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Role of Advertising and its impact on society

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For some years some subtle changes in the practice of advertising have been reshaping the society people live in. The force of advertising reaches out and touches everyone living and working in the modern world today. Advertising is claimed by its practitioners to be largely responsible for the good things in life and is criticized by its opponents as the cause of unpleasant things (Lee & Johnson, 1999). The impact of advertising on the society is a fiercely debated topic, and has been ever since the conception of advertising in its most basic form. There are negative and positive social impacts upon society from advertising in its various forms. For instance, advertising promoting public welfare has a positive social impact upon society, whereas advertising portraying women as sex objects has negative social impacts.

The purpose of this report is to discuss the role of advertising in today’s society and how it impacts the society, people live in. Therefore it is essential to discuss the fundamental role of advertising. It is also important to examine different types of advertising.

Firstly the report will provide structured definitions of advertising from various authors. Secondly, the report will discuss the history of advertising. The report will also examine the role of advertising in today’s society. Most importantly the report will critically analyze the impact of advertising, which has been a matter of considerable debate and many different claims have been made in different contexts.

A basic definition of advertising is provided by (Wells, Burnett & Moriarty, 2000) where advertising is the promotion of goods, services, companies and ideas, usually by an identified sponsor. Belch and Belch (2003) provide another simple definition where, advertising is a form of commercial mass communication designed to promote the sale of a product or service, or a message on behalf of an institution or an organization. However, Arens (2002) provides a clear definition of advertising where it is described as a composed nonperosnal communication of information, which is usually persuasive in nature about tangible and intangible products by recognized sponsors through various media.

A similar definition of advertising is provided by Lee and Johnson (1999) in their texts,which defines advertising as a paid, non personal cummnication about an organization and products that is broadcasted to a target audience through media channels such as radio, television, newspapers, magazines, outdoor displays, direct mail or mass transit vehicles.

History of Advertising:

History of advertising goes back to the ancient times where the most common form of advertising was word of mouth. In a paper written for the marketing journal (1996), the author implies that the early print ads were used mainly to promote books and medicines. As the economy was expanding during the 19th century, the need for advertising grew at the same pace. In America, the classified ads became popular, which filled pages of newspapers with small print messages and promoted all kinds of goods (Marketing Journal, 1996). The success of this advertising format led to the growth of mail-order advertising.

The 1960s saw advertising transform into a modern, more scientific approach in which creativity was allowed to shine, producing unexpected messages that made advertisements interesting to read (Marketing Journal, 1996). Today, advertising is evolving even further, with promotions that involve unusual approaches such as staged encounters in public places, giveaways of products such as cars that are covered with brand messages, and interactive advertising where the viewer can respond to become part of the advertising message.

The role of Advertising:

The previous section of the provided a basic understanding of advertising, however advertising in reality performs variety of functions, which helps organizations to increase the over all value of their products or services. Many believe, the sender of an advertising message is typically trying to achieve specific broad objectives. Lee and Johnson (1999) believe that in general, however, there are three main categories of advertising objectives a business might set itself in terms of whether it seeks to inform, persuade or remind the target audience.

Informative advertising, as Lee and Johnson (1999) explain, seeks to tell the market about the product, explain how the product works, provide information on pricing, and build awareness of both the product and the company. Such objectives are normally pursued at the launch of a new product, or during an update of an existing product.

Persuasive objectives of advertising are to encourage the target audience to switch brands, make the purchase, and create a preference in the market for the product as opposed to its competition (Lee & Johnson, 1999). Wells, Burnett and Moriarty (2000) suggest that advertising of this nature is required in highly competitive markets, where a range of products compete directly with each other. In such situations organizations often seek to differentiate their product.

The third objective which is the reminder advertising, which is used to maintain interest and awareness of a well established product in the market, often in the latter stages of its product life cycle (Well, Burnett & Moriarty, 2000). It is often used at the point-of-sale to remind consumers of the brand. Such advertising is used by the likes of Coca-Cola and other leading brands, to maintain their position in the market.

