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Advertising Case

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Advertising, is defined as the act of informing or notifying; or to call the public’s attention to a product or service especially in order to sell. Advertising is by far the most visible way in which businesses present information to the public. Over the years, advertising methods and objectives have stirred up quite a bit of controversy dealing with certain issues. Those who criticize advertising are concerned with specific practices linked with advertising. Critics are especially concerned with advertising which is directed specifically towards certain groups which they feel are “vulnerable.” These groups include children, the poor, and the elderly.

Other issues which strike up some opposing views toward advertising are advertisements that exploit women or use fear appeals, advertising that uses subliminal messages, and the advertising of products such as tobacco or alcohol. Many critics believe that advertisements manipulate the public into buying or doing things they otherwise would not do without the aid of the advertisements. With this paper I will discuss various aspects of what is considered manipulative advertising. “The Inconclusive Ethical Case Against Manipulative Advertising,” written by Michael J. Phillips will help us to better understand the different viewpoints and arguments of the critics in regards to advertising.

The first question to be answered is; What is manipulative advertising? According to Tom Beauchamp, manipulation occupies a position about midway along a continuum of influences ranging from coercion, at one end, to rational persuasion, at the other(pp.3-6). He defines it as including “any deliberate attempt by a person P to elicit a response desired by P from another person Q by noncoercively altering the structure of actual choices available to Q or by nonpersuasively altering Q’s perceptions of those choices”(p.8). Phillips defines ” manipulative advertising” as advertising that tries to favorably alter consumers’ perceptions of the advertised product by appeals to factors other than the product’s physical attributes and functional performance(p.486). According to many critics all advertising is in some way manipulative, however this is an unfair statement because there is no way to measure the proportion of manipulative advertising to nonmanipulative advertising which reaches the public.

John Waide specifies the most common use of manipulative advertising by identifying a technique known as “associative advertising.” “Associative advertising” is the act of favorably influencing consumer perceptions of a product by associating it with a nonmarket good that the product ordinarily cannot supply on its own(p486). For example contentment, sex, vigor, power, status, friendship, or family. Associative advertising seeks to increase the product’s perceived value in order to influence people to buy the product. An ad that comes to my mind while thinking of associative advertisement is Gatorade’s commercials that showcased Michael Jordan and a slogan “Be like Mike.” If one were to drink Gatorade they could be like Mike, play basketball like Mike, an example of power, fame or even status, which in reality most people could not be like Mike whether they drink Gatorade or not.

The next part of the article deals with the autonomy-related objections to manipulative advertising. Autonomy means having the right or power of self-government. In so many words we have the freedom to choose what we buy, what we believe, and what distinguishes us as individual. With this article, if manipulative advertising really manipulates people in the way many critics suggest than all autonomy is taken away from society’s consumers. This article suggests that consumers make purchase decisions which are completely out of their control. They have no means of “conscious or critical evaluation” or “independent or rational reflection.” Lippke suggests that advertising has an implicit content which causes people to accept emotionalized, superficial, and oversimplified claims; desire ease and gratification rather than self-restraint. People allow advertisers to dictate the meaning of the good life and think that consumer products are a means for acquiring life’s nonmaterial goods(1990, pp44-47).

The article then asks the question, Are consumers autonomous on Levitt’s Assumptions? Within this portion if the article their is a twist given to Levitt’s assumptions. This portion suggests that perhaps consumers are indeed acting autonomously and simply submit to manipulative advertising. Consumers suspend disbelief in its claims and embrace its illusions, because they want, need, and demand those illusions to cope with human existence; while nonetheless knowing at some level that those illusions indeed are illusions. One might say advertising manipulates consumers because they knowingly and rationally want to be manipulated. They more or less autonomously relinquish their autonomy. People would more or less knowingly embrace consumerism because unfiltered reality is to much to bear, and would reject autonomy in favor of Lippke’s “implicit content” because autonomy offers to little payoff at too much cost(p. 487).

Almost leading toward an existentialist philosophical evaluation this portion of the article states that people relinquish their autonomy because life would be too difficult to handle if they had to make their own free choices. People need stability and structure in order to feel comfortable. By embracing manipulative advertising decisions are made easily for them and the bubble of existence is more structured. Therefore within this portion of the article manipulative advertising is portrayed as an acceptable practice within society helping to hold the hand of those who are not willing to encounter their own autonomy.

