Modern-day advertising is like a double-edged sword. The effects of it either help us or, unfortunately in most cases, hurt us. Whether we like it or not, advertising is an integral part of our culture, as it brings in revenue and stimulates the economy. Advertising influences us both emotionally and physically, and it’s notorious for making us feel a neverending void, so that we are constantly buying more.
Studies have shown that children under age eight do not understand the persuasive intent of advertising. As children, we are severely targeted by advertisers because of our vulnerability. One of the biggest influences advertising has on us as kids is our view on gender roles. As Gloria Steinem points out in Sex, Lies, and Advertising, “They [Lionel Trains] fear that, if trains are associated with girls, they will be devalued in the minds of boys.” (P. 4) Being told which toys we are supposed to play with as kids (e.g. Barbie and G.I. Joe) establishes these gender roles which we carry with us into adulthood.
Women are another group heavily influenced by advertising. As a result of the glorification of porcelain skin and perfect faces in advertising, women spend $426 billion on beauty products yearly. The idea is to advertise beauty products (many of which are not even necessary) on “beautiful” people. Consequently, women feel inferior to women in the ads, and buy the products in hopes of attaining that perfect face. Women seem to expect instant beauty if they purchase these products, but with new products coming out nearly every month, we are always buying more into the trap.
In contrast, there is an alternative side of advertising that positively affects us. Advertising campaigns such as anti-smoking and real beauty campaigns have been highly successful. According to the US National Library of Medicine, an anti-tobacco media campaign conducted in California over a two-year period was estimated to have reduced the number of packs of cigarettes sold in that state by 232 million. Also, Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” video has over 114 million views, making it the most viral ad video of all time. These two campaigns have the intent of making us healthier emotionally and physically, thus demonstrating that not all advertising is evil.
In order to increase this positive advertising and decrease the negative, we need to realize that we have control over it. If we stop buying into the idea that we need products to “fix” our bodies, and then perhaps advertisers will create more positive ads. Advertising thrives on consumers, so if we stop buying into the numerous beauty products and unnecessary items, we will not only experience an internal relief and increased positive body image, but harmful advertising will also cease.