The Power of Advertising in Shaping Our Aspirations

Progress Namibia - The Power of Advertising in Shaping Our Aspirations
25 September 2017

When it comes to our value system, advertising must be the most dangerous form of manipulation of past and present generations. Our economic growth model argues that supply is based on demand. And consumer demand is determinant of society's wants and needs. But our aspirations, wants and needs are now shaped, more than ever, by advertising. Advertising uses psychological research to increase demand for products. You might think what is the big deal?

Well, your dreams and aspirations might have been totally different. But, from a very young age, you are permanently bombarded by very clever mental manipulation that you are not enough. Your dreams and aspirations depend on a life that is meant to consume. And this manifests itself in really ugly spaces. The average American child under four can now recognize a hundred consumer brands, but can't recognize more than four species living in her/his neighbourhood.

Think about, for instance, the ridiculousness of a big, fuel-guzzling car in a city. Advertising of this has made you believe that your status is 'better than', if you were to own such car. But in fact, its oppressive, unnecessary (in most cases), and pollutes air, ears and space. You might have a completely different feeling about such car if the advertising were that reality.

If you are a woman, you are, thanks to advertising, judged on your appearance. And you will never be beautiful unless you buy products to paint your face, and wear clothes to make your figure look like that model in that magazine. And conform, in fashion, to whatever advertising tells you to. You are not enough. Every woman's magazine is geared towards consumerism. And no, there are no good looking guys for young women to ogle at (like the case with men), but your magazine will mostly be other, more glamorous women photoshopped just enough for you to feel that you need to go out and get that concealer, because your skin is flawed. You are not enough.

If you are a woman of colour, one with hair that is beautifully "different", advertising will make you feel the need to have 'straight' hair (despite the fact that the vast majority has your hair type). You will most likely go out and feel forced to buy that straight hair, or buy endless products to straighten your hair. You are not enough.

If you are a woman growing in years, you will be made to feel bad because advertising tells you, unless you look youthful, you will become invisible. Go out and buy face creams, get collagen, buy those products to make you look younger. At all costs, do not look your age! You are not enough.

You might be enough, if you buy this. That is the fake promise.

And so we are trapped in this cycle of finding happiness and self-love in the things that we buy. But none of these things do this for us. But we believe advertising's promise, so we go out and buy more things. And more. And still, we are not enough. But in the meanwhile, billions of dollars have been made.

Why have we been captured like this? Why do we allow advertising to be forced on us?

Here is how. Even if we choose not to buy magazines, watch media content, or whatever else that produces advertising, we are still forced to see it everywhere. On billboards. On shop windows. Every day we are forced to see it. It pollutes our mental spaces. We are forced to compare ourselves constantly with what is considered ideal, and thus we start believing it, and buying the products that promise to make us ideal. But no one is ideal.

In the early days, advertising was allowed to tell us lies, like with smoking. They were allowed to subliminally force their advertising on us. We think that that has changed. But it hasn't. Not really. Whether its product placement, or some big company sponsoring researchers to tell alternative stories to support selling their product (case in point the fossil fuel industry and climate change), things have largely stayed the same. And gotten much worse in many ways.

What would the world be like if there was no advertising, or advertising, at the very least, was heavily regulated? It might not be good for big corporations, and shareholder profit. But would it be better for the children we are bringing into the world tasked with making the world a better place? Would it be better for small business? Would it be better for a new economy? How would we see the world? What would our aspirations and dreams look like?

Picture Credit: Adbusters,