Advertising, the Uneasy Persuasion: Its Dubious Impact on American Society

By Michael Schudson | Go to book overview

leading companies, like General Motors, decided in 1985 that the growing cost of Superbowl air time ($525,000 for 30 seconds) was simply not worth the cost. 1

Advertising, the Uneasy Persuasion argues against the most commonly held view of advertising--that advertising affects sales by leading consumers to change their minds or to think a certain way about a product. In the common view, advertising associates a given brand or product with a prestigious person or a romanticized lifestyle, and suggests that the use of the product will transform the consumer into a more beautiful, more desirable, or more energetic human being. The consumer, believing or half-believing this, and consciously or subconsciously coaxed by the ad's suggestion, buys the product. With most Americans most of the time, as I argue in chapter 4, this notion that advertising directly affects consumer choice explains scarcely anything about why consumers buy what they do. Nevertheless, there may be ways, not touched on in my book, that advertisements indirectly affect consumer buying decisions. Advertisements may affect the goods available to consumers even if they do not persuade consumers which goods to buy.

This can happen if business people think ads affect consumers directly (even if, in fact, they do not). A marketing executive at a major food company told me he thinks most of the money spent by his own company on advertising does little good in convincing consumers of anything. However, he has failed in efforts to limit the advertising budget. Why? His explanation is that when the company executives make presentations before meetings of their stockholders or others in the investment community, the first thing investors want to see is a reel of the company's television advertisements. Expensive, well-executed, and familiar ads convince the investors, as nothing in the black and white tables of assets and debits can, that the company is important and prosperous.

This, naturally, can have major consequences for the firm. If investment in advertising keeps the firm's investors happy, the company can count on a flow of capital for its operations. In this way, the investors' belief that advertising is an index of a prosperous company helps make the company prosperous.

-xiv-

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Advertising, the Uneasy Persuasion: Its Dubious Impact on American Society
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Preface to the Paperback Edition xiii
  • Notes xxiii
  • Introduction 3
  • 1 - The Advertiser's Perspective 14
  • 2 - What Advertising Agencies Know 44
  • 3 - The Consumer's Information Environment 90
  • 4 - An Anthropology of Goods 129
  • 5 - Historical Roots of Consumer Culture 147
  • 6 - The Emergence of New Consumer Patterns: a Case Study of the Cigarette 178
  • 7 - Advertising as Capitalist Realism 209
  • 8 - An Evaluation of Advertising 234
  • Notes 244
  • Index 277
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