Why Do We Encourage the Spread of Advertising?

Advertising is a social disease that increasingly threatens the very fabric of our society. So why do we promote its spread? In this era of budget balancing why do we continue to provide government subsidies of $20-30 billion a year to this industry?Ads are not intended to inform. They are meant to compel. And recently hucksters have become increasingly aggressive as they strive to focus our attention on their message.In October, AdEdge will install 10 inch video advertising monitors on the shelves of three southwestern supermarkets. "Screens will be silent at first, until the public gets used to the idea," a company official told Business Week. But when the national rollout takes place next year, expect to be bombarded not only by sights but also sound as you walk down the food aisles.After plunking down $7-9, movie audiences now must sit through up to 10 minutes of ads. When on-screen ads debuted in the U.S. more than a decade ago, calls Business Week, "audiences greeted them with open hostility. but over the years...the booing has died down." We've grown passive in the face of this assault. Movie chains expect to reap an additional $100 million in revenues as a result. Says Howard Lichtman, Executive VP of Toronto-based Cineplex Odeon Cinema, "This is a solid legitimate revenue stream for us." To my knowledge no movie chain that has introduced ads has lowered ticket prices.T.v. stations now interrupt programs every 8 minutes or so for several minutes of commercials. In the last year stations have begun to display their name and logo on the screen throughout the entire show, except of course, not during commercials.Advertising on the Internet is growing rapidly, but advertisers are frustrated by the passivity of the current ads; a banner at the top or bottom of the screen. Companies are testing pop-up ads and "intermercials" that will forcibly compel the user's attention.Ads invade our psyches and fracture our attention span. Yet the damage that the advertising industry does goes far beyond the psychological. Increasingly, advertisers are influencing what we read or hear or see. As the Boston Globe reports, "relations between advertisers and the mass media are tighter than at any time in the past decade".Laurence Soley, professor of communications at Marquette University surveyed investigative reporters and editors at commercial t.v. stations. Seventy-four percent said advertisers had tried to influence the content of a news story. Forty percent said the advertiser had succeeded. Chrysler now requires written summaries prior to publication of all articles that "might be construed as provocative" from the 100 magazines that carry its ads.Last year KCBS-TV in Los Angeles fired noted consumer reporter David Horowitz when local auto dealers complained about his stories on car safety.Joann Schellenbach of the American Cancer society has noted that womenÕs magazines often publish articles about breast cancer, ovarian cancer and skin cancer, but almost never discuss lung cancer, even though lung cancer is the fastest growing cancer affecting women. Why? They fear that the big spending tobacco companies will pull their ads. A 1992 statistical study by the New England Journal of Medicine concluded, "Magazines that did not carry advertisements for cigarettes were almost twice as likely to cover the dangers of smoking as those that did."We now spend than 2 percent of our gross domestic product on advertising and that share continues to grow. What can we do to curtail this assault on civic society? First, recognize that at best, advertising is a necessary evil and at worst it is harmful to the nation's health. It is a behavior to be minimized, not glorified, aided and abetted.We can't ban ads because the Supreme Court insists that commercials are protected by the First Amendment. What we can do is abolish the indefensible tax deduction we now allow advertisers. That subsidy costs the U.S. Treasury $20 to 30 billion a year. Eliminate it and we would generate sufficient revenue to fix up the nation's schools, provide health care for all children with enough left over to double the book budget of the nation's public libraries. That's the kind of trade-off I think the American people would enthusiastically support.Advertising has become one of the most virulent forms of pollution this nation produces. Its time we let the industry know that we think they are now doing far more harm than good. Stripping advertisers of their tax subsidy would make that loud and clear.

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