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Written by Michelle Munro (chelle-at-cyberbeach-dot-net), December , 1

The novice at advertising frequently gives the public credit for too much intelligence.

Eric Clark

Manipulation Defined

One of the most widely held criticisms of advertising is that it manipulates the consumer. Those responsible for the advertisements often fiercely defend this statement mainly because the word manipulation carries with it a connotation of negativity, and corruptness. To remove these characteristics an accurate definition for the purpose of this report follows. Manipulation is defined in Websters dictionary as to influence especially with the intent to deceive. To influence is defined as the act or power of producing an effect without apparent force or direct authority. And to deceive is to cause one to believe an untruth. The combination of the above three definitions yields the following

Manipulation To have the power of producing an effect without force or direct authority especially with the intent to cause one to believe something that is untrue.

Keeping the proceeding definition in mind, the balance of this report will focus on the use of manipulation, in an innocent and non-corrupt way, in advertising.

Every day we are bombarded by information, our senses flooded with stimuli. The most prominent and abundant of these stimuli are advertisements. The question then becomes, how do these advertisements attract and hold our attention? The modern marketer needs to break through the clutter and will use any means possible to do so. Manipulation of the subjects senses, thoughts, behaviours, or attitudes i Frustration with change process, pleasure accompanies struggle. s a common tactic. And despite the marketers claim that the increased volume of stimuli society is exposed equates to an obstacle, it is suggested here that this bombardment is the marketers most valuable asset.

Before linking manipulation to advertising in modern times, it is necessary to explore some of the history of advertising, including its criticisms and its dark side.

Advertising may be described as the science of arresting human intelligence long enough to get money from it.

Stephen Butler Leacock

Advertising and Behavioural Science

In modern times advertising has been the target of heavy criticism, typically by scholars or other members of academia. (Olson, 15) The two main criticisms of advertising have been

Advertising creates artificial needs in consumers

Advertising is manipulative

Solomon, et.al., 1

Although Solomon considers these two issues separately, the first can be seen as a form of the second. For example, if an advertisement succeeds in convincing the public they are in need of a certain product, then in essence they have succeeded in producing an effect which has caused one to believe something which is untrue, the definition of manipulation.

Taken to the extreme, the idea of artificial need creation, and thus manipulation, exists in all product advertising outside of the basic essential human needs for survival, namely, food, water and shelter. A statement made by a teenager such as, I need the new Nirvana CD., is indicative of the pervasiveness of the marketers success with manipulation.

In addition to the intentional use of manipulation in advertising, the art of advertisement has also been widely criticized for the various unintended negative consequences of advertising. These include encouragement of materialism, providing incomplete information, careful deceptions and the reinforcement of social stereotypes. Exhibit 1 provides a complete list of these unintended consequences. (Olson)

Olson also points out that although the criticisms upheld by the scholars may be valid, they are not the opinions of the general public. His study, however, was based solely upon the medias portrayal of advertising in the first half of this century. Given the spread of cynicism in relation to advertising it is unlikely the same findings would hold true today. It is also noted that Olsons study was based on articles published in the popular media. The same media that survive on revenue created by advertisements, it would not be in their best interest to begin publishing articles which are overly critical of their main source of revenue.

The rash of criticisms directed towards advertising has sparked a wave of defense from the marketers themselves. For example Charles Sandage states

Advertising is criticized on the grounds that it can manipulate consumers to follow the will of the advertiser. The weight of evidence denies this ability. Instead, evidence supports the position that advertising, to be successful, must understand or anticipate basic human needs and wants and interpret available goods and services in terms of their want-satisfying abilities. This is the very opposite of manipulation.

University of Texas, Advertising Quotes

Sandages statement brings out an important point, in terms of their want-satisfying abilities. The problem with this portion of Sandages claim is that the marketer attempts to pass off these consumer wants as consumer needs, which are entirely artificial. It is indicative of Olsons unintentional consequence number one, increasing the prevalence of materialism in society by spurring unneeded purchases and creating new needs.

The natural progression from this realization is to address the question of how. How did marketers gain this power to create needs and manipulate consumers? The answer to this question lies in the heart of behavioural science.

In the early 100s a new school of psychology emerged, behaviourism. Founded by John B. Watson (1878-158) behaviourism is a theoretical orientation which is based upon the idea that psychology should only study behaviour which is observable. Watson took an extreme view in the nature/nurture controversy. He did not believe that ones family or genetics could determine ones life course. His contention was that we are each born an empty slate and are thus formed by our experiences. His most famous analogy was printed in his book Behaviourism in 14

Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own special world to bring them up on and Ill guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select - doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and yes, even beggar-man and theif, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations and race of his ancestors.

