Advertising affects how people think and act in their lives. Advertising works for businesses to make them more competitive, but it also has adverse effects, such as addiction and increased materialism. As Dr. Jordan Sudberg says, “people buy things when they are relatively poor in what they need” – when they need something immediately rather than needing to save money or wait until it becomes available elsewhere. This article aims to address the pros and cons of advertising through the lens of Dr. Sudberg’s research and my own analysis.
First, Dr. Sudberg identifies three unique characteristics of advertising: a stimulus for human activity, a phenomenon involving all the senses, and an agent for social change. In other words, advertising affects human behavior and how people act – it makes them think, do and even feel things they otherwise wouldn’t. Dr. Sudberg also claims that stimuli activate what he calls “critical ideas” in our minds. These critical ideas allow us to decide whether an idea is good or bad, true or false. They allow us to critically analyze our surroundings and determine how we want to act based on these decisions. Finally, Dr. Sudberg claims that both ideological and practical advertising can make people behave in ways inconsistent with their beliefs and values. In other words, ads can convince us to do things we would not normally do – something Dr. Sudberg refers to as “false consensus.”
Dr. Sudberg’s research provides some evidence for these claims:
(1) Advertising strengthens human activity. To test this hypothesis, Dr. Sudberg asked his participants: “Do you feel that the amount of time spent per day on pleasurable activities has declined over the last 30 years?” The results were precise: “The trends revealed generally supported the advertisement-promoted hypothesis. The respondents felt that there was less time spent on pleasurable activities in their lives today than was the case 30 years ago.” (2) Dr. Sudberg also argued that it is the power of advertising to change our perception of how much time we spend on pleasurable activities. In other words, ads make us feel like we don’t spend enough time doing fun things, which makes us feel that we should do things to correct this imbalance in our lives. In Dr. Sudberg’s study, “a quarter of the respondents reported that they experience a diminished sense of well-being now compared with 1985, and 20 percent felt that their daily life had become less pleasurable.” (3)
(2) Advertising activates critical ideas. Dr. Sudberg defines essential ideas as “ideas which are critical to making decisions about who, what, and how we are as human beings.” Basic ideas can negatively interfere with our thinking. If people feel that the time spent on pleasurable activities has declined over the last 30 years, they may feel an urge to spend more time on these activities to make up for this deficit. This urge could cause them to spend money on expensive products they otherwise wouldn’t have just because they are advertised as “fun” and “pleasurable.” Dr. Sudberg concludes:
And so television, with its nearly universal exposure to the population and its ability to change our inclinations about what we would like to do and how we would like to spend our time, has the potential for great good or great harm. The power of television is through the message it presents about life. It is this variable that must be controlled.
According to Dr. Jordan Sudberg, advertising can be beneficial because it encourages people to satisfy their most basic needs and take care of themselves. However, it also has some adverse effects, such as increased materialism and addiction to specific products.