The impact of advertising on society:

As mentioned earlier in the report the impact of advertising has been a matter of considerable debate and many different claims have been made in different contexts. The field of advertising is extremely broad and diverse. In general terms, of course, an advertisement is simply a public notice meant to convey information and invite patronage or some other response. As that suggests, these are the precise objectives of advertising which were discussed earlier in the report: to inform and to persuade. For instance, advertising can be used to increase awareness in society about particular issues, and in so doing, becomes a form of education (Harms & Kellner, 2006). Anti drug advertising and drink driving campaigns are just two examples of how society uses the advertising industry as a means to promote public welfare. Other forms of socially positive advertising include those advocating safe sex, thereby considerably slowing the spread of deadly STDs throughout the community (Harms & Kellner, 2006).

Arens (2002) argue that advertising as a social force has been a major drive in improving the standard of living. The auhtor argues that with the help of advertising people obtain huge amount of information about products that are offered by various businesses. And as a free individual in today’s society, they have the opportunity to select the product that best matches their fucntional or social needs and aspirations.

Foley and Pastore (1997) also believe that advertising informs people about the availability of rationally desirable new products and services and improvements in existing ones, which helps to make informed, careful consumer decisions. This contributes to efficiency and lowers the prices, and stimulates economic progress through the expansion of business and trade. All of this can contribute to the creation of new jobs, higher incomes (Foley & Pastore, 1997).

Foley and Pastore (1997) bring attention to some other positive contributions that advertising can and does make however they also deem it is critical to note the ethical and moral problems that advertising does raise. They argue that in today’s society, advertising has a profound impact on how people understand life, the world and themselves, especially in regard to their values and their ways of choosing and behaving. Moreover, advertising can itself contribute to the betterment of society by uplifting and inspiring people and motivating them to act in ways that benefit themselves and others. Advertising can brighten lives simply by being amusing, tasteful and entertaining (Foley & Pastore, 1999). Therefore, it can be said that advertising has important economic and social benefits.

However, advertising also has its critics who say that some advertising is deceptive or encourages an excessively materialistic culture or reinforces harmful stereotypes (Belch & Belch, 2004). Sawyer (2004) argues that advertising and its contributions to the society and culture is less than encouraging and in recent times there has been a lot of discussion of the ethical responsibility of marketers and agencies (Matthews, 1997). According to Waller (1999) the society has become more complex, people have become more aware of the harmful effects of some products and as agencies try to become more creative to cut through the clutter to gain awareness, there will be more advertisements which the general public perceives as offensive.

One major criticism advertising has received is that it forces people to buy things they don’t really need, often by projecting negative emotions such as fear, anxiety or guilt upon the consumer (Waller, 1999). It is claimed that advertising plays with basic human emotions and takes advantage of them, using them as merely another technique to sell goods or services. Advertising encourages people to buy products by making them think that purchasing and consuming are the major activities of their lives. It is said to also evoke fears of inferiority upon the consumer by depicting the normal person as young, attractive, wealthy, and successful (Jack, 1980). This may encourage a person to act on the desire for success and, for instance, go out and purchase that particular brand of make-up or deodorant hoping to emulate the seeming success of the person depicted in the advertisement (Jack, 1980).

Matthews (1997) wrote about products such as cigarettes, gambling and alcohol which Matthews believes result in lost causes. These products have a cost to the community from which some advertising agencies should distant themselves. In a paper published by Marketing Week (2006) it was made evident that alcohol advertising is a contributory factor to youth drinking over time. Not only that some advertisements in a culturally diverse, and sensitive region can cause some offence to some members of the public. Furthermore, Waller (1997) clarified that controversial product including undergarments, alcohol, pregnancy tests, contraceptives, medications, and VD
services raises serious issues in various cultures.

For instance, the opening up of regional markets and the development of regional and global media, such as satellite television and the internet, has resulted in marketers trying to take advantage of the associated benefits of a standardized approach to advertising and promotional activities (Waller, Fam & Erdogan, 2005). However, the downside of such an act is that in some markets people will have a greater opportunity of exposure to different types of advertising, including the advertising of potentially socially sensitive or controversial products, which can clash with traditional local values or religious beliefs (Waller, Fam & Erdogan, 2005).

