Advertising & the Economy

I was recently chatting with a group of friends, when I mentioned that despite having many skills to be successful in advertising, I have a moral issue with the profession.  To me, advertising as a profession is about fomenting desire in people to have new things.  There are times when it is used to shape public perceptions, such as in tobacco ads, and there are times when it is to let people know where to find something they may have been searching for, but by and large, it is to make people want more stuff.

When I said this, one of my friends first commented that advertising lets you know what’s out there.  True, and sometimes what’s out there is something that people have been wanting for a long time.  She then commented that getting people to buy things is good for the economy, just before we each had to leave.

That comment made me think.  Or at least, that comment added to my thoughts of the economy.  It seems to me, and has seemed to me for a very long time, that we have a false economy to begin with.  Somehow we have an idea that the economy has to grow, and that what is important in an economy is the growth of wealth in monetary terms.  Both of these concepts seem to be very skewed to me.  

Many people have an idea that we must always be striving for more in everything.  I would venture to say that society in general has this idea.  There is a huge human toll in this concept, however, which results in broken psyches and even broken bodies.  When we are always pushing for more, we forget to look at what we have, and we can never reach peace within ourselves.

The other falseness we encounter again and again is that money is a means unto itself.  It is not.  A truly strong economy is not one in which there is simply a lot of money circulating, but one in which the needs of the people are met.  

As a business, advertising does our society great harm, from the excessive waste of items bought and discarded because they looked so cool on TV, to the health issues fostered by the constant barrage of food advertisements, to the body image issues faced by almost every woman in this country and now many men as well.  It never ceases to amaze me that junk food purveyors use images of slender young women to sell food guaranteed to make them gain weight.

Advertising pervades nearly every minute of our lives.  Most likely, as you are reading this, there is an advertisement at the bottom of the screen.  When you watch a movie, there are product placements every few minutes, your clothing has labels, your t-shirt has your favorite products, your lunch is emblazoned with logos.  Very few of these advertisements are helping you reach your goals; in fact, they are most likely talking you into spending money that you could be saving for a house or a reliable car. 

Are these advertisements really helping the economy?  It seems doubtful to me when I look around and see so many people working at very low-paying jobs for the companies that are advertising the most.  No, this isn’t a scientific survey, and I will admit to not having delved deeply into it, but WalMart, McDonalds, Burger King, and Olive Garden seem to be some of the most prolific advertisers, yet not one of these companies is paying their lowest workers a living wage.  Is that really helping to create a strong economy?