31 May On page 5, Arrington introduces how Philip Nelson defends indirect information advertising (which means repetitive advertising). Briefly explain Nelsons argument for i
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On page 5, Arrington introduces how Philip Nelson defends indirect information advertising (which means repetitive advertising). Briefly explain Nelson’s argument for indirect information advertising; then briefly explain whether you agree with Nelson or not and why
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Weekly Assignment #3: Robert Arrington, “Advertising and Behavioral Control”
SUMMER 2022 (1) PHIL163
[On page 5, Arrington introduces how Philip Nelson defends indirect information advertising (which means repetitive advertising). Briefly explain Nelson’s argument for indirect information advertising; then briefly explain whether you agree with Nelson or not and why.]
Advertising and Behavior Control Robert L. Arrington
ABSTRACT. Advertisers often have been accused of using techniques which manipulate and control the behavior of consumers and hence violate their autonomy. Some of these techniques are puffery, subliminal adver- tising, and indirect information transfer. After exam- ining both criticisms and defenses of such practices, this paper presents an analysis of four of the concepts in- volved in the debate — the concepts of autonomous desire, rational desire, free choice, and control. Applying the results to the case of advertising, it is shown that advertising cannot be found guilty of intrinsically or frequently violating t:he consumer’s autonomy in any of the relevant senses of this notion.
Consider the following advertisements:
(1) “A woman in Distinction Foundations is so beautiful that all other women want to kill her.”
(2) Pongo Peach color from Revlon comes “from east of the sun ,.. west of the moon where each tomorrow dawns”. It is “suc- culent on your lips” and “sizzling on your finger tips (And on your toes, goodness knows)”. Let it be your “ad- venture in paradise”.
(3) “Musk by English Leather – The Civil- ized Way to Roar.”
(4) “Increase the value of your holdings. Old Charter Bourbon Whiskey – The Final Step Up.”
, (5) Last Call Smirnoff Style: “They’d never really miss us, and it’s kind of late al-
Robert L. Arrington, Dept. of Philosophy, ifniversity Plaza, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia 30303,U.S A.
ready, and its quite a long way, and I could buUd a fire, and you’re looking very beautiful, and we could have another martini, and its awfully nice just being home .. .you think?”
(6) A Christmas Prayer. “Let us pray that the blessings of peace be ours — the peace to build and grow, to live in har- mony and sympathy vdth others, and to plan for the future with confidence.” New York Life Insurance Company.
These are instances of what is called puffery — the practice by a seller of making exaggerated, higlily fanciful or suggestive claims about a. prod- uct or service. Puffery, within ill-defined limits, is legal. It is considered a legitimate, necessary, and very successful tool of the advertising in- dustry. Puffery is not just bragging; it is bragging carefully designed to achieve a very definite ef- fect. Using the techniques of so-called motiva- tional research, advertising firms first identify our often hidden needs (for security, conformi- ty, oral stimulation) and our desires (for power, sexual dominance and dalliance, adventure) and then they design ads which respond to these needs and desires. By associating a product, for which we may have little or no direct need or desire, with symbols refiecting the fulfillment of these other, often subterranean interests, the advertisement can quickly generate large num- bers of consumers eager to purchase the product advertised. What woman in the sexual race of life could resist a foundation which would turn other women envious to the point of homicide ? Who can turn down an adventure in paradise, east of the sun where tomorrow dawns? Who doesn’t want to be civilized and thoroughly libidinous at the same time? Be at the pinnacle of success
Journal of Business Ethics 1 (1982) 3-12. 0167-4544/82/0011-0003$01.00. Copyright © 1982 by D. Reidel Publishing Co., Dordrecht, Holland and Boston, U.S.A.
Robert L. Arrington
— drink Old Charter. Or stay at home and dally a bit — with Smirnoff. And let us pray for a secure and predictable future, provided for by New York Life, Cod willing. It doesn’t take very much motivational research to see the point of these sales pitches. Others are perhaps a little less obvious. The need to feel secure in one’s home at night can be used to sell window air conditioners, which drown out small noises and provide a friendly, dependable companion. The fact that baking a cake is symbolic of giving birth to a baby used to prompt advertisements for cake mixes which glamorized the ‘creative’ housewife. And other strategies, for example in- volving cigar symbolism, are a bit too crude to mention, but are nevertheless very effective.
