Wednesday, 9 September 2009

A case in point: alcohol advertising

Picking up on the tension between social benefit vs social harm, here is a topical article in the socially-minded Guardian today:

In an offsetting statement:
"The BMA is ignoring all the evidence that advertising causes brand switching, not harmful drinking," said David Poley, chief executive of alcohol industry trade body the Portman Group.
"A ban would not improve our drinking culture and could even be counter-productive. The University of Sheffield found it would create fiercer price competition which could actually increase overall consumption. Lasting social change can be achieved only through sustained education accompanied by proper enforcement of the alcohol laws."

This reminded me of another key concept I'll be exploring more: the differences between 'need' and 'want'... and the difference between hostile/exploitative advertising that aims to stimulate a 'want' and even convince you it is a 'need' or 'deserved', and on the other hand advetising that aims to get you to switch brands for a product you already were going to buy (typically on the need side e.g. toilet bleach).

I will be exploring how much of the UK economy is accounted for by 'want' spending vs 'need' spending, and I'll explore ways in which the consumer could change to wanting less harmful things, and ways in which advertising could operate without driving the current cycle of:

1. damage someone's self-esteem / self-worth, then
2. Offer them a product that will restore the self-esteem

Obviously this is done in a clever subconscious manner, but this is the technique in a nutshell. Make people feel inadequate and show them that they can buy their way out of the negative feeling. This of course is a nonsense. The purchase does little (beyond 1hr) other than add stress to the purchaser who has probably extended their debt or reduced their savings in order to buy it.

The advertising industry is absolutely brilliant at its job. Think what those same brains could achieve towards positivity if incentivised correctly.

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