Watson, 14

Watson was also at the forefront of the discovery of classical conditioning. His theory was based upon the idea that for each stimuli presented in the environment there will be a response elicited from the organism. (Weiten)

The idea of conditioning was originally described by Ivan Pavlov in 10. Pavlov described a process by which one stimulus acquired the capacity to summon a response previously summoned by another stimulus. His famous experiment involved conditioning dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell. Pavlov began by establishing meat powder as the unconditioned stimuli (UCS), and pairing it with the sound of the bell, the conditioned stimuli (CS). Overtime the salivation, once an unconditioned response (UCR), became a conditioned response (CR), as shown. (Weiten)




Meat Powder



In a widely criticized experiment, Watson applied the same principle to an infant. In the Little Albert experiment Watson paired a white rat (CS) with a loud gong (UCS) to elicit fear (CR) in the child. Little Albert then generalized his fear to all things white and came to fear Watsons hair and Santa Claus. (Weiten)

After being asked to leave the Johns Hopkins University in 10, Watson began a new career at J. Walter Thompson Company, the worlds largest advertising agency at the time. It was here that Watson began to implement his ideal of psychology, prediction and control. (Kreshel, 10)

Watsons methods meshed perfectly with the goals of business at the time. The economic equation designed by the business community was lacking in the distribution process, namely the human element. Advertising became the means to engineer demand and the science of behaviourism was the perfect route. Modern day marketing was born. At the heart of Watsons efforts was the use of emotions to elicit behaviour in the consumer. (Kreshel)

Since Watsons entrance into advertising the use of psychology in marketing has become standard. All advertising agencies employ at least one psychologist on staff and most engage in research, as described below.

At one of the largest advertising agencies in America psychologists on the staff are probing sample humans in an attempt to find how to identify, and beam messages to, people of high anxiety, body consciousness, hostility, passiveness and so on.

Packard, 157

Several other more ethical studies have been published recently. In 14 Batra and Stephens reviewed the research and conducted a study regarding the use of mood and emotional elicitation in advertising. They found that moods and emotions tend to influence attitudes, specifically attitudes towards brands, more when the product is of low personal relevance. They suggest that the implications of the study indicate that strong emotional and mood arousals are more important in shaping attitudes when the recipient is less motivationally involved. However, they immediately qualify this by stating that it never hurts to use emotional stimulation in advertising, regardless of the degree of motivation involved. The most disturbing aspect of this study is the acceptance of the use of emotions in advertising. The researchers acknowledge the fact that emotion and mood arousals in advertising exist and that they do in fact change behaviour, but find no moral or ethical problems with this.

In 16 Bagozzi published a study on the role of arousal related to the halo effect. The halo effect is an advertising term referring to the influence of a persons attitudes, with respect to a particular action, on the beliefs of the perceived consequences of that action. In essence, when a halo effect is activated a person will apply a general belief to specific attitudes regarding behaviour. The aim of Bagozzis study was to determine whether or not these halo effects could be created and manipulated (he uses the word influenced). He finds that the halo effect can be created and that it can be manipulated through emotional arousal. It would seem logical that once it has been acknowledged that the marketer is capable of changing ones belief system through emotional arousal and attitude change, the next step would be to discourage the abuse of such power. Instead Bagozzi suggests that emotional arousal is only one way of accomplishing this form of manipulation, and that further research should be conducted to find additional ways to influence attitude-based decisions.

Research stemming from Watsons introduction of science to advertising has continued, despite questionable ethics. Some would argue that we know all we need to about changing the attitudes and behaviours of consumers. Regardless of whether research continues or not, a new era has dawned upon advertising, one that will eliminate the need for further research into consumer behaviour.

Advertising is a modern substitute for argument; its function is to make the worse appear better.

George Santayana

Clutter The Marketers Dream

In his book Data Smog, Shenk draws our attention to the increased amount of stimuli we encounter on a daily basis. He points out that in 171 the average American was exposed to at least 560 advertisements per day and twenty years later that number topped ,000. It is estimated that the average high school graduate will have watched over ,000 hours of television. Historically, marketers have seen this barrage of stimuli as an obstacle to overcome. The method they utilize to break through this clutter is bigger, brighter, louder a concept Shenk terms the two-by-four effect. (Shenk, 18)

Advertising clutter has been recognized recently for the diminished returns it yields in magazines. Mainstream magazines are required to balance the needs of their consumers with their needs for advertising revenue and demands of the advertisers. Clutter arises from the advertisers need for additional space for advertisements. It turns out that increased advertising clutter reduces circulation, thus diminishing advertising revenues in a vicious circle. (Ha and Litman, 17)

The above study was limited to magazines only, others propose that the increased amount of advertising is beneficial to the advertisers quest for manipulation. Schwartz describes the new communication environment where information and stimuli are not only more abundant, but also travel at much faster velocity than in the past. As a result of these changes interactions between people and stimuli take place very quickly. He states

Most important, this characteristic of the new environment eliminates the time between receiving information and responding to it. People do not think out decisions.

