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Ad Nauseum: Addressing America’s Advertising Problem

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/06/2022 - 12:41am in
by Haley Mullins

One of the biggest roadblocks to achieving a steady state economy is advertising. While seemingly innovative solutions to consume conscientiously are becoming more prevalent, most people aren’t Marie Kondo-ing their way through each purchase, stopping to question whether the item in their shopping cart will “spark joy.” But how much blame can we really assign consumers when they’ve been dropped onto a hamster wheel of coupons, cash-back credit cards, and “consumer confidence” indicators?

We live in the age of the internet, where we can purchase anything with one click on Amazon. Websites track our movements and preferences as we surf the web, offering us personalized advertisements so we can discover and buy more of what interests us. To put into perspective how expansive advertising is in the USA, China is the second-largest advertising market in the world, yet its ad expenditures are estimated at less than half the amount calculated for the USA.

Advertising and Growth

Super Bowl promotions in a grocery store, featuring doritos advertising.

Super Bowl Sunday might be better named National Advertising Day. (CC BY 2.0, JeepersMedia)

In 1941, right before a baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies, the first legal TV commercial aired in the USA. It was just ten seconds long and only cost the company nine dollars. Forty years later, the standard for prime-time TV was 9.5 minutes of ads per hour; today, it’s up to 14–17 minutes per hour. The cost of advertising has skyrocketed, too, but marketers are still willing to pay big bucks to make buyers aware of the “Next Big Thing.” In 2020, advertisers spent an average of $5.6 million for a 30-second spot in Super Bowl 54.

Firms advertise to create demand and promote consumption. (I don’t know about you, but I didn’t want socks with my cat’s face on them until I saw a Facebook ad for it.) While firms compete against each other for our business, they rally around the goal of GDP growth. Wall Street and Madison Avenue aren’t far apart—figuratively or politically—and both have skin in the growth game.

Americans have a love-hate relationship with ads though. A typical American might understand the role of advertising in economic growth, yet—apart from Super Bowl Sunday—we detest ads and go to great lengths to avoid them. By 2021, 27 percent of U.S. internet users used ad blockers on their connected devices. Younger generations are particularly put off; 48 percent of Gen Z consumers and 46 percent of Millennials prefer to pay a premium than watch advertisements on streaming video services.

First Things First

Steady staters have some significant hurdles to overcome in the degrowth of the American ad industry, the first of which is the First Amendment.

Advertising falls under the First Amendment right to free speech and free press, the most cherished of our constitutional rights. However, even the sanctity of the First Amendment doesn’t guarantee the freedom to say anything. The circumstances are important, too. Reasonable restrictions of free speech are imposed most notably when public safety is concerned. The classic example of unprotected speech is yelling “Fire!” at the movie theater when no fire exists, as the welfare of people supersedes your right to yell “Fire!”

While advertising isn’t as directly harmful as in this example, the prevalence and effects of advertising—unnecessary consumption, growth, and environmental impact—have become increasingly harmful to public welfare. Advertising restrictions already in place substantiate our cultural awareness of advertising as a danger to the public. Under the law, claims in advertisements must be truthful, and cannot be deceptive or unfair. Additionally, there are restrictions on promoting harmful products like tobacco and alcohol, as well as advertising to children, who can’t interpret ads with a critical lens.

Society understands the power of advertising and the dangers it poses when used manipulatively. Thus, it’s poor reasoning to use the First Amendment as an excuse for “anything goes” in the advertising industry. So, what policies could we enact to moderate advertising, slow consumption, and (in the process) improve wellbeing?

Ad-equate Policies

Defenders of advertising argue the importance of the practice in aiding competition, a fundamental facet of a capitalist system to keep prices low and fair. As American economist Lester Telser once described, “If sellers must identify themselves in order to remain in business, then formally unless they spend a certain minimum amount on advertising their rate of sales will be zero. Regardless of price, buyers would not know of sellers’ existence unless the sellers make themselves known by incurring these advertising outlays.”

