Is Advertising Harmful To Society?

Some Say Advertising Does More Harm Than Good. Does it?

Hiding from ads
Hiding from ads. Getty Images

Some studies would lead us to believe that we are being constantly bombarded with advertising messages. It's everywhere. On our phones, our laptops and tablets, in restrooms, on buses, name it, there's probably an ad on it. 

In fact, some estimates have posited that we see 20,000 marketing and advertising messages every single day. That, clearly, is nonsense. Considering we sleep for a minimum of six hours, that leaves 18 hours, or 64,800 seconds in which to cram 20,000 ad messages.

Basically, one ad every 3 seconds. You are not seeing an ad every 3 minutes, let alone 3 seconds. 

Yes, we see a lot of ad messages a day - subconsciously. But those that we actually notice, and pay attention to, are few and far between. We most likely see a few hundred messages at most, and pay attention to no more than 1% of them.

Still, that leaves at least a few ads per day that get into our heads. And the question is…are they having a harmful effect on us?

The Argument Against Advertising
Those who say YES, advertising is harmful, have many justifiable concerns. For a start, our self-image is definitely being affected. Most men in ads are chiseled hunks with ripped abs and perfect hair and teeth. Those who are “normal” are representing us, the average consumer, going about our humdrum lives. Women, they get it even worse than the guys. The standards of beauty set in advertising are beyond ridiculous, and even when advertisers try and empathize, they still come out with ads that heavily favor good-looking women.

Ads push products that very few people actually need, and instead create a longing for them. From new cars to music players and the latest candies and junk foods, advertising can literally make people crave something they didn’t even know they wanted a few seconds earlier.

Advertising blatantly uses sex and violence to make products appear cooler to the youth audience.

And advertising, especially political advertising, can sway the course of a nation through deception and misinformation. Just watch the ads that appear around the 2016 presidential election. 95% of them will be negative, bending the truth to breaking point.

Add to that the amount of clutter they ad to our lives, and out surroundings, and it could be very easy to say that advertising is a blight on society.


The Argument For Advertising

Just like most professions, advertising is a double-edged sword. Yes, it can be harmful. But it can also be an incredible powerful way to spread the word about important issues and products, such as AIDS awareness, diabetes monitors, tobacco and alcohol risks, and other health-related concerns.

How would small businesses ever hope to succeed without advertising? They need to find a way to spread the word about the products and services they provide, many of them essential to our way of life.

How would big businesses spread the word about innovative new products, or improvements to existing ones? Without advertising, would you know how to choose between the phones you use, the cars you drive, and the TVs you watch? Would you even know what choices you had, or what existed?

Advertising also brings prices down for consumers. When a business like T-Mobile nationally advertises a plan like 2 unlimited 4G lines for $100, the others all sit up and take notice. And what do they do? They drop their prices.

What’s more, advertising is not the only outlet for glorifying attractive men and women, and sex and violence is prevalent in many aspects of society, including movies, TV series, video games and even homemade YouTube videos.

So, back to the original question. Is advertising harmful to society? The simple answer doesn’t exist. But the more complicated one seems to be - the benefits outweigh the negatives. For now.