Schwartz, 17

Shenk elaborates on this lack of time interval and the effect it has on the subject and its implications for marketers. He claims that clutter is an ideal situation for the marketer and terms it the marketers dream.

In order to understand the notion of clutter as the marketers dream Shenk explores the historic dispute between Descartes and Spinoza. The debate between these two great philosophers was over how people perceive, and specifically at which point in perception does one accept a claim or stimuli as fact. Descartes argued that we first understand a notion, and then we make a decision to either accept the claim or to reject it. On the other hand, Spinoza proposed that we tentatively accept the notion, consider it and then decide if we will accept or reject it. Rigorous testing by psychologists has shown that the argument proposed by Spinoza is in fact the way we perceive, which is ideal for the marketer. Shenk goes on to propose that under information overload, a state which virtually all humans are forced into, we rarely take the time to go back and evaluate the notion that we have tentatively accepted. Dan Gilbert, a professor at the University of Texas states

Its very well known that people are much more susceptible to persuasive appeals when theyre distracted. If Im an advertiser, I want you to be on information load in as many circumstances as possible.

From Shenk, 18

As Shenk emphasizes, the ramifications of this realization are huge. Essentially, this means that society is even more vulnerable than before to the suggestions of commercials. Coupled with insights provided by behavioural scientists, this combination is extremely detrimental to the consumers well being.

Advertising is found in societies which have passed the point of satisfying basic animal needs.

Marion Harper Jr.

The Future An Ethical Approach

To summarize, marketers use advertising in an attempt to convince the public they need products and services that are non-essential to survival. They accomplish this task by exploiting the research of behavioural psychologists and are aided in their task by the abundance of stimuli in our environments, which limits our capacity to interpret their claims. These practices are common place and given that the knowledge is out there it is now impossible to take it away from those who abuse it. However, the uses of these tactics are not always unethical.

Petty and Cacioppo published an article in 16 that points towards the use of such manipulative tactics for the greater good of society. For example, the creation and influence of the halo effect and the arousal of emotions and moods can be used to change consumer attitudes regarding drinking and driving, and other disturbing societal trends. Not only can advertising aid in efforts to change these behaviours, but also it should be their ethical obligation to do so. Hirschman (11) points out that there is a clear link between consumer choices and social problems. The fact that 10 million Americans are alcoholics and 80 million smoke cigarettes are examples of behaviours resulting from consumption patterns gone wrong. (Petty and Cacioppo, 16) Although it is unfair to place all of the blame on advertising, it can be said that advertisements were the catalyst and thus should be partially responsible for rectifying the situation.

In the future the possibility of a regulations regarding the use of facts obtained through behavioural science should be investigated. This is especially important given our increased vulnerability with information overload. Manipulation in advertising will never disappear. However, a more ethical approach should be implemented in the use of manipulation. Ideally, regulations would limit behavioural science to applications in the improvement of society, and avoid the unintended negative consequences that have been recognized.

Works Cited

Bagozzi, Richard. The Role of Arousal in the Creation and Control of the Halo Effect in Attitude Models. Psychology and Marketing. Vol. 1(), May, 16.

Batra, Rajeev and Debra Stephens. Attitudinal Effects of Ad-Evoked Moods and Emotions The Moderating Role of Motivation. Psychology and Marketing. Vol. 11(), May/June, 14.

Ha, Louisa and Barry R. Litman. Does Advertising Clutter Have Diminishing and Negative Returns? Journal of Advertising. Volume XXVI, Number 1, Spring 17.

Kreshel, Peggy J. John B. Watson at J. Walter Thomson The Legitimation of Science in Advertising. Journal of Advertising. Volume 1, Number , 10.

Merriam-Webster. Websters New Complete Dictionary. New York Smithmark Publishers, 15.

Olson, Erik L. How Magazine Articles Portrayed Advertising from 100 to 140 Journal of Advertising. Volume XXIV, Number , Fall 15.

Packard, Vance. The Hidden Persuaders. New York David McKay Company, Inc., 157.

Petty, Richard E., and John T. Cacioppo. Addressing Disturbing and Disturbed Consumer Behaviour Is It Necessary to Change the Way We Conduct Behavioral Science? The Journal of Marketing Research. Vol. XXXIII, February, 16.

