Ads that Hurt

In some earlier posts I talked about the idea that advertisements can be privately profitable for firms but still be socially harmful due to uninternalized negative effects on their targets.  In the comments, Glen Raphael asked me for an example.  Here are a few of my favorites.

1. JIF peanut butter.  The slogan "choosy moms choose JIF" is famous in marketing circles for having been extremely effective.  The reason, of course, is that the implied corrolary to the slogan is "crappy negligent moms who don’t care about their kids give other brands of peanut butter."  The harm here is that it gets moms into the habit of thinking that the place to concentrate their efforts to be better moms involve choice of peanut butter, instead of things that might actually work.

2. Disney.  One could write a whole book about how horrifying Disney is (I think maybe someone even has).  But my specific example is a commercial for Disneyland where the camera is in real tight on the face of an ecstatic awestruck looking kid.  After a few seconds, the parents chuckle knowingly and say something like "Timmy, this is just the entrance, let’s go inside the park."  The idea is that Disneyland isn’t just a fun place to eat junk food and go on roller coasters and stuff, it’s a source of wonder; the very essence of childhood.  The harm here is obvious.

3. Any one of a million beer commercials.  Beer commercials overwhelmingly involve attractive women.  This is either because the advertisers want you to believe that drinking their beer will actually improve your chances with attractive women, or at least they want you to associate drinking their beer with being as attractive to them as you wish you were.  I think it’s pretty clear that encouraging young men to think of women as ornaments that go nicely with getting loaded is not a recipe for subsequent success in matters of the heart, not for the men and certainly not for the women.

I could go on.

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