That consideration of human needs as against human wants and desires is a low priority for advertisers is borne out by the following finding. In a research study conducted by Davis et.al, of the various factors such as ethical considerations, legal considerations, consequences to business, and anticipated approval of management/peers – ethics does not weigh much in terms of the final ad content and policy. For example, they found that
“the legal consideration factors (i.e. laws and regulations), not ethics, was the most influential factor for most of the advertising managers. This means that fear of punishment in case of disobedience of law was a stronger reason for the advertisers to avoid falsehood in advertisements than was personal ethics. Apparently, advertisers weigh ethical decisions (what is considered to be in the good interest of the public and the absolute “rightness” of decisions) as less important than legal considerations when it comes to advertising content and policy.” (Nagar, 2009, p.107)
Findings such as these underscore the fact that advertisements surrounding us tempt us to buy products we don’t need and at a cost we can’t afford. It also explains why our societies keep falling into cycles of boom and bust (these cycles are getting ever shorter), causing distress to a majority of the population. One of the ethically problematic ad campaigns is with respect to cigarettes (which is obviously not a human ‘need’), which continues to be the most heavily advertised commodity in the industrialized world. Ever since the beginning of the 1980’s, an increasing proportion of those marketing budget is dedicated to what is “probably the most sophisticated consumer marketing databases in the business world”. Here is a brewing concern for ethicists, as tobacco usage is proven to lead to many terminal and irreversible illnesses.
Another marketing concept that is undermining public health and well-being is the drive for impulse purchases. Many supermarkets make lots of profits from chocolates, sweets and other snacks (all items not deemed as a human ‘need’) that are displayed near the checking counter. But all along, they are cognizant of the health undermining effects of such foods. But a reluctance to abandon such practices had forced government health authorities to make stricter regulations. The Food Commission has restarted the initiative first undertaken in the early years of the last decade calling for retailers to “chuck snacks off the checkout”. Quite rightly, they claim that supermarkets are putting temptation in the way of consumers and their family by encouraging impulse purchases of fat-rich and sugary products that are harmful for health in the long run (Neff, 2006, p.4). Food Commission nutritionist Annie Seeley says:
“Seventy per cent of confectionery is bought on impulse. Retailers know that putting snacks and soft drinks at the checkout where people queue increases sales substantially. But parents say this manipulative marketing technique leads to family conflict when children pester for the products and parents have to say ‘no’.” (Gross, 2006, p.325)
In conclusion, it is thus fair to say that Mark Twain was right in his assessment – ‘Advertising is the art of convincing people to spend money they don’t have for something they don’t need’. When accurate, advertising can help us consider more of the possibilities of life; when not accurate, and when it encourages foolish decisions, “advertising may have us buying inefficient, unreliable, unneeded or even dangerous products, wasting our time and money, while making us less intelligent and less happy by encouraging a perpetual consumption cycle. Advertising and other propaganda often name products and policies in ways meant to manipulate our reactions while avoiding critical questions.” (Scott, 2004, p.187)