Schwartz, Tony. The Responsive Chord. New York Anchor Books, 17.

Shenk, David. Data Smog Surviving the information glut. New York HarperCollins Books, 18.

Solomon, Michael, Judith Zaichkowsky and Rosemary Polegato. Consumer Behaviour Canadian Edition. Scarborough Prentice Hall, 1.

Weiten, Wayne. Psychology Themes and Variations. Toronto Brooks/Cole Publishing Company, 17.

Exhibit 1

The Unintended Negative Consequences of Advertising

Adapted from Olson, 15

Criticism 1 Advertising increases the prevalence of materialism in society by

Creating new needs of desires.

Spurring unneeded purchases.

Increasing the propensity of people to judge themselves and others by their possessions.

Stressing conformity with others as an important consumer goal.

Encouraging a throwaway society.

Criticism Advertising encourages irrational behaviour by

Encouraging instant gratification.

Increasing shortsightedness.

Reducing perceptions of responsibility for the long-term consequences.

Criticism Advertising idealizes the good life by

Promoting products as the painless way to solve difficult problems.

Creating unrealistic feelings of confidence and power.

Showing a standard of living unobtainable by most consumers.

Criticism 4 Advertising promotes the good of the individual over the good of society by appealing to individual greed and selfishness rather than

Community ethic.

Cooperation among individuals.

Criticism 5 Advertisings incomplete information, half truths and careful deceptions create general cynicism manifested by

Distrust of authority.

Disbelief in cultural wisdom and norms.

Criticism 6 Advertising reinforces social stereotypes by

Portraying minorities an women in traditional roles and occupations.

Linking certain people with products, such as women with household cleaners and senior citizens with medical supplies.

Creating unrealistic ideal characterizations by using modes who are more physically attractive than typical product users.

Criticism 7 Advertising trivializes community and spiritual symbols and values by

Secularizing and commercializing religious and community traditions.

Reducing respect for family.

Criticism 8 Advertising uses bad taste and questionable morals that can cause emotional and physical disturbances by

Using fear appeals that prey on feelings of inadequacy.

Using an appeal based on sexual themes.

Embarrassing the ad viewer by promotion of sensitive products such as feminine hygiene products.

Promoting the heavy use of products that are potentially harmful to the health of the user, such as alcohol and tobacco.

Using appeals that take advantage of the immaturity of children.

/ Persuasion, Manipulation, Advertising, Propaganda /

Only the vigilant can maintain their liberties, and only those who are constantly and intelligently on the spot can hope to govern themselves effectively by democratic procedures . A society, most of whose members spend a great deal of their time not on the spot, not here and now in the calculable future, but somewhere else, in the irrelevant other worlds of sport and soap opera, of mythology and metaphysical fantasy , will find it hard to resist the encroachments of those who would manipulate and control it.

Aldous Huxley was on the spot in the foreword of his revised 146 edition of Brave New World - which, perhaps more than any other work of 0th century fiction, predicted the psychological climate of our wired age.

From the page Breaking the Trance on the Adbusters site.

I have not been able to find this passage

in the forward of Brave New World,

and I do not know its true provenance -- ed.

All propaganda must be so popular and on such an intellectual level, that even the most stupid of those towards whom it is directed will understand it. Therefore, the intellectual level of the propaganda must be lower the larger the number of people who are to be influenced by it.

Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

from Chapter VI War Propaganda

• The Product is You -- a 0-Second Uncommercial by The Media Foundation

from Adbusters

• ...in a military State or a feudal State or what we would nowadays call a totalitarian State, it doesnt much matter what people think because youve got a bludgeon over their head and you can control what they do. But when the State loses the bludgeon, when you cant control people by force and when the voice of the people can be heard, you have this problem. It may make people so curious and so arrogant that they dont have the humility to submit to a civil rule and therefore you have to control what people think. And the standard way to do this is to resort to what in more honest days used to be called propaganda. Manufacture of consent. Creation of necessary illusions. Various ways of either marginalizing the general public or reducing them to apathy in some fashion.

Noam Chomsky quoted on the site of ANTHONY DOUGHERTY

• The Decline of the Democratic Ideal by Noam Chomsky

article in Z Magazine , May 10 (Article is primarily about US involvement in Central American politics.)

One fundamental goal of any well-conceived indoctrination program is to direct attention elsewhere, away from effective power, its roots, and the disguises it assumes.

