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If You're Attacking Advertising, Expect an Answer
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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Okay. Enough is enough. Advertising is not out to destroy your kids and populate "Fat America." It is time for advertising and society critics to cease with the hypocrisy, and take responsibility.

Have we not dubbed our time the "Information Age?" Have we not declared that the consumer creates the rules of engagement?

Then, when consumer advocates (or AdLand haters, either one) see a disappointing trend, they shift all the power and influence back to the Evil Advertising Powers.

Stop it.

The latest comes from Salon Magazine, where a contributor writes about "7 disturbing trends" in food advertising towards children. 

Now before this tirade continues, we want you to ponder on two concepts. The first is known in the economic and statistical world as a "ghost variable." A ghost variable is applicable when there looks like there is a cause and effect relationship between two events, but it does not readily come up. For example, A business sees that as its air conditioning sales go up, the sales for ice cream also go up. The ghost variable in this relationship is the weather.

The second concept is related. We want you to consider "correlation without causation." In the example above, is there a positive correlation between air conditioning sales and ice cream sales? Absolutely. Did one event cause the other? Not by any means.

Let's quickly go through the "disturbing" trends, and see what sticks.

1. Advertising to children has increased substantially.

Tip of the iceberg. Truth is, advertising has increased in nearly every demographic. With more avenues for marketing and advertising available, the numbers were bound to increase. It's not a subversive tactic, it's reality.

2. Ads are making kids fat.

False representation of the facts. The study quoted in the article does in fact say that advertising does influence people to prefer seeing high-sugar, fattening advertisements. However, a report done by that same organzation, the Institute of Medicine, in the same report, concluded that although there is a correlation between advertising and childhood obesity, there is "insufficient evidence to support a conclusion about a causal relationship between television advertising and adiposity." Preference does not automatically translate into consumption. 

3. Because of ads, kids gain 10 pounds a year.

Again, correlation without causation. Research supports that anyone watching TV will eat more during a longer period than people not watching TV. Also, since ads make people sit longer, they will naturally consume more.

4. Children under four are clueless.

Yes, it's advertising's fault that a four-year old sat down in front of a TV. Ghost variable? The "Ghost Parents."

5. "Fourth Meal" campaign was geared towards kids.

Author suggests Taco Bell's "Fourth Meal" campaign was geared towards children. If your definition of "children" in this case is the 16–24-year-old males, then absolutely.

6. Advertising is holding schools hostage.

On of the more ourageous claims by the writer. Don't blame the local, state and federal government for cutting school budgets, or school councils for refusing to raise taxes to pay for school programs. Blame advertising because the school has to rely on the revenue it produces via vending machines. 

7. The industry has poor self-regulation.

This is partly true. But shifting the entire blame to AdLand is ridiculous.

Here is a nice article from the Washington Post that helps debunk "five myths of healthy eating." People worried about advertising and obesity should do more to change their own habits instead of forcing someone else to change theirs.

Advertising's purpose is to inform the public about the services and goods being offered. What you decide to do (or not do) with the information is on you.


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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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