The following research is on the subject of the psychological effects of advertising. Advertising is a form of communication which is intended to sway people in a particular direction, to influence the audience to purchase a product or service. There is a tacit understanding of this fact on the part of the audience, but this does not mean that the people in the audience–whether it be for television, magazines, books, or newspapers–are able to control fully their own reactions. Advertising operates on many different levels, and there are subliminal messages in advertising that influence the thinking of the public. Many of these messages are certainly inadvertent, deriving from the prejudices and attitudes that are prevalent in a society at a given time. However, many others are intentional, designed to attract the viewer and to guide his or her thinking into certain channels for the furtherance of the major aim of advertising–the sale of the product.
Advertising agencies make use of their knowledge of psychology to devise campaigns that will appeal to our desires and needs. Vance Packard says this is a large-scale effort “to channel our unthinking habits, our purchasing decisions, and our thought processes by the use of insights gleaned from psychiatry and the social sciences” (3). Like many critics of this growing trend, Packard finds some of this amusing and some disquieting, and he also notes that there may be even more and more potent manipulative advertising in store for us in the future. He says that “mass psychoanalysis” is now used to guide campaigns. The selling of products is the major use of these techniques, and they are changing completely the way things are sold, the buying habits of the people, the advertising of these products, and therefore the economic structure of the nation (3-4). Many critics consider this blatant victimization of the public, finding that the people have been manipulated through the use of subliminal stimuli directed into the unconscious mind by the advertisers of the nation. Techniques of this sort are in wide use by media, advertising and public relations agencies, industrial and commercial corporations, and by the Federal government itself. Wilson Brian Key feels that subliminal perception is being used by advertisers in service to this manipulation, which goes much farther than simply lying about products or using prejudices as selling tools (1).
Packard points out that there are serious antihumanistic implications to this manipulation, with much of it being regress rather than progress for the human being. Interestingly, there is a dichotomy between the way the typical American citizen is portrayed in the media and the way he is manipulated by these advertising concerns. On the one hand, the typical American is considered a shrewd individual and is dramatized as a thoughtful voter, rugged individualist, and above all as a careful and hardheaded consumer of the many products created by American enterprise. Most Americans like to try to fit themselves into that picture, which is certainly flattering. Packard, however, feels that the persuaders in our society use this image to manipulate and direct behavior. They see the American people in a very different light. They see the people in psychological terms as a collection of daydreams, hidden yearnings, guilt complexes, and irrational emotional blockages. Packard notes: “They have found the supporting evidence for this view persuasive enough to encourage them to turn to depth channels on a large scale in their efforts to influence our behavior” (7).
Scientists, psychiatrists, social scientists, and other experts are involved with the advertisers in devising the means of manipulating the energies and desires of the public. Motivation research is the basic tool used by them to determine how to proceed. They add depth to the selling of ideas and products and have learned to offer the consumer more than the actual item involved. Packard cites an advertising executive who notes that women will pay much more for skin cream than they will for a bar of soap because of the promises made: soap promises to make them clean, but skin cream promises to make them beautiful. Soap has since started promising beauty as well as cleanliness. More than products are involved in this persuasion, however, for publicists, fund raisers, politicians, and industrial personnel experts are also entering the field, all with something to promote (7-8).
What is the main tool of these promoters in our society? The main tool has become the very media through which they convey their messages, as has been pointed out by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore. They note that societies have always been shaped more by the nature of their media than by the content of the communication, and for that matter the content as well is shaped by the nature of the communications media. McLuhan and Fiore think that the type of media involved in the society shapes the way in which that society thinks and the forms of communication as well as the impact of those communications. They notes that the technology which produced print as the prime means of communication fostered and encouraged a fragmenting process which led to specialism and detachment; electronic technology, however, fosters and encourages unification and involvement: “It is impossible to understand social and cultural changes without a knowledge of the workings of the media” (n.p.).
Advertising people carefully research the way people view the media and which of the media attract the most attention. In their investigations, there are a number of assumptions that are evident as the basis for their considerations. Packard cites three basic assumptions.
First, they assume that it is not possible to assume what people want. Surveys therefore become necessary, but such surveys clearly do not necessarily prove what the people want or why. Often, in fact, it is clear that they do not know why themselves. In effect, interviews have been shown to produce false data as well.
