I just finished reading “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger (on recommendation of a coworker). At it’s core the book is an art history text meant to provide insight on the implications of different periods of painting, but Berger also has an interesting take on advertising. He states:
“The publicity image steals [ones] love of herself as she is, and offers it back to her for the price of the product.”
Is this true? Here Berger implies that advertising is designed to make people unhappy, and that the knowledge of a new product makes one increasingly dissatisfied until the product is purchased and the consumer returns to her previous state of contentment.
This is not only a pessimistic way to look at the world, but also does not take into account the value and intrinsic satisfaction generated by purchasing material possesions (and the way those posessions can help define ones identity). Additionally, not all advertising is the same. Berger assumes that all advertising promotes products that consumers don’t need. Although it may be true that some products do little to help those who they target (two examples that come to mind are ads for the lottery and scams such as “cash for gold”), like many other things in life, the few bad examples influence how the entire dicipline is seen.
As an advertising professional I would argue that the primary purpose of promotion is to inform and educate consumers, empowering them to make a decision on whether or not the product is right for them – thus making the world a better place.