Advertising and Behaviour Control, Textbook chap 9

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Published on 10 Oct 2011
Advertising and Behaviour Control
Puffery: the practice by a seller of making exaggerated, highly
fanciful or suggestive claims about a product or service.
It is bragging carefully designed to achieve a very definite effect;
using techniques of motivational research to first identify hidden
needs/desires then design ads to exploit them
B.F. Skinner (behaviourists) suggests that the concept of freedom
that has emerged as part of the cultural practice of our group makes
little or no provision for recognizing or dealing with these kind of
controls, in other words when purchasing something we may think we
are free but in fact our act is completely controlled by factors in our
environment and in our history of reinforcement. (i.e. advertising is
one such factor)
Ad nauseam: technique of advertising whereby ads are shown
repeatedly to the point of annoyance; generates indirect info,
meaning info not derived from the content of what is said but from
the fact it is said so often that it sticks in one’s mindinfo yield has
Another technique also used is subliminal suggestion to control
customers (i.e. In a New Orleans dept. store, messages to the effect
that shoplifting is wrong, illegal and subject to punishment were
blended into the Muzak background music and masked so as not to
be consciously audible. The store reported a dramatic drop in
Moral argument here is that the science of behaviour utilized by
advertisers is engaged in human engineering and manipulation
Advertisers argue that “it is hard to find anything sinister about a
science whose principal conclusion is that you get along with people
by giving them what they want proof shown in customer purchases
and repeat purchases
Theodore Levite defends puffery b/c he believes that belittle ads to
their literal descriptions of the product will eliminate hope and
adventure which is what we want consumers to buy and they would
no longer purchase b/c “Human kind cannot bear very much reality”
He maintains that “everybody everywhere wants to modify,
transform, embellish, enrich and reconstruct the world around him”
and commerce takes the same liberty “to influence the audience by
creating illusions, symbols, implications that promise more than pure
functionalityto reject these needs would be to deny man’s honest
needs and values
Philip Nelson defends indirect information; he argues that even when
the message (direct info.) is not credible the fact that the brand is
advertised and advertised frequently is valuable info. for the
consumer b/c for that reason it will be a better buy and thus even if
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the consumer purchases a better buy for explicitly silly reasons by
acting on this indirect info. he is doing what he ought to do and that
is “getting his money’s worth” in the words of Nelson: “Irrationality
is rations, if its cost – free”
In regards to subliminal messaging, even if perceived below
conscious awareness, we may remove a few of the discontents of
civilization and perhaps enter into the paradise of polymorphous
John Kenneth Galbraith and David Braybrooke counter-argue to the
effect that the desires to which businesses respond are often
themselves created by businesses
If the consumer had more objective information (other than puffing),
if his values had not been mixed up by motivational research (the
confusion of sexual and automotive values) and if he had an
expanded set of choice instead of the limited set offered by profit –
hungry firms than he might want to buy something other than what
he presently wantshence consumer wants are a function of
advertising and not necessarily representative of his true needs
To better understand if advertising is information or creation of
desires, we analyze is 4 facets if the situation:
a. Autonomous desire
oWas the desire induced by advertisers or was it “original
to me”, truly mine? (I.e. the desire to look younger,
therefore you purchase the product) was it
autonomous or not?
oF.A. von Hayek argue that nonautonomous desires should
not equate to those that are culturally induced
oHarry Frankfurt describes first – order and second – order
desires where the first – order desire is thought of as
being nonautonomous, imposed on one; when on the
contrary a person has a second – order desire to maintain
and fulfill a first – order desire, then the first – order
desire is truly his own. h/e these are not the same as
externally induced
oHence, while advertising may violate my autonomy by
leading me to act on desires which are not truly mine,
most of the desires induce by advertising people fully
accept and therefore most of these desires are
autonomous (i.e. when you return to repurchase
oThus, Braybrooke’s argument is empty, as it amounts to
saying that if the world we lived in, and we ourselves,
were different, then we would want different things (i.e. if
we were immortal, we would not desire youth). That
being said, what is true of all desires can hardly be used
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as a basis for criticizing some desires by claiming that
they are nonautonomous.
b. Rational Desire and Choice
oCriticism of advertising is that it leads us to act on
irrational desires or make irrational choices; it may be
said that our autonomy has been violated by the fact that
we are prevented from following our rational wills or that
we have been denied the “positive freedom” to develop
our true, rational selves
oProblem here is what do we count as rational
oA rational desire/choice is thought to be based upon
relevant info. and info. is relevant if it shows how other,
prior desires may be satisfied. It can be said that it is
such prior desires that advertising agencies acknowledge,
and that the agencies often provide the type of
information that is relevant in light of those desiresin
that regard, advertising doesn’t inhibit our rational wills
or our autonomy as rational creatures
oA purchasing decision based on anticipation of imaginary
benefits is not, it might be said, a rational decision, and a
desire for imaginary benefits is not a rational desire
oConsumers often wish to purchase subjective effects
which in being subjective are nevertheless real enough;
moreover advertisements provide accurate indirect
information on the basis of which a person who wants a
certain subjective effect rationally chooses a product
oIf a consumer takes an advertised product to offer a
subjective effect and the product does not, it will no
longer and then be taken of the market, h/e if a bit of
successful puffery allows for satisfied customers and
repeated sales and advertisements, the indirect
information provides a measure of verification to the
consumer who is looking for certain kinds of subjective
c. Free Choice
oHow do we distinguish between an impulse we do not
resist against one we could not resist?
oActing from habit or impulse does not necessarily mean
acting in an involuntary manner
o h/e if a person is aware of a good reason to do x and still
follows his impulse to do and still follows his impulse to
do y, then he can be said to be impelled by irresistible
impulse and hence act involuntary (i.e. kleptomaniacs)
oIn the case of subliminal advertising we may find an
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