How Modern Day Advertising Destroyed Our Culture

And the questions we should be asking ourselves to make it better.

Photo by Kevin Rajaram on Unsplash

What Marketing and Advertising Is All About

Marketing and advertising has been carried out under the same premise and conditions for just about a century now. The mediums, the creative approaches, the distribution channels and the measurement strategies have all changed, but its core function is still the same:

Get people to think of themselves as consumers first. Use the power of psychology to get them to buy more stuff.

A Brief Look At How Modern-Day Marketing And Advertising Came About

The marketing and advertising known today was created due to a fundamental economic concern. Technological innovation of the first and second Industrial Revolutions allowed for an exponential increase in production capacity. With new machinery, more goods could be produced faster and at lower cost. But the problem was there: Who was going to buy these new goods that the society could now produce?

This is where modern day marketing and advertising was born. The pioneers, people like Paul Mazur, Edward Bernays and Charles Kettering, realized that, in order to create the demand to meet the increased supply, the culture needed to be transformed. Our innate human characteristics as social and emotional beings needed to be leveraged in order to create the demand. Goods and services were previously promoted in only rational terms, but this approach wasn’t going to work. As Paul Mazur stated, speaking about the U.S. at the time:

We must shift America from a needs to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old have been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.

Paul Mazur, 1927

In other words, a new type of marketing and advertising needed to be created. One that created dissatisfaction among consumers: Dissatisfaction with their own lives. With how they viewed themselves. This was the method to drive consumption and purchasing. This was the method for creating a “society of wants.

This continues to be the primary method deployed by marketing and advertising today. We prey on people’s fears and uncertainties. We give them false hope that purchasing this or that item will allow them to achieve all they aspire to do and be. It’s about creating a sense of incompleteness, of inferiority, of not fitting in, of missing out, of FOMO, and of inadequacy, feelings which can only be alleviated through purchasing of the specific product. It’s about creating false voids which can only be filled through purchasing of the products we market. That’s how the story goes.

We As Marketers Need To Take Responsibility

With the transformation of using business for good all around us, touching every industry from transportation and fashion to food and beyond, the marketing and advertising industries are undeniably lagging behind. Other industries are way ahead of us. Consumers are certainly way ahead of us. A lot of this has to do with the industry history and with the core method that has remained unchanged over the past 100 years. Our responsibility is to market products to drive the most sales, brand adoption and so on. We’ve been trained to think creating a sense of lacking and of inadequacy is the only way to drive the results we are tasked with.

Before we move forward, we need to ask ourselves what the true impact of the marketing and advertising strategies we have put in place has been on our society as a whole. Marketing, using all of the psychological hooks right from Freud, is powerful stuff. It dictates how we as people feel about ourselves. In order to achieve its objective of greater sales, it permeates feelings of inadequacy.

In the macro sense, what is the impact of our methods?

A society characterized by:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Low self-confidence

These characteristics drive our obsessive consumerist society, but the methods are destructive to our sense of self and culture as a whole.

Given our impact, it’s no surprise that only 4% of people think the marketing industry behaves with integrity.

We Can Use Marketing And Advertising For Good

We don’t have to, nor does it make sense to, play by these old rules. With consumers looking to buy from brands creating a positive impact on society and with more brands taking the lead in delivering, it’s encouraging to see the up-and-coming brands increasing their focus on Purpose-driven marketing.

The methods used to create a “society of wants” will no longer work like they once did. Brand values and brand Purpose are now what separate great brands from everyone else, as they inspire consumers with ways to make a positive impact on the world.

Brands are on top of this. Marketing and advertising service providers are way behind the eight ball.

Therefore, us marketing and advertising service providers need to ask ourselves:

Are the ads we’re creating leaving people better or worse off?

How can we use marketing and advertising systems to empower, create joy, create belonging and create the connection?

In providing solutions to these questions, we can transform marketing and advertising. It’s been a negative on our society for over a century now. It reduces our culture to one of hyper-consumerism and self-deprecation.

Instead, we can use its power to ensure every brand touchpoint creates joy. We can use it to transform the way we as people think. We can use it to change our culture. And ultimately, we can use it to create a more prosperous world.