Don’t such uses of puffery amount to mani- pulation, exploitation, or downright control? In his very popular book The Hidden Persuaders, Vance Packard points out that a number of people in the advertising world have frankly admitted as much:
As early as 1941 Dr. Dichter (an influential adver- tising consultant) was exhorting ad agencies to recog- nize themselves for what they actually were — “one of the most advanced laboratories in psychology”. He said the successful ad agency “manipulates human motivations and desires and develops a need for goods with which the public has at one time been unfamiliar — perhaps even undesirous of purchasing”. The fol- lowing year Advertising Agency carried an ad man’s statement that psychology not only holds promise for understanding people but “ultimately for con- trolling their behavior”‘.
Such Statements lead Packard to remark: “With all this interest in manipulating the customer’s subconscious, the old slogan ‘let the buyer be- ware’ began taking on a new and more profbund meaning”^.
B. F. Skinner, the high priest of behaviorism, has expressed a similar assessment of advertising and related marketing techniques. Why, he asks, do we buy a certain kind of car?
Perhaps our favorite TV program is sponsored by the manufacturer of that car. Perhaps we have seen pic- tures of many beautiful or prestigeful persons driving it — in pleasant or glamorous places. Perhaps the car
has been designed with respect to our motivational patterns: the device on the hood is a phallic symbol; or the horsepower has been stepped up to please our competitive spirit in enabling us to pass other cars swiftly (or, as the advertisements say, ‘safely’). The concept of freedom that has emerged as part of the cultural practice of our group makes little or no pro- vision for recognizing or dealing vwth these kinds of control.^
In purchasing a car we may think we are free. Skinner is claiming, when in fact our act is com- pletely controlled by factors in our environment and in our history of reinforcement. Advertising is one such factor.
A look at some other advertising techniques may reinforce the suspicion that Madison Avenue controls us like so many puppets. T.V. watchers surely have noticed that some of the more repugnant ads are shown over and over again, ad nauseum. My favorite, or most hated, is the one about A-1 Steak Sauce which goes something like this: Now, ladies and gentlemen, what is hamburger? It has succeeded in destroying my taste for hamburger, but it has surely drilled the name of A-1 Sauce into my head. And that is the point of it. Its very repetitiousness has gener- ated what ad theorists call information. In this case it is indirect information, information derived not from the content of what is said but from the fact that it is said so often and so vivid- ly that it sticks in one’s mind — i.e., the infor- mation yield has increased. And not only do I always remember A-1 Sauce when I go to the grocers, I tend to assume that any product ad- vertised so often has to be good — and so I usually buy a bottle of the stuff.
Still another technique: On a recent show of the television program ‘Hard Choices’ it was demonstrated how subliminal suggestion can be used to control customers. In a New Orleans department store, messages to the effect that shoplifting is wrong, illegal, and subject to punishment were blended into the Muzak back- ground music and masked so as not to be con- sciously audible. The store reported a dramatic drop in shoplifting. The program host conjec- tured whether a logical extension of this tech- nique would be to broadcast subliminal adver- tising messages to the effect that the store’s
Advertising and Behavior Control
$15.99 sweater special is the “bargain of a life- time”. Actually, this application of subliminal suggestion to advertising has already taken place. Years ago in New Jersey a cinema was reported to have flashed subthreshold ice cream ads onto the screen during regtilar showings of the film — and, yes, the concession stand did a landslide business.^
Puffery, indirect information transfer, sub- liminal advertising — are these techniques of manipulation and control whose success shows that many of us have forfeited our autonomy and become a community, or herd, of packaged souls?^ The business world and the advertising industry certainly reject this interpretation of their efforts. Business Week, for example, dis- missed the charge that the science of behavior, as utilized by advertising, is engaged in human engineering and maniptilation. It editorialized to the effect that “it is hard to find anything very sinister about a science whose principle conclu- sion is that you get along with people by giving them what they want”*. The theme is familiar: businesses just give the consumer what he/she wants; if they didn’t they wouldn’t stay in busi- ness very long. Proof that the, consumer wants the products advertised is given by the fact that he buys them, and indeed often retturns to buy them again and again.