The next portion of the article is Arringtion’s attempt to reconcile manipulation and autonomy. Arringtion begins by asking whether advertising creates desires which are not the consumer’s own. His answer is: “Not necessarily, and indeed not often”(p.488). Arrington does not deny that advertising frequently manipulates consumers. Instead he maintains that this manipulation is consistent with autonomous choice. Arrington explains by distinguishing first-order and second-order desires. First-order desires are recognized as nonautonomous while second-order desires come on later and refute the first-order desire making second order desires considered autonomous in nature. On the contrary, a second-order desire can coincide with a first-order desire making the first- order desire autonomous.

Arrington then asserts that because people generally do not disown or repudiate the products they purchase those purchase decisions usually are considered autonomous(p. 488). Arrington continues on to say that people often, time and time again, buy the same products over and over again “For Arrington, then, the autonomy of one’s desires and one’s subsequent actions is determined by after-the-fact, second-order reflection on their congruence with one’s nature, and not by their genesis inside the individual. Because it allows for external manipulation, autonomy so conceived may be inconsistent with the notions of self-direction, self-governance, and self-rule”(p. 488). To summarize, Arrington’s claim that most advertising-induced purchases are autonomous apparently can be valid only if: (1) his conception of autonomy are sound, and(2) people actually exhibit procedural independence when they identify with their purchase decisions(p.489).

The conclusion of the article states that there is way in which we can clearly measure how bad or how good manipulative advertising may be, therefore there is no way of condemning the practice completely. One must take into consideration the assumptions that manipulative advertising really works, that it socializes people to adopt a consumerist lifestyle, and strongly influences individual purchase decisions(p.490).

Also it is difficult to state that manipulative advertising denies autonomy if one does not believe that it determines people’s values or directs their purchases. On the same assumption one would be unable to say that manipulative advertising significantly undermines virtues such as moderation, reasonableness, self control, self-discipline, and self-reliance.

From a business perspective advertising is said to stimulate technological advancement by enabling innovative firms to inform consumers about their products. Advertising enhances competition, helps prevent market concentration and stagnation that accompanies it, provides the media with financial support keeping them free from government control, and since people approach advertising more or less rationally there are limits on its ability to manipulate(p.485).

John Kenneth Galbraith, a classical economist and critic of manipulative advertising, developed an argument known as the dependence effect. His arguments are as follows. “industrial societies are founded on the creation of consumer wants. Advertising is the device used by industry to encourage never-ending consumption. It accomplishes this task by playing on consumers’ emotions and addressing their subconscious fears and needs. Advertising thereby directs and controls the choices consumers make. Wants are never satisfied; thus, demand constantly increases. Demand acts as the engine that fires the productive process. It is the productive process itself that satisfies those wants. Furthermore, advertising is used mercilessly by large firms to block the entrance of new rivals, and thus it is a means of diminishing competition and thereby consumer welfare(Cunningham p.2) In my opinion, I believe that manipulative advertising really doesn’t exist at all when dealing with a reasonable person of adult status.

I believe perhaps that manipulative advertising may affect children and some younger adolescents but not to the extent that it should stir up such controversy. We are human given the power of free choice. We choose to purchase what we want. We choose to dress the way we want, to eat what we want, to drive what ever car we want. No one makes decisions for us and I don’t think that one can really feel that they were manipulated into making a decision to purchase a certain product. We are all individual and we all have rights, no one forces us to do anything. In my own personal experiences I would say that it is self-preference that influences my decisions when making purchases. Most of the time I pay no attention to television commercials or billboards. I buy what I like and that’s that.

The ethical framework which I have chosen to back my opinion is Individualism. Specifically, enlightened self-interest and psychological egoism. Enlighten self-interest meaning that because we have the power of reason we will choose what in the long run is best for us. Psychological egoism being an ethical theory stating that everyone is always motivated to act in his or her own perceived self-interest. We all have the freedom of choice purchase what ever it its we want, and I don’t think that advertising should be looked down upon so stringently.

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