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The Influence of Advertising
Advertising has had a tremendous influence on society. However, many people sharply disagree as to whether this influence has been bad or good.
Advertising has certainly played an important part in making modern goods and services available to the general public. It hastened consumer acceptance of such new products as automobiles, telephones, electric refrigerators, and frozen foods. Advertising continues to popularize new products of modern industry by presenting them in colorful phrases and glamorous illustrations. It seeks to make each product represent a new and better way of life. In its total effect, advertising has built up a concept of gracious living that was unknown and indeed impossible before mass production.
One familiar example will illustrate how advertising helps to increase the production and distribution of a product. The automobile was first developed to a practical stage in about 1910. The early automobiles were not very efficient. Improvements came rapidly, however, and new mass-production methods made possible the manufacture of cars in large numbers. One big question remained: Who would buy all the automobiles that could be made?
The automobile had tremendous appeal to the public, and its use would doubtless have grown even without advertising. However, advertising spread information of this new miracle of transportation incomparably faster than individual salesmen could have done. Advertising simplified the work of the salesmen and helped to stimulate sales. Greater sales made it practical to use improved mass-production methods. Production in large quantities made possible lower prices, which enabled people in lower income groups to buy cars. Thus, in a few years the automobile became part of the standard of living for millions of people.
Advertisers know from practical experience that products, old or new, cannot be forced on people. In the modern economy "the consumer is the king." Customers are free to buy what they want. Much money is spent on research in an effort to understand the consumer's desires. In spite of these efforts to please the public, customers are often fickle. They switch their preference from one brand to another or from one type of product to another. In many instances no amount of advertising, however clever or persuasive, can keep people from making such changes. On the other hand, advertising itself is often the cause of the customer's decision to change products.
An especially interesting example of how advertising has influenced the American way of life is provided by modern newspapers, magazines, and radio and television services. The price that people pay for publications is far less than the actual expense of gathering news, paying for articles, and printing. Advertising revenue makes up the difference and provides the profit for publishers. Without advertising, newspapers and magazines would have to curtail their services. Many publications would be compelled to go out of business, and others would have to raise their prices to readers. Advertising also pays practically the entire cost of radio and television broadcasting in the United States.
Does advertising exert a good or bad influence on people and society? This question cannot be answered with a flat statement. Advertising is not an isolated industry that can be considered entirely by itself. It is a tool used by other industries and by a great variety of nonindustrial organizations, including government bodies. Advertising helps businessmen seeking profits, nonprofit groups seeking to spread their ideas, and government organizations seeking to perform their various functions. Advertising is therefore an integral part of life in the 20th century.
Most criticism of advertising is aimed directly at the large-scale campaigns sponsored by profit-seeking business. For example, some social scientists and religious thinkers claim that mass advertising has emphasized material things at the expense of more worthy spiritual goals. These critics assert that advertising overstimulates demand and influences people to buy things they do not really need or want.
The use of advertising on a large scale is found only where there is free private enterprise and political freedom, as well as modern industry. For example, the American ideal of freedom favors individual aspirations. In the United States, therefore, advertising has had the opportunity to stimulate people to seek an ever greater degree of private welfare. In the Soviet Union, on the other hand, there is modern industry but little private enterprise or political freedom. The state dominates all business activity and predetermines the standard of living for the people. Under such circumstances, the small amount of commercial advertising in the Soviet Union can have no important influence on the Soviet way of life.