tell those who have children to actually be parents, this silly solution will continue to rise up. The second answer is more interesting; Alexander wants people to take advertising out of places where it is not supposed to be. Holy loaded sentence, Batman! This we find truly fascinating. As we're sure Alexander knows from his past in advertising, there are two activities that are extremely tough to do when it comes to consumers. First, once something becomes a habit, it is extremely difficult behavior to change. Second, once you give the consumer something, unless they hate it, it is difficult to take it away. Advertising has become a part of people's daily lives. How can people quit it? As the social and mobile platforms continue to embrace advertising, what will be considered to be private space? As societal norms continue to be rewritten, what places should society consider as off-limits?

The main point of the article is that advertising is growing too large for its britches and needs to retract to its "boundaries." But it remains unclear about what those boundaries are, and what the penalty should be (if any) if advertising crosses them again. Or, is this all nonsense? Is this all-access form of advertising what we get for going full-speed ahead in globalization? Is this not a side effect, but an effect, of pioneering a free-enterprise system where producers must connect to consumers?

Thoughts?


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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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