The techniques of advertising we are dis- cussing have had their more intellectual defenders as well. For example, Theodore Levitt, Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Busi- ness School, has defended the practice of puf- fery and the use of techniques depending on motivational research.” What would be the con- sequences, he asks us, of deleting all exaggerated claims and fanciful associations from advertise- ments? We would be left with literal descrip- tions of the empirical characteristics of products and their functions. Cosmetics would be present- ed as facial and bodily lotions and powders which produce certain odor and color changes; they would no longer offer hope or adventure. In addition to the fact that these products would not then sell as well, they would not, ac- cording to Levitt, please us as much either. For it is hope and adventure we want when we buy them. We want automobiles not just for trans-
portation, but for the feelings of power and status they give us. Quoting T. S. Eliot to the effect that “Human kind cannot bear very much reality”, Levitt argues that advertising is an effort to “transcend nature in the raw”, to “aug- ment what nature has so crudely fashioned”. He maintains that “everybody everywhere wants to modify, transform, embellish, enrich and recon- struct the world around him”. Commerce takes the same liberty with reality as the artist and the priest — in all three instances the purpose is “to influence the audience by creating illusions, symbols, and implications that promise more than pure functionality”. For example, “to amplify the temple in men’s eyes, (men of cloth) have, very realistically, systematically sanctioned the embellishment of the houses of the gods with the same kind of luxurious design and expensive decoration that Detroit puts into a Cadillac”. A poem, a temple, a Cadillac — they all elevate our spirits, offering imaginative prom- ises and symbolic interpretations of our mundane activities. Seen in this light, Levitt claims, “Em- bellishment and distortion are among advertising’s legitimate and socially desirable purposes”. To reject these techniques of advertising would be “to deny man’s honest needs and values”.
Philip Nelson, a Professor of Economics at SUNY-Binghamton, has developed an interesting defense of indirect information advertising.* He argues that even when the message (the direct in- formation) is not credible, the fact that the brand is advertised, and advertised frequently, is valuable indirect information for the consumer. The reason for this is that the brands advertised • most are more likely to be better buys — losers won’t be advertised a lot, for it simply wouldn’t pay to do so. Thus even if the advertising claims made for a widely advertised product are empty, the consumer reaps the benefit of the indirect information which shows the product to be a good buy. Nelson goes so far as to say that ad- vertising, seen as information and especially as indirect information, does not require an intelli- gent human response. If the indirect information has been received and has had its impact, the consumer vnil purchase the better buy even if his explicit reason for doing so is silly, e.g., he naively believes an endorsement of the product
Robert L. Arrington
by a celebrity. Even though his behavior is overt- ly irrational, by acting on the indirect informa- tion he is nevertheless doing what he ought to do, i.e., getting his money’s worth. ” ‘Irrational- ity’is rational”. Nelson writes, “if it is cost-free”.
I don’t know of any attempt to defend the use of subliminal suggestion in advertising, but I can imagine one form such an attempt might take. Advertising information, even if perceived below the level of conscious awareness, must appeal to some desire on the part of the audience if it is to trigger a purchasing response. Just as the admonition not to shoplift speaks directly to the superego, the sexual virtues of TR-7’s, Pongo Peach, and Betty Crocker cake mix present themselves directly to the id, bypassing the pesky reality principle of the ego. With a little help from our advertising friends, we may remove a few of the discontents of civilization and perhaps even enter into the paradise of poly- morphous perversity.’
The defense of advertising which suggests that advertising simply is information which allows us to purchase what we want, has in turn been challenged. Does business, largely through its ad- vertising efforts, really make available to the consumer what he/she desires and demands? John Kenneth Galbraith has denied that the matter is as straightforward as this.*” In his opinion the desires to which business is sup- posed to respond, far from being original to the consumer, are often themselves created by business. The producers make both the product and the desire for it, and the “central function” of advertising is “to create desires”. Galbraith coins the term ‘The Dependence Effect’- to designate the way wants depend on the same process by which they are satisfied.