1960 Budweiser advertisement with four Black men holding beers and chatting in a kitchen.

Advertising: framing the consumption of market goods as raising one’s quality of life. (CC BY-NC 2.0, ChowKaiDeng)

Touché, Telser. Eliminating the practice of advertising isn’t practical, as people would struggle to discover necessary goods and services. But billions of dollars are spent annually on advertising, far surpassing the optimal scale of the industry. In 2020, U.S. firms spent $240 billion on advertising; all of it tax deductible, as it’s considered a necessary business expense to generate or keep customers. Herman Daly and Joshua Farley argue for advertising taxes in Ecological Economics (Second Edition), declaring it appropriate to tax advertising as a public bad because production should meet existing demand rather than create new demands for whatever gets produced.

But if we’re truly to curb overconsumption of market goods, merely reducing the quantity of advertising will only do so much in the aggregate. To change consumer habits, an alternative to market goods must be introduced. Thus, in addition to taxation, Daly and Farley suggest making media information flows more symmetric so that the public is equally exposed to nonmarket goods as they are to market goods. Essentially, we need a sort of nonprofit advertising to balance out the advertising of firms.

Nonmarket goods, things that are neither bought nor sold directly, do not have a readily quantifiable monetary value. Some examples include visiting the beach, birdwatching, or going for a walk. Perhaps, with more attention given to nonmarket goods, consumer culture might shift to better appreciate our planet and better understand the true cost of frivolously consuming market goods that come from the Earth and return to the Earth as waste. Our resources might then be reallocated to the preservation of invaluable nonmarket goods, a shift that may aid in transitioning to a steady state.

Redefining Ethical Advertising

Cartons of cigarettes with several different warning labels making it clear that smoking is hazardous to people's health.

Full disclosure: unchecked consumption kills people and planet. (CC BY 2.0, kadavy)

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) defines “ethical advertising” as “truthful, not deceptive, backed by evidence, and fair.” The FTC assesses the adherence of these principles through the lens of a “reasonable consumer” to determine whether an ad meets the requirements. However, some argue that the FTC has a responsibility to protect the ignorant consumer to the same extent as the reasonable one.

If the last several decades of celebrated economic growth are considered, I’d say the vast majority of consumers fall into the ignorant category—ignorant to limits to growth, at least. Is it not within the scope of ethics, then, to make the true cost of consumption for advertised market goods evident? Is it not deceptive for ads to display a price tag that fails to factor in the environmental costs of production? We have warning labels on tobacco and alcohol products that consumption may lead to adverse effects, so why aren’t we warning buyers of the consequences of consuming other goods?

If we don’t restrict the amount or reach of advertising, the least we can do is demand full-disclosure advertisements that detail the environmental cost of producing and purchasing the product. This would, at minimum, include estimated life-cycle emissions, quantity of natural resources extracted, and the energy required to produce each unit. Such disclosures would, over time, raise awareness of limits to growth and could, perhaps, be the catalyst that converts our culture of conspicuous consumption to one of careful conservation.

Haley Mullins, managing editor for CASSEHaley Mullins is the managing editor at CASSE.

The post Ad Nauseum: Addressing America’s Advertising Problem appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Smirnoff Grapeshot (1973)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/06/2022 - 10:58pm in

It’s another Smirnoff ad! Here’s the original ad: Original text: The Grapeshot (a drink to things past). Remember how you used to race the neighbor kid home from school–and you’d get so thirsty you could drink the whole Mississippi? Then Mom would give you grape juice that left you with a nice purple mustache. WeContinue reading Smirnoff Grapeshot (1973) →

Plants may not be the panacea that they are sometimes supposed to be

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/06/2022 - 4:27am in

At least according to the Evening Standard’s report on the recent decision by the Advertising Standards Authority. No longer, it seems, can a plant burger be automatically presumed to be better than a real one. Admittedly the ruling was largely about Tesco’s failure to properly marshall evidence that their ‘Plant Chef’ range was good for... Read more

