Advertising in a Consumer Society

May 21, 1969

Report Outline
Advertising and Consumer Protection
Advertising's Long Struggle for Stature
Current Trends in Appeals to Consumer
Special Focus

Advertising and Consumer Protection

The controversy over cigarette advertising, now headed for a showdown in Congress, points to a lack of consensus on how advertising in general should function in what is now being called a consumer society. That advertising is a central feature of such a society is a foregone conclusion. Few would seek its abolition, for advertising is so tightly locked into the country's complex marketing systems and so deeply implanted in the expectations of the people that it could not be dislodged without devastating effect on the economy, to say nothing of the national psyche. But though most Americans are comfortably attuned to the ubiquitous presence of advertising in their daily lives, they tend to be cynical about its operations.

The advertising industry therefore is in a curious public relations situation. Throughout the years of its great growth, advertising has come under continuing attack—by economists, social critics, moralists, government officials, consumer organizations. Many books, articles and plays have berated or ridiculed advertising or the advertising man and gained wide popular favor in so doing. Terms of derision, such as “the hucksters,” have become a part of the language. Jokes about “Madison Avenue” and diatribes against advertising's materialistic influence on the American soul have grown commonplace. The oddity is that an industry which has thrived because of its skill in winning favor for its clientele should have had so much trouble creating a favorable image for itself.

Lack of Clear Policy on Advertising Controls

Ambivalence of the public toward advertising has its counterpart in the vagueness of public policy on advertising controls. The validity of government regulation to prevent outright fraud is universally accepted. But three decades after federal regulatory powers over advertising were firmly established by law, a key question remains unanswered: how free should advertising be in a free-enterprise market? The question no longer pertains merely to questions of fraud or deceit, the ancient villains of anti-advertising crusaders. A more basic question has come to the fore: How free should advertising be to operate as a creator and conditioner of human wants, activities which affect both the economic well-being and the social temper of the nation?

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
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Mar. 20, 2015  Online Dating
Jan. 23, 2004  Advertising Overload
Mar. 14, 1997  Alcohol Advertising
Sep. 13, 1991  Advertising Under Attack
Nov. 23, 1984  Direct Marketing Boom
Sep. 04, 1981  Trends in Advertising
May 21, 1969  Advertising in a Consumer Society
Aug. 25, 1965  Youth Market
Nov. 21, 1956  Advertising Controls
Sep. 24, 1951  Controls Over Advertising
Mar. 08, 1938  Regulation of Advertising
Consumer Behavior