David Braybrooke has argued in similar and related ways.” Even though the consumer is, in a sense, the final authority concerning what he wants, he may come to see, according to Bray- brooke, that he was mistaken in wanting what he did. The statement ‘I want x’, he tells us, is not incorrigible but is “ripe for revision”. If the consumer had more objective information than he is provided by product puffing, if his values had not been mixed up by motivational research strategies (e.g., the confusion of sexual and auto-
motive values), and if he had an expanded set of̂ choices instead of the limited set offered by profit-hungry corporations, then he might want something quite different from what he present- ly wants. This shows, Braybrooke thinks, the extent to which the consumer’s wants are a function of advertising and not necessarily representative of his real or true wants.
The central issue which emerges between the above critics and defenders of advertising is this: do the advertising techniques we have discussed involve a violation of human autonomy and a manipulation and control of consumer behavior, or do they simply provide an efficient and cost- effective means of giving the consumer informa- tion on the basis of which he or she makes a free choice. Is advertising information, or creation of desire?
To answer this question we need a better con- ceptual grasp of what is involved in the notion of autonomy. This is a complex, multifaceted con- cept, and we need to approach it through the more determinate notions of (a) autonomous desire, (b) rational desire and choice, (c) free choice, and (d) control or manipulation. In what follows I shall offer some tentative and very in- complete analyses of these concepts and apply the results to the case of advertising.
(a) Autonomous Desire. Imagine that I am watching T.V. and see an ad for Grecian Formu- la 16. The thought occurs to me that if I pur- chase some and apply it to my beard, I will soon look younger — in fact I might even be myself again. Suddenly I want to be myself! I want to be young again! So I rush out and buy a bottle. This is our question: was the desire to be younger manufactured by the commercial, or was it ‘original to me’ and truly mine? Was it autonomous or not?
F. A. von Hayek has argued plausibly that we should not equate nonautonomous desires, desires which are not original to me or truly mine, with those which are culturally induced.•̂ •̂ If we did equate the two, he points out, then the desires for music, art, and knowledge could not properly be attributed to a person as original to him, for these are surely induced culturally. The only desires a person would really have as his own in this case would be the purely physical
Advertising and Behavior Control
ones for food, shelter, sex, etc. But if we reject the equation of the nonautonomous and the cul- turally induced, as von Hayek would have us do, then the mere fact that my desire to be young again is caused by the T.V. commercial — surely an instrument of popular culture transmission — does not in and of itself show that this is not my own, autonomous desire. Moreover, even if I never before felt the need to look young, it doesn’t follow that this new desire is any less mine. I haven’t always liked 1969 Aloxe Corton Burgundy or the music of Satie, but when the desires for these things first hit me, they were truly mine.
This shows that there is something wrong in setting up the issue over advertising and behavior control as a question whether our desires are truly ours or are created in us by advertisements. Induced and autonomous desires do not separate into two mutually exclusive classes. To obtain a better understanding of autonomous and non- autonomous desires, let us consider some cases of a desire which a person does not acknowledge to be his own even though he feels it. The klep- tomaniac has a desire to steal which in many in- stances he repudiates, seeking by treatment to rid himself of it. And if I were suddenly over- taken by a desire to attend an REO concert, I would immediately disown this desire, claiming possession or momentary madness. These are examples of desires which one might have but with which one would not identify. They are experienced as foreign to one’s character or per- sonality. Often a person will have what Harry Frankfurt calls a second-order desire, that is to say, a desire not to have another desire.*^ In such cases, the first-order desire is thought of as being nonautonomous, imposed on one. When on the contrary a person has a second-order desire to maintain and fulfill a first-order desire, then the first-order desire is truly his own, auto- nomous, original to him. So there is in fact a dis- tinction between desires which are the .̂gent’s own and those which are not, but this is not the same as the distinction between desires which are innate to the agent and those which are ex- ternally induced.
if we apply the autonomous/nonautonomous distinction derived from Frankfurt to the desires
brought about by advertising, does this show that advertising is responsible for creating desires which are not truly the agent’s own? Not neces- sarily, and indeed not often. There may be some desires I feel which I have picked up from adver- tising and which I disown — for instance, my desire for A-1 Steak Sauce. If I act on these desires it can be said that I have been led by advertising to act in a way foreign to my nature. In these cases my autonomy has been violated. But most of the desires induced by advertising I fully accept, and hence most of these desires are autonomous. The most vivid demonstration of this is that I often return to ptirchase the same product over and over again, without regret or remorse. And when I don’t, it is more likely that the desire has just faded than that I have repudiated it. Hence, whUe advertising may violate my autonomy by leading me to act on desires which are not truly mine, this seems to be the exceptional case.
