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Modern Advertising is Not Destroying our Way of Life
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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How ironic is it to hear, when the consumer is now charge of the message, that the message seems to be the reason people's personal lives and our environment is in shambles? Really? 

We can play this game, huckleberry.*

The Ecologist, a green-leaning media outlet and part of the UK's Guardian Environment Network, quoted and remarked on a report put forth by the Public Interest Research Centre that looked at advertising and how it appealed to extrinsic and intrinsic values of society. It says that advertising has created a "work-spend" cycle that drains money from people, and therefore forces people to work longer hours and spend more in order to reach a certain perception, put forth by advertising.

Guy Shrubsole, the director of the PIRC, notes that people are being bombarded by advertisements, and it forces onto them this perception that they need status, money, power, and things, and because of this society is becoming more individualistic. But note his direct quote (emphasis ours): "Currently, society is in favour of these values, which are leading us to be more materialistic, more individualistic and less concerned about environmental and social issues."

Let us get this straight; you are mad because advertising is showcasing the values that society is currently in favor of? Based on the quote, can it not be said then that advertising is the reflection of society, and not the other way around? 

It is easy to throw the blame on those with the biggest pocketbooks and with the most access to resources (heck, that's our gripe with media holding companies), but to blame advertising for force-feeding materialism, and forcing you to go out and spend your entire paycheck on gifts so your bratty grandkids will pay attention to you for a minute or two, is rubbish.

The old adage comes ever more clear: Don't Shoot The Messenger.

Advertising is the way businesses and organizations connect with people to let them know what products and services are out there that can help improve their lives. The values and norms that groups of people create and identify with (usually known as a culture) are up to the people. Advertising uses the values and norms that the people create to make the goods and services available appealing to those said people.

Breaking a mirror doesn't help if you're trying to change the way you look, ladies and gents.

Then Kalle Lasn from Adbusters (you know, the group that uses advertising against advertising?) utters that they need to start doing something and "dismantle the advertising industry," showing their clear understanding of business and how it works.

Advertising does play a role in helping a society define itself. However, to say that it does more defining than reflecting shows a lack of respect for human intelligence and culture, as well as a misguided and biased view of advertising and business.**

Many of these businesses wouldn't advertise if they didn't have the money that you and your peers so willingly give them. If the majority of society did a total 180° and decided that green and environmentally friendly products were the way to go, and materials really didn't matter that much, do you not think businesses would follow? If people abandoned bikinis and sports cars by the thousands, do you not think businesses would change their act, meaning advertising would follow? How could businesses operate (and therefore advertise) without a market or revenue? 

In closing, the matter of having an extrinsic society is not an advertising issue, its a societal and economical issue. Advertising is the byproduct of a system that our society has created. 

If we're going to start pointing fingers and calling for the dismantling of an industry, let's get our facts straight. Or else you'll be going up against an industry full of people who work every day with the art of messaging. Without the facts or the right argument, that's not a fight you want.

*Yes, that's a Tombstone reference.
**We're doing a survey about Advertising's Role in Society. Take it and please forward it along to those interested!


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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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