The Effects Of Advertising On Our Fragile Minds

How does being constantly exposed to advertisements affect us?

Advertising is a discipline that draws on the knowledge of  social psychology applied to marketing and tries to direct every purchase decision we make. Very linked to the studies of influence and persuasion, it manages to modify our habits, becoming a phenomenon that transcends the mere act of buying and selling.

The language it uses and the reality it shows us seek to respond to the wishes, needs and motivations of an audience, which is not usually recognized as such.

Advertising is omnipresent

Guérin is forceful in stating that “the air we breathe is made up of oxygen, nitrogen and advertising.” Advertising is omnipresent.  

It invades all spaces, it is installed in our homes, it sneaks into our electronic devices, fills up social networks and the mass media. He manages to lead our conversations and our thoughts, we reproduce his slogans  and hum his melodies. It is a leading part of our outer reality and our inner world.

Advertising as a social modeling agent

Sociology states that advertising is a social modeling agent because, in addition to influencing purchasing habits, it accelerates the transmission of attitudes and values ​​and can even transform them. It transmits a hegemonic discourse, it makes us a certain reality, a perception that will end up shaping our symbolic thinking and also our desires (Romero, 2011).

However, the vast majority of us will hardly admit to being influenced by advertising. “There are so few people who admit the influence of advertising on their shopping habits, as crazy people who admit their madness” (Pérez and San Martín, 1995). Psychology repeatedly shows us that we are wrong if we believe that we are free from its influence.

Advertising illusionism

In the game of seduction, the publicist starts with an advantage. He knows the frustrations, prejudices and intimate longings of his target and turns them into the perfect packaging of a product that, supposedly, will solve any weakness of his client. In this way, advertising not only informs about the qualities that the product possesses, but also endows it with additional values ​​that are not even part of it. It is a kind of illusionistic art, capable of covering the product with a black light that hides or reveals what the advertiser wants to show, not what really exists.

Advertising plays a substitute role when it exchanges a symbol and a product , making the consumer want the symbol more strongly than the product he thinks he needs. It is a fetishistic behavior associated with the need for distinction, status and recognition that all humans have. The cosmetics manufacturer, Charles Revlon, defined this substitution effect perfectly when he stated: “In our factory we make lipsticks, in our advertisements we sell hope” (Ibid.).

Advertising is class

Advertising appeals to class consciousness with its strategies. Each advertisement is aimed at a specific target audience or sector of society. Each object is endowed with a symbolic value that serves to create in the consumer an illusion of social advancement if they possess it. At the same time, advertising tries to avoid scenes in its stories that show class division or social conflicts, while forcing a fictitious social equality by creating products for any purchasing power (Romero, 2011), categorizing types of consumers and satisfying them with products adapted to each target.

Advertising also has a problem-eliminating function, or “happy world” effect. It always tries to present a beautiful, playful and fascinating world, in which consumption is related to leisure, beauty and well-being, that is, it presents us with a “beautiful side of life” ignoring any other less appealing reality, de-dramatizing our daily life.

Know it to prevent its effects

In addition to its economic value, we observe how advertising has a remarkable social value. It is good to learn to recognize your various values ​​to avoid possible harmful effects. For example, learning to detect when it may be being used as a means of ideological pressure, or to recognize its class capacity when it categorizes us according to different types of consumption. Many researchers argue that advertising is alienating because it alienates us by creating new needs, or when a certain vision of the world digests us.

Advertising stereotypes and unifies us by proposing models and fashions that we will massively follow, matching our criteria, ideals and tastes. It is the depersonalizing effect of advertising, which homogenizes a society that pretends to be plural but, paradoxically, will take advantage of this unification to try, again, to locate products that seek to provide the buyer with distinction and uniqueness, since we all like to be special (Carnegie, 1936). In this way, it makes us enter a spiral of depersonalization-distinction from which it is difficult to get out in the consumer market in which we live.

“To announce is to delve into open wounds (…). You mention the defects and we act on each of them. We play with all the emotions and with all the problems, from not being able to stay in the lead, to the desire to be one of the crowd. Each one has a special desire “(Della Femina, cited in Pérez and San Martín, 1995).

Bibliographic references:

  • Carnegie, D. (1936). How to win friends and influence people. USA: Simon & Schuster
  • Pérez, JM, San Martín, J. (1995). Sell ​​more than just jeans. Advertising and education in values. Communicate (5) 21-28.
  • Romero, MV (2011). The advertising language. The permanent seduction. Spain: Ariel.

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