Note that this conclusion applies equally well to the case of subliminal advertising. This may generate subconscious desires which lead to pur- chases, and the act of purchasing these goods may be inconsistent with other conscious desires I have, in which case I might repudiate my be- havior and by implication the subconscious cause of it. But my subconscious desires may not be inconsistent in this way vnth my con- scious ones; my id may be cooperative and be- nign rather than hostile and malign.̂ ‘* Here again, then, advertising may or may not produce desires which are ‘not truly mine’.
What are we to say in response to Braybrooke’s argument that insofar as we might choose dif- ferently if advertisers gave us better information and more options, it follows that the desires we have are to be attributed more to advertising than to our own real inclinations? This claim seems empty. It amounts to saying that if the world we lived in, and we ourselves, were dif- ferent, then we would want different things. This is surely true, but it is equally true of our desire for shelter as of our desire for Grecian Formula 16. if we lived in a tropical paradise we would not need or desire shelter, if we were im- mortal, we would not desire youth. What is true of all desires can hardly be used as a basis for
8 Robert L. Arrington
criticizing some desires by claiming that they are nonautonomous.
(b) Rational Desire and Choice. Braybrooke might be interpreted as claiming that the desires induced by advertising are often irrational ones in the sense that they are not expressed by an agent who is in full possession of the facts about the products advertised or about the alternative products which might be offered him. Following this line of thought, a possible criticism of adver- tising is that it leads us to act on irrational desires or to make irrational choices. It might be said that our autonomy has been violated by the fact that we are prevented from following our rational wills or that we have been denied the ‘positive freedom’ to develop our true, rational selves. It might be claimed that the desires in- duced in us by advertising are false desires in that they do not reflect our essential, i.e., rational, essence.
The problem faced by this line of criticism is that of determining what is to count as rational desire or rational choice. If we require that the desire or choice be the product of an awareness of all the facts about the product, then surely every one of us is always moved by irrational desires and makes nothing but irrational choices. How could we know all the facts about a prod- uct? If it be required only that we possess all of the available knowledge about the product ad- vertised, then we still have to face the problem that not all available knowledge is relevant to a rational choice. If I am purchasing a car, certain engineering features will be, and others won’t be, relevant, given what I want in a car. My prior desires determine the relevance of information. Normally a rational desire or choice is thought to be one based upon relevant information, and information is relevant if it shows how other, prior desires may be satisfied. It can plausibly be claimed that it is such prior desires that adver- tising agencies acknowledge, and that the agen- cies often provide the type of information that is relevant in light of these desires. To the extent that this is true, advertising does not inhibit our rational wills or our autonomy as rational crea- tures.
It may be urged that much of the puffery en- gaged in by advertising does not provide relevant
information at all but rather makes claims which are not factually true, if someone buys Pongo Peach in anticipation of an adventure in para- dise, or Old Charter in expectation of increasing the value of his holdings, then he/she is expect- ing purely imaginary benefits. In no literal sense will the one product provide adventure and the other increased capital. A purchasing decision based on anticipation of imaginary benefits is not, it might said, a rational decision, and a desire for imaginary benefits is not a rational desire.
In rejoinder it needs to be pointed out that we often wish to purchase subjective effects which in being subjective are nevertheless real enough. The feeling of adventure or of enhanced social prestige and value are examples of sub- jective effects promised by advertising. Surely many (most?) advertisements directly promise subjective effects which their patrons actually desire (and obtain when they purchase the prod- uct), and thus the ads provide relevant informa- tion for rational choice. Moreover, advertise- ments often provide accurate indirect informa- tion on the basis of which a person who wants a certain subjective effect rationally chooses a product. The mechanism involved here is as fol- lows.
