Over the last few decades, a lot of debate and concern has surrounded advertising. Advertising is, at its very essence, manipulative. It is the attempt to persuade people of something – something that may or may not be true. For example, Coca Cola would like you to believe that opening a Coke has something to do with being happy, hence the slogan, “Open happiness.” Once that subliminal association between happiness and product is established, the company makes a lot of money. The association is really a lie. Everyone knows intellectually that there is no connection between carbonated sugar water and happiness, but by god the campaign works well!
McDonalds Restaurant and other businesses have had to grapple with the ethics of advertising to children. There have even been laws created about what practices are unacceptable in advertising. For example, tv advertisements for toys must show the child holding the toy so that children won’t be misled into believing that the toys are self propelled or alive. Much study has been done on the subliminal effects of advertising. It’s such a concern that English teachers are mandated to teach “media” units in order to allow adolescents to see how illusory ads are – how they are purposely manipulative, and how they may lead their audience to believe things that are arguably untrue, or even patently false. The ethical issues around advertising are well known.
Teachers will tell you that It is difficult to capture students’ attention, and corner their intellect long enough to make them realize that they are being manipulated through advertising. In doing so, teachers are likely to offend some people. No one wants to hear that the brand name they are espousing in their desperate bid for social acceptance is playing them for a fool. It’s an uphill battle.
Everyone is bombarded by advertising constantly to the point that we are not even consciously aware of the barrage of logos and slogans we witness all day every day. Try to flip through the channels of your tv at a rate of one channel per second or two, and NOT see a logo. I bet you can’t get through ten channels. On a public street it’s hard to find one person who is NOT displaying a logo of some kind (on a pair of shoes or a shirt or a back pocket.) Yes advertising is a big deal!
But if advertising is a concern, far worse is the concern when governments engage in it. And indeed they do. A LOT. This is a huge ethical problem. Governments are supposed to be responding to the will of the people, and should not be in the business of using manipulation to affect the public’s will. Rather than advertise using slick media presentations, they should announce their policies through press releases and allow the public to make up its mind. Anything else is propagandizing – an unsavoury – an un..ETHICAL tactic for government. And what’s worse is they use the people’s tax dollars to pay the ad creators and to rent the ad space. We need to start making noise about this and demanding laws that prevent it. A LOT of our money is funding this behaviour, and we are being manipulated.