Does Advertising Cause Materialism?

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Considering the ubiquity of advertising in modern society, the immense interest it has drawn should come as no surprise. Central to this interest is the notion that advertising can transform not only the purchasing behavior of consumers but also the values that form the bedrock of society. The vast majority of this interest has been negative, and one of the most persistent criticisms is that advertising leads to more materialistic individuals and societies. This essay will explore some of the issues around which the debate revolves; firstly by examining what psychological effects advertising may have on individuals and secondly by investigating what sociological effects it can have on societies. What is apparent is that most people would paint a significantly darker picture of advertising-fuelled materialism than is justified by the evidence and literature, and that indeed advertising may even produce some positive effects (beyond its economic uses, on which virtually everyone agrees). Most importantly, this essay will argue that advertising only encourages materialism in those individuals or societies that already hold materialistic views, while encouraging other values already held by advertising’s target audiences.

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