To the extent that a consumer takes an adver- tised product to offer a subjective effect and the product does not, it is unlikely that it will be purchased again, if this happens in a number of cases, the product vdll be taken off the market. So here the market regulates itself, providing the mechanism whereby misleading advertise- ments are withdrawn and misled customers are no longer misled. At the same time, a successful bit of puffery, being one which leads to large and repeated sales, produces satisfied customers and more advertising of the product. The in- direct information provided by such large-scale advertising efforts provides a measure of verifica- tion to the consumer who is looking for certain kinds of subjective effect. For example, if I want to feel well dressed and in fashion, and I con- sider buying an Izod Alligator shirt which is ad- vertised in all of the magazines and newspapers, then the fact that other people buy it and that this leads to repeated advertisements shows me
Advertising and Behavior Control
that the desired subjective effect is real enough and that I indeed wHl be well dressed and in fashion if I purchase the shirt. The indirect in- formation may lead to a rational d’ecision to pur- chase a product because the information testifies to the subjective effect that the product brings about. *̂
Some philosophers will be unhappy with the conclusion of this section, largely because they have a concept of true, rational, or ideal desire which is not the same as the one used here. A Marxist, for instance, may urge that any desire felt by alienated man in a capitalistic society is foreign to his true nature. Or an existentialist may claim that the desires of inauthentic men are themselves inauthentic. Such concepts are based upon general theories of human nature which are unsubstantiated and perhaps incapable of substantiation. Moreover, each of these theories is committed to a concept of an ideal desire which is normatively debatable and which is distinct from the ordinary concept of a rational desire as one based upon relevant infor- mation. But it is in the terms of the ordinary concept that we express our concern that adver- tising may limit our autonomy in the sense of leading us to act on irrational desires, and if we operate with this concept we are driven again to the conclusion that advertising may lead, but probably most often does not lead, to an in- fringement of autonomy.
(c) Free Choice. It might be said that some desires are so strong or so covert that a person cannot resist them, and that when he acts on such desires he is not acting freely or voluntarily but is rather the victim of irresistible impulse or an unconscious drive. Perhaps those who con- demn advertising feel that it produces this kind of desire in us and consequently, reduces our autonomy.
This raises a very difficult issue. How do we distinguish between an imptilse we do not resist and one we could not resist, between^ freely giving in to a desire and succumbing to one? I have argued elsewhere that the way to get at this issue is in terms of the notion of acting for a rea- son.*^ A person acts or chooses freely if he does so for a reason, that is, if he can adduce con- siderations which justify in his mind the act in
question. Many of our actions are in fact free because this condition frequently holds. Often, however, a person wHl act from habit, or whim, or impulse, and on these occasions he does not have a reason in mind. Nevertheless he often acts voluntarily in these instances, i.e., he could have acted otherwise. And this is because if there had been a reason for acting otherwise of which he was aware, he wotild in fact have done so. Thus acting from habit or impulse is not necessarily to act in an involuntary manner, if, however, a person is aware of a good reason to do X and still follows his impulse to do y, then he can be said to be impelled by irresistible im- pulse and hence to act involuntarily. Many klep- tomaniacs can be said to act involuntarily, for in spite of their knowledge that they likely will be caught and their awareness that the goods they steal have little utilitarian value to them, they nevertheless steal. Here their ‘out of charac- ter’ desires have the upper hand, and we have a case of comptalsive behavior.
Applying these notions of voluntary and com- pulsive behavior to the case of behavior prompted by advertising, can we say that consumers in- fluenced by advertising act comptilsively? The unexciting answer is: sometimes they do, some- times not. I may have an overwhelming, T.V. in- duced urge to own a Mazda Rx-7 and all the while realize that I can’t afford one without severely reducing my family’s caloric intake to a dangerous level. If, aware of this good reason not to purchase the car, I nevertheless do so, this shows that I have been the victim of T.V. com- pulsion. But if I have the urge, as I assure you I do, and don’t act on it, or if in some other possible world I cotild afford an Rx-7, then I have not been the subject of undue influence by Mazda advertising. Some Mazda Rx-7 pur- chasers act compulsively; others do not. The Mazda advertising effort in general cannot be condemned, then, for impairing its customers’ autonomy in the sense of limiting free or volun- tary choice. Of course the question remains what should be done about the fact that adver- tising may and does occasionally limit free choice. We shall return to this question later.
In the case of subliminal advertising we may find an individual whose subconscious desires