COM 208: Advertising

The average American comes into contact with several thousand forms of advertising per day, by some research estimates. Typical supermarket shelves are filled with 30,000 to 50,000 brand-name packages. Each is like a miniature billboard.

“Advertising is the economic glue that holds most media industries together,” the Media & Culture textbook says. “Without consumer advertisements, mass communications industries could cease to function in their present forms.”

Advertising is a $250 billion per year industry. Advertisers sell some 900,000 brands

Winslow’s Soothing Syrup – first marketed in 1849. gave this description:

For children teething. Greatly facilitates the process of Teething, by softening the gums, reducing all inflammation; will allay ALL PAIN and spasmodic action, and is SURE TO REGULATE THE BOWELS. Depend on it, Mothers, it will give rest to yourselves and RELIEF AND HEALTH TO YOUR INFANTS. Sold by all chemists, at 1s 1/2d per bottle.

Many early medicine ads were deceptive. Congress created Food and Drug Administration in 1906

Early advertising in America:

  • Stimulated demand for new products
  • Helped create consumer-driven society
  • Promoted technological advances
  • Encouraged economic growth (through increased sales)

Advertising techniques

  • Famous-person testimonial
  • Plain-folks pitch
  • Snob-appeal approach
  • Bandwagon effect
  • Hidden-fear appeal
  • Irritation advertising

Discuss impact of advertising on society

  • Has advertising invaded our lives?
  • Is all this advertising good for us?
  • Why are we flooded with so many ads?
  • How much is too much?

Photo: Sydney Morning Herald

In 2007, a giant silhouette of a naked pole dancer painted on a field beneath Gatwick Airport’s flight path bothered some airline passengers. The 100,000 square foot (9,300 square meter) advertisement was nearly invisible from the ground. See story.

Egg-vertising. Source of image: Flickr

Ads on sheep. Advertising on human skin
Using infants in advertising
Jessica and Travis Thornhill received $5,000 for naming their newborn son after an Internet music web site. The baby’s name is Iuma Dylan-Lucas Thornhill, named after the Internet Underground Music Archive, or IUMA. The name is pronounced “EYEMA.”
Source: Shelley McKinney is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right.

IUMA general manager Antony Bryden: “Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys have put our children in peril, but we can save our children before their tastes are soured by a bubblegum culture.”
“A baby named ‘Iuma,’’ he continued, ‘will grow up in a loving home filled to the brim with the best new music on the planet.’ Among the group’s that IUMA hosts: Gangsta Bitch Barbie.
“My wife liked the idea,” pleased papa Travis Thornhill said in another press release. “The child’s grandma said that this baby would bring prosperity, and this contest could be what she was talking about. Plus, the kid will have a cool story when he grows up.”

“Without any corporate bribery, Karen and David Hartle of Bloomfield, Missouri, voluntarily named their newborn son “ESPN”. The proud new mommy told a reporter: “We actually saw a special on ESPN, and they had it as a baby’s name, talking about several people who were naming their babies that. Usually they were putting a vowel in (between the p and n), but we decided not to.” Their original plan was to name the boy Reed Espn, “but when he was born, he looked more like an Espn.”


  • What’s the impact of all these ads on us?
  • What happens when everything we do revolves around buying?
  • What happens when our entire economy is based on consumption?
  • What happens to our environment?

Consumerism: Pursuit of Happiness?

A single 30-second TV ad can influence the brand choices of children as young as two.
Supersize Me, 2004 documentary film, directed by and starring Morgan Spurlock. During filming, he ate at McDonald’s three times per day. After 30 days, he gained 24.5 pounds. His body mass index rose to overweight. And he experienced mood swings, sexual dysfunction and liver damage. It took him 14 months to lose the weight he gained.

Buzz Advertising
Sony Ericsson T68i mobile phone
Fake Tourists go to such places as the Empire State Building in NY and the Space Needle in Seattle. They ask people to take their pictures and hand them phones instead of cameras. Result: Instant product demonstrations. Sony Ericsson spent $5 million on the 60-day marketing campaign. Word-of-mouth marketing programs are a $40 million to $60 million business, according to Advertising Age. But no one really knows. Commercial Alert asked the FTC to investigate in 2005, but the FTC declined.
Source: Commercial Alert

Advertising has a pervasive influence on children. Young people see more than 40,000 ads per year on television alone. This may contribute to obesity, poor nutrition, and cigarette and alcohol use. Why do advertisers target children? Teen-agers spend $155 billion per year. Children younger than 12 spend another $12 billion. Both groups influence another $200 billion or so in their parents’ spending per year. Source: American Academy of Pediatrics

Kids defenseless
Research has shown that children under eight years of age are defenseless against advertising. They don’t understand intent to sell and accept advertising claims at face value. Our government does little to interfere. But some Western countries have taken steps. Sweden and Norway forbid advertising directed at children younger than 12. Greece bans toy ads on TV until after 10 p.m. Denmark and Belgium severely restrict advertising aimed at children.

Opposition to ads
What can consumers do?
Anti-Ad Movement
No logo campaigns
Anti-globalization campaign

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