Criticism of advertising reached a peak in the 2000s, with many people raising concerns about the influence that advertisements have on consumers. Advertising remains important to businesses. At its broadest, advertising is defined as sponsors paying for communication to an audience in order to persuade that audience to purchase the sponsor’s products or service. This definition of advertising isn’t set in stone; there is plenty of advertising that occurs without payment, including pro-bono advertisements.

Advertising often relies on the use of mass media but does not necessarily have to do so. As such, advertising actually encompasses broad channels of communication and can include both paid and unpaid forms of communication. For businesses, advertising is important because it generates incoming revenue.

Industries across the globe rely on advertising to help generate profits, with corporations in the United States alone spending hundreds of billions of dollars to pay for advertising time on TV, radio and in magazines.

When advertisers pay for advertising, they consider not only the cost of paying for the advertisement, but the reach. One critique of advertising economics is that some forms of advertisement are reaching fewer and fewer people every year, while other forms of advertisement, such as internet advertisement, are increasingly able to reach millions.

Despite arguments for and against advertising, it remains powerful because of how many people it can influence. It is this level of influence on the population that has caused people to start questioning advertising ethics and the negative side of advertisement.

Criticisms of Advertising

There are several objections to advertising, with many people expressing concern about the imagery used by marketers. Critics point out that advertising often exploits younger audiences or portrays harmful, negative images. Because advertising can be so influential, these messages are taken to heart by the audience and create harmful perceptions of reality.

Some of the most common criticisms of advertising are that it promotes harmful behavior or creates unrealistic standards for what people should look like.

Advertising and Children and Youth

Researchers warn that advertising is increasingly affecting younger individuals. Marketing has changed in the past century, from a period when advertising was not directed to children to a point when advertising is increasingly targeted at children.

By 2017, the average young person in the United States was seeing anywhere from 13,000 to 30,000 advertisements. This left younger individuals more exposed to the influence of advertisements than they had been in previous decades.

Advertisers have come under fire because these advertisements targeting children have often been filled with messages promoting unhealthy foods. Researchers report that marketing specific foods made children want to eat those foods immediately and want to eat them again in the future.

Children who saw messages promoting unhealthy foods were more likely to make a habit of eating those foods throughout their lives. Critics pointed out that this type of marketing contributed to the obesity crisis.

Researchers also warned that the sheer number of ads that children saw was itself dangerous. Constant exposure to materialistic messages and advertisements were linked with conflicts between children and their parents. While advertisements are not inherently bad, the sheer volume of them can lead to harmful outcomes in children’s behavior, making it more important than ever to limit the amount of exposure that children have to marketing.

Advertising and Youth Substance Abuse

Researchers previously showed that alcohol advertisements could directly impact young people, causing them to perceive alcohol very positively. As long as they had a good opinion of the advertisement, including how it was structured and its overall delivery, they also had a positive opinion about alcohol. This was a concern to researchers because positive perceptions about alcohol at too young an age can lead to underage drinking.

Alcohol wasn’t the only substance that young people were likely to abuse when they were influenced by marketing. Research into advertisements indicated that young people were regularly exposed to marketing about not only alcohol, but also tobacco, e-cigarettes and marijuana. These young individuals were more likely to abuse these substances whenever they had positive feeling toward them.

Whereas previous forms of advertisement were limited to radio, magazines, or television, youth are now exposed to advertising at all times of the day via the internet and digital media. This has made young people more vulnerable to advertisements than ever before.

Because of this massive shift in how advertising is done, young people are now more likely to be exposed to positive messages regarding harmful substances, which could then lead to abuse.

Advertising and Body Image

One of the biggest issues that has been raised in recent years is the problem of advertising and body image. Americans watch up to 3,000 advertisements every day and spend a total of two years watching TV commercials over the course of their lives. As they watch, they continuously compare themselves against the images of beauty that they see on television. This can lead to dissatisfaction about one’s weight and appearance, leading to psychological problems and even eating disorders.

Researchers also warn that shifts in advertising from traditional media to social media threatens to worsen how people feel about their bodies. While acknowledging that all forms of media may impact how people felt about their bodies, studies showed that social media advertising specifically has the potential to increase dissatisfaction about a person’s appearance.

A comparison of Facebook ads to traditional media ads, researchers found that social media formats produced even greater body image dissatisfaction and an increased chance of eating disorders.

The truth is that both traditional media and social media have the potential to negatively impact how people feel about their looks. What makes social media particularly effective at worsening how people feel about themselves is its ability to reach people every day and around the clock.

Social media is accessed at all hours and people are constantly connected to the internet, increasing their exposure to marketing messages that can make them feel negatively about their bodies.

Raising  Advertising Standards

In response to the concerns surrounding the negative effects advertising can have, marketers have begun to change how they reach out to the public. Marketers now attempt to appeal to the public in ways that are socially responsible.

By directing portions of profits toward charitable groups and integrating important social issues into advertisements, marketers are finding ways of bringing awareness to societal problems in an attempt to create positive marketing.

Advertisers have also changed the way they portray women in marketing materials, at least to some degree. As part of their attempts to appeal to a broader audience, companies have tried to diversify their portrayal of what women look like. Researchers indicate that while improvements have been made in the portrayal of women, there continue to be stereotypes and specific portrayals that idealize a ‘right’ way to look. However, there has still been a positive shift to a broader portrayal over the years.

Summery of Criticisms

There are many arguments for and against advertising, with many indicating that advertising can have a negative influence. However, advertisers have become more socially conscious and are increasingly trying to market in a more responsible manner. Caution still remains necessary. Marketing continues to have the power to negatively influence people, which makes it that much more important for changes in advertising practices to continue.