Mid-way point in

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 30/04/2022 - 8:55am in

Mid-way point in the six week Federal election campaign with the poll on Saturday 21 May, so here’s some corflutes, balcony banners, bin stickers and graf from around the Inner West. Top one features current conservative Prime Minister, Scott “ScoMo” Morrison, leader of the Liberal-National Party coalition being missing in action and on vacation in Hawaii during the 2019/20 Christmas/New Year bushfire disaster. The last one features the leader of the Australian Labor Party, Anthony “Albo” Albanese, who’s widely expected to be voted in as Australia’s next Prime Minister. His electorate largely encompasses the Inner West, where he was born and has always lived. Good working class boy. More than 110,000 enrolled voters in the district covering 29 sq km. He’d be the first person from the Inner West to ever occupy the top job, so obviously the locals are rooting hard for him. Vote the bastards out! Dulwich Hill, Earlwood, Hurlstone Park, Marrickville, Glebe, Petersham.

NICE recommendation at last…

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 09/04/2022 - 8:02am in

A welcome recommendation from NICE at last – and why doesn’t Public Health England (now surely, in a sleight of hand, ‘The UK Health Security Agency’)endorse it similarly? Maybe it will… This is the idea that your waist measurement should be less than half your height. This is a concept which has been around for... Read more

Advertising has really got to us all…

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 12/03/2022 - 8:16am in

This from Deal A blog – giving the food and drink brands inspiring tattoos (now I have to point out that their methods were barely scientific) but what worries me is that so many people are actually inclined to tattoo their own bodies with advertising… A coupon company analysed tattoo posts on Instagram to see... Read more

Smirnoff Madras (1974)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 11/03/2022 - 5:51am in

Here we go again! The Madras (how to do what we couldn’t) People who mean well are always advising us to mix Smirnoff with something it ought to mix with but doesn’t. We’ve got a whole list of promising possibilities that always turn out yukky. Cranberry juice used to be in the number one spot.Continue reading Smirnoff Madras (1974) →

Nation’s Advertising Exec’s Hold Bedside Vigil For Clive Palmer

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 25/02/2022 - 8:20am in

Clive Palmer with Jeff in happier times.

The Nation’s advertising executives have taken a break from the nose candy and headed up to the Gold Coast to hold a bed side vigil for their patron saint Clive Palmer. Mr Palmer is currently hospitalised with covid-like symptoms.

”It really makes you think, eh,” said advertising executive Brent Smyth-Barry. ”One day he’s leading a party denouncing vaccines the next he’s hospitalised with the disease he rallied against being vaccinated from.”

”Poor Clive, I should really send him a fruit basket, or maybe muffins, I think he’d like muffins.”

When asked why the industry took Mr Palmer’s money and allowed him to spread his dangerous anti-science message, Brent Smyth-Barry said: ”Hey, hang on, hang on, mate, we don’t condone or accept what people say in their ads. We just take the money.”

”I mean I advertise raspberry jam but I don’t eat the stuff, you know what I’m saying.”

”That jam stuff is loaded with sugar and that stuff is dangerous. They should have a vaccine against that.”

”Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to call Gerry Harvey make sure he’s doing ok. I’d shudder to think what would happen if we lost Clive and Gerry, who’d give us money?”

Mark Williamson

@MWChatShow

You can follow The (un)Australian on twitter @TheUnOz or like us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/theunoz.

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Smirnoff Horseshot (1976)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/02/2022 - 2:43am in

More winter fun from the folks over at Smirnoff! After a long day on the slopes, Alec likes to retire to his chalet with a snow bunny. There’s nothing like an apres-ski Smirnoff Horseshot. The Horseshot has a pleasantly rambunctious edge to it–just like Patty, who suggested they go back to his place and wrestle.Continue reading Smirnoff Horseshot (1976) →

Book Review: Profit Over Privacy: How Surveillance Advertising Conquered the Internet by Matthew Crain

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 19/02/2022 - 9:00pm in

In Profit Over Privacy: How Surveillance Advertising Conquered the Internet, Matthew Crain explores the historical rise of surveillance advertising, showing how today’s digital landscape was shaped by decisions taken in the 1990s. Revealing the emergence of a market logic that has placed individual surveillance at its core, this is a forceful and engaging book, writes Agustin Ferrari Braun.  This … Continued

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