-- cf. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy , by Douglas Adams , page 41 -- ...the greatest excitement of all seemed to be to meet a man with an orange sash around his neck. (An orange sash was what the President of the Galaxy traditionally wore.) It might not even have made much difference to them if theyd known how much power the President of the Galaxy actually wielded; none at all. Only six people in the Galaxy knew that the job of the Galactic President was not to wield power but to attract attention away from it.

-- One might suspect that this is the function of celebrities other than the President of the Galaxy, as well --

• Propaganda Analysis Home Page

 Gallery of propaganda film clips

 Introduction The Institute for Propaganda Analysis

The IPA is best-known for identifying the seven basic propaganda devices

Name-Calling, Glittering Generality, Transfer, Testimonial, Plain Folks, Card Stacking, and Band Wagon.

 Table of Contents / Site map

 How Newt Gingrich Uses These Techniques

...Newt Gingrichs political action committee ( GOPAC) mailed a pamphlet entitled Language, A Key Mechanism of Control to Republicans across the country. The booklet offered rhetorical advice to Republican candidates who wanted to speak like Newt. It was awarded a Doublespeak Award by the National Conference of Teachers of English in 10. The booklet contained two lists of words. GOP candidates were instructed to use one set of positive, governing words, (glittering generalities) when speaking about themselves. A second set of negative words (name-calling words) were to be used against their opponents.

-- or here -- Scrutinizing Propaganda By J. E. Hill

• Huey Long [a populist Louisiana governor and senator in the early 10s] once said that when fascism comes to this country, its going to be wrapped in an American flag.

It cant happen here -- can it?

The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many (Interviews with Noam Chomsky)

Copyright � 14 by David Barsamian


-- cf. Friendly Fascism The New Face of Power in America

by Bertram Myron Gross

• Word Tricks & Propaganda by Edward S. Herman

Good intro, but Herman seems to take his own biases as the norm

• Lifton, Robert entry

• Mind Control (Thought Reform, brainwashing) and Brainwashing entries at watchman.org

• Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism A Study of Brainwashing in China

by Robert Jay Lifton

• (Non-Rational) Persuasion entry in the Notebooks of Cosma Shalizi

• Media Madness by Wendy Priesnitz

...its becoming increasingly difficult to separate the news makers from the news gatherers. Most of North America’s newspapers, magazines, and radio and TV stations are owned by the same transnational corporations about which they report.

• Toxic Sludge Is Good for You! Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry

by John C. Stauber, Sheldon Rampton


• The Center for Media & Democracy

• PR Watch

• The Hidden Face Behind Advertising


• Theyre Rich, Theyre Powerful and Theyre Running Scared

. . .

• Whats Wrong With Ronald McDonald ? -- targeted at the younger set


Whats wrong With McDonalds? pamphlet from the famous McLibel suit.

There have been several different versions of this publication.

The original -- which points out that the criticism is directed at McDonalds as the most representative example of a group, rather than uniquely.


WHATs wrong with McDonalds is also wrong with all the junk-food chains like Wimpy, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Wendy , etc. All of them hide their ruthless exploitation of resources, animals and people behind a facade of colourful gimmicks and family fun. The food itself is much the same everywhere - only the packaging is different. The rise of these firms means less choice, not more. They are one of the worst examples of industries motivated only by profit, and geared to continual expansion.

This materialist mentality is affecting all areas of our lives, with giant conglomerates dominating the marketplace, allowing little or no room for people to create genuine choices. But alternatives do exist, and many are gathering support every day from eople rejecting big business in favour of small-scale self-organisation and co-operation.

The point is not to change McDonalds into some sort of vegetarian organisation, but to change the whole system itself. Anything less would still be a rip-off.

The latest (Im not sure as of when - ed. -- 1 May 1) shorter, snappier version.

Bad News for Fast Food What’s wrong with McDonald’s? by Joel Kovel, from Z Magazine SEP 7.

McFact rebuttal from McDonalds. (N.B., this is reproduced on a McSpotlight site and I havent made any effort to independently verify it.)

Some of McDonalds own pages on these issues


 Food -- nutrition and ingredients

(by all means, check out the cholesterol, fat and sodium contents on these for yourself so youll be able to incorporate them into a balanced diet if you so desire)

 Mc Donalds and the Environment / Earth Effort

 15 Actions You Can Take To Help The Environment ...from the National Wildlife Federation

Thats actions you, personally, can take. Not McDonalds. You.

 McDonalds Commitment to Quality Being the Best ...Includes a Commitment to Animal Welfare

-- read for yourself --

McLibel Burger Culture on Trial by John Vidal, Ralph Nader (Introduction)


After falling sales and the first loss in the companys history , McDonalds plans to offer healthier choices

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