Advertisements for products such as alcohol and gambling, or those that have potentially racist or sexist images may arouse feelings of offence that can have a negative effect on the campaign, or the brand name in general. Hence, advertising agencies need to develop creative, less offensive ways to send their message, or use more creative media strategies to contact the target market. It may be important to try public relations activities, such as press releases and interviews and a clear procedure followed to answer any complaints from those who might be offended (Waller, Fam & Erdogan, 2005).

Furthermore, for those involved in international marketing, it is important that they are aware of possible differences and cultural sensitivities when entering a new market or undertaking a standardized mass-media campaign across a region. International marketers must take into account the possibility of offending part of their market and the unintentional consequences of a controversial campaign when undertaking a mass regional campaign (Waller, Fam & Erdogan, 2005).

Evaluation and Conclusion:

The report critically analyzed the impact of advertising on society. Of course, not all advertising is offensive and, obviously as mentioned in the report, some informative advertising provides genuine benefits to consumers, as well as helping business move its products. Moreover, public interest groups can use advertising techniques to communicate their messages and positions and to raise awareness on issues of public importance, such as drug abuse, drink driving and STD infections.

However, advertising also has its critics who say that some advertising is deceptive or encourages an excessively materialistic culture or reinforces harmful stereotypes. Many suggest, advertising’s current role in society is exploitative, wasteful, and manipulative and represents a form of domination and that prevents democracy and the development of individual independence. In addition, many argue that advertising must be viewed against the depleting of traditional social structures of meaning which it replaces with ideals and images of privatized commodity consumption. Advertising also attempts to assure its audience and promotes the belief that individual commodity solutions are present for all problems.

Therefore, it has been made evident that advertising has much negative impact on society, however it is also challenging to ignore the positive social and economic impact of advertising. However, it could be argued that all advertising should be taxed and should be more vigorously regulated to limit its excesses and harmful effects. And in order to carry through fair and effective regulation, advertising should be regulated according to media and to product type. Halonen (2003) suggests that the entertainment industries should use rating systems and marketing codes to reduce the likelihood that underage audiences will be exposed to advertisement programs with unsuitable content.

Reference List:

Belch , A. & Belch . E. (2001). Advertising and Promotion An Integrated Marketing Communications Perspective. Published by McGraw-Hill Book Company Sydney.

Lee, M. & Johnson, C. (1999). Principles of Advertising: A Global Perspective. Published by The Haworth Press, Inc. New York.

Arens, F.W. (2002). Contemporary Advertising (8th ed.). Published by McGraw-Hill Book Company New York.

Wells, W., Burnett, J. & Moriarty. (2000). Advertising: Principles and Practice (5th ed.) Published by Prentice Hall International, Inc., Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.

Jack, E (1980). Advertising: The Process and Practice. Published by McGraw-Hill Book Company Sydney.

Sawyer, L. (2004). Future rests with best of best. Advertising Age, 75(19), 26-27.

Waller, S.D., Fam, S.K. & Erdogan, Z.B. (2005). Advertising of controversial products: a cross-cultural study. The Journal of Consumer Marketing, 22(1), 6-14.

Waller, S.D. (1999). Attitudes towards offensive advertising: an Australian Study. The

Journal of Consumer Marketing, 16(3), pg.288.

Marketing Week. (2006). Viewpoint: New year, new whipping boys for this society’s ills. Makreting Week, pg.15.

Halonen, D. (2003). TV dilutes alcohol angst. Television Week, 22(37), pg.1.

Anonymous. (1996). A brief history of advertising. Marketing Journal, pg.49-51.

Matthews, T. (1997). Lost causes in advertising. B&T, pg.21.

Foley, P.J. & Pastore, P. (1997). Ethics in advertising. Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Retrieved on 20th March, 2006 from

Harms, J. & Kellner, D. (2006). Toward a Critical Theory of Advertising. Retrieved on 20th March, 2006 from http://www.uta.edu/huma/illuminations/kell6.htm

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