Should We Ban Manipulative Marketing?

You may have heard that some European countries have banned models that are underweight because seeing them has a harmful effect on teenage girls.

Should we be thinking about the negative societal effects of marketing? Should we ban marketing that is based on manipulating people by harming their self-esteem or encouraging them to do unhealthy things?  Should we ban advertising that utilizes techniques that effect how our brains work?  Should we demand that ads stop distracting us from our thoughts?  I have been wondering about this.

Marketers today are learning how to reach down into the wiring of the brain itself, to manipulate us at a level that we do not consciously perceive and cannot control.  Science has come a long way in recent decades.  There is a new kind of marketing called neuromarketing that actually uses brain scans to measure how our brains react to certain stimuli.  We are in danger of marketers using the information gained from these new techniques to come up with ways to sell us things and make us do things and we may in many cases be literally unable to resist.

It is not unprecedented to think about restricting marketing, even in the "free market" United States.  We have confronted the problem of people being harmed by marketing in the past, with tobacco advertising and false claims of medical benefits.  It used to be against regulations to make false claims in TV ads.  But by and large companies have free range to manipulate people as they see fit.

But today we have an epidemic of obesity, the result of food-company marketing.  The companies have learned to literally manipulate our metabolisms to the point where many of us cannot resist overeating.  When you have a third of all of our people obese and another third seriously overweight it is obvious that the problem is not "self-control."  The problem is systemic and beyond an individual's ability to control.  Don't we as a society have an obligation to step in and correct this?

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card


Thanks for your support!

Did you enjoy AlterNet this year? Join us! We're offering AlterNet ad-free for 15% off - just $2 per week. From now until March 15th.