Many people in the world, both those who use advertising and those who fight advertising believe that we in the industry have some arcane power to make people want things that they don’t need or at least didn’t want before our ad came along.


This view presents consumers as passive ‘victims’ of advertising unable to make a decision in their lives unless some ad tells them what to think or do.


Even as far back as 1958 Aldus Huxley the famous author attacked advertising by saying ‘advertising agencies try to bypass the rational side of man and appeal directly to the deep, unconscious forces below the surface’ and later in 1962 the historian Arnold Toynbee said that ‘people do not consume rationally and advertising is to blame’.


These supposed intellectuals appear to believe that we in the advertising industry have some sort of mind-control powers that allow us to insidiously manipulate the minds of consumers without their conscious knowledge. There are two responses to this:


Firstly do these learned gentlemen think that advertising proponents would sit around thinking up ways to sell cat food if they had such power? I for one can think of many more profitable and entertaining things to do with it!


Secondly, in the same way that hypnotism, big around the turn of the century, was believed to be able to make people do anything against their will and we now know that hypnotism can only suggest things the subject is willing to accept, so it is with advertising.


In short advertising does not use people, people use advertising. Everyday we are all exposed to advertising for say dog food, but we only actually buy dog food if we have a dog. If advertising was so powerful would we not all have stock piles of dog food or diapers whether or not we had a dog or baby?


Couple that point with the fact that over 90% of all advertised new products fail in the market. Advertising for example could not save Betamax or Virgin cola and may not even be able to save the mighty Nokia. These brands also failed having big advertising bucks thrown at them whereas brands like Starbucks, Google and Amazon have reached great heights with very little ad spend at all.


Clearly advertising isn’t the evil, immoral manipulator that it is considered to be. Rather than creating a need you didn’t have it channels a need you already have. We only buy a new product when the old one runs out. Advertising just directs a consumers purchase decision it does not create the need.


In this way advertising helps customers. By differentiating products and services clearly it helps consumers make more informed choices and freedom of choice is the exact opposite of the ‘Big Brother’ mind-controlling manipulations that advertising is so unfairly accused of.


- Dean Massey