Advertising stimulates the demand for goods and services. Sometimes, it is condemned for perverting culture by emphasizing more "stuff" as the essence of a life fulfilled. Such criticism infers that people are easily manipulated and must be protected from their own vulnerabilities. This angst seemingly trivializes reason and judgment as guardians against mankind's baser inclinations. However, uncertainty remains whether such criticism is fact-based or the machinations of those who presume to know what is best for other people.
Advertising is a form of communication. Its ultimate mission is to persuade people to buy stuff. Advertising does this by creating brands that people trust. Consumers generally believe that brands deliver on the promise of user satisfaction. This adds value to the shopping experience by obviating the shopper's need to become a fully-informed shopper. To effectively communicate, advertising must employ the words, signs, images, symbols, music and non-verbal expressions of its referenced culture just to be understood with clarity. Advertising is not the creator of the culture's communication subtleties and cues. Advertising merely communicates to audiences using the same tactics that audience members use when talking to each other. Consequently, it is indubitable that advertising reflects the language of its referenced culture.
Culture, sometimes called "high culture," is generally defined as the beliefs, values, attitudes and behavior that characterize a referenced society. Popular culture, as differentiated from high culture, typically refers to the democratizing of consumption -- the ability of ordinary people to exercise their freedom of choice in consuming products irrespective of their social position. Meanwhile, advertising is about creating great brands and having people think great things about the brands they create. It is a rather dubious proposition that creators of advertising intentionally set out to shape the values and attitudes of a culture when they get paid to create great advertising. Moreover, researchers point to little evidence that advertising can force people to abandon reason and judgment in pursuit of improving their quality of living.
There are anecdotal examples of advertising shaping popular culture. For instance, computers are associated with increased productivity. iPhones are associated with enhanced connectedness and the ubiquitous Nike swoosh seemingly pops up everywhere. Popular culture is formed by ordinary people who exercise their freedom of choice in the products they consume. That the Nike swoosh is everywhere does not mean that people were forced to buy Nike products or that they were deprived of their free will. It simply affirms that advertising influenced buying decisions in favor of Nike products, which people enjoy using.
American society is inherently a society of consumers. Consumer spending drives 70 percent of the nation's economic activity. Arguably, the nation's economic model, based on consumer spending, could not survive without advertising, which was a $173.5 billion a year industry as of December 2011, according to Plunkett Research, Ltd. Advertising drives consumer spending, which drives the nation's economy. Critics who slam advertising are essentially attacking the very foundation upon which the nation's prosperity is built. They seem to offer little as alternatives, except the19th century-style totalitarian societal regimentation of death, misery and despair that have been deservedly dumped into history's trash bin of failed ideologies.