Second, marketers concluded that it is not possible to assume people will tell the truth about their likes and their dislikes even if they know them. They assume that the people want to appear as really sensible, intelligent, rational beings to the outside world, and therefore the answers given by people are intended to protect this image. Various surveys have shown this fact to be true, for people will often pretend their tastes are more refined than they actually are for the sake of the image they wish to maintain and project to others.
Third, the persuaders assume that it is dangerous to assume that people can be trusted to behave in a rational way, and that in fact people are prone to act in an irrational fashion. Studies by the Color Research Institute demonstrated this irrationality in the selection of detergents based on the color of the box (Packard 14-16).
What Packard is discussing is the thinking which went on in advertising agencies leading to the view now taken of the subject. That is, as the agencies became convinced of the irrationality of the buying public, they turned to various means for manipulating that irrational behavior. Marketers were troubled by the fact that people were too easily satisfied with what they had, and therefore the idea that everyone could enjoy a higher standard of living was highly publicized. The people were told to consume more and more for the good of the economy, whether they wanted the goods they were to purchase or not. During the 1950s, much comment was made on our expanding economy as a result of this view gaining prevalence. The manufacturers produced more and more, and their answer to overproduction was to increase consumption rather than to cut back on that production. In the 1950s, such overproduction was threatening on many fronts, and at that time a fundamental shift took place in the preoccupation of those in the executive positions In this nation. Production took a secondary position in their thinking, with the primary position being held by the considerations of the market and consumption. The amount of money being spent to convince the American people to purchase products increased dramatically, now becoming a major percentage expenditure of the money made by American companies. The marketers began creating wants in people that they still did not realize existed. They worked to overcome the obstacles in their path. The fact that the American people were happy with what they had to be changed, and “psychological obsolescence” was something ad men tried to create. Automobile manufacturers, for instance, wanted to make people ashamed to drive a car that was more than two or three years old. Other products as well started thinking in this fashion.
Another major obstacle that had to be overcome was the increasing standardization of the products in America, the increasing sameness. This called for more powerful tools of persuasion, because all brands were considered equally good. Advertisers had to create differences, or at least a sense of differences, and in this way turn the people toward a different point of view. This meant a search for more persuasive methods of selling, advertising, and finally manipulating the people, and eventually this led to the reliance on psychology and the appeal to the unconscious desires and motivations of the individual (Packard 21-23).
Christopher Lasch notes the changing view taken by the owners toward the working class during American history. In the early days of industrial capitalism, the employers viewed the workingman as a beast of burden. They saw the worker as nothing more than a producer, and they cared nothing for his leisure time, what little there was of it after working 12 or more hours per day. Few of the capitalists realized at that time that the worker might be useful as a consumer. That realization came with mass production, when the capitalists saw that they must educate the masses to consumerism, educate them in the culture of consumption. The American economy had reached the point where its technology was capable of satisfying basic material needs; now, it relied on the creation of new consumer demands by convincing people to buy goods they had been unaware of needing until that “need” is forcibly brought to their attention by the mass media. Earlier, advertising had called attention to the product and extolled its advantages; now, it manufactured a product of its own: the consumer himself, perpetually unsatisfied, restless, anxious, and bored. Advertising now does more than to advertise products–it also promotes consumption as a way of life, and in fact this is becoming its primary function. Consumption is held up as the answer to age-old problems such as loneliness, sickness, weariness, and lack of sexual satisfaction. At the same time, advertising creates new forms of discontent peculiar to the modern age, playing seductively on the malaise of industrial civilization. There is an attempt to surround commodities with an aura of romance, with allusions to exotic places and vivid experiences, and with images of female breasts from which all blessings flow. This propaganda first of all upholds consumption as an alternative to protest or rebellion, and it also turns alienation itself into a commodity (135-138).
Lasch points out something that is very similar to what McLuhan notes when he writes of certain critics of the mass media: “Much of the commentary assumes that the problem is to prevent the circulation of obvious untruths; whereas it is evident . . . that the rise of mass media makes the categories of truth and falsehood irrelevant to an evaluation of their influence” (140-141). Instead of truth, we deal in credibility, and facts give way to statements that sound authoritative without conveying any authoritative information (140-141).
Advertisers sought to appeal to the subconscious of the target audience, and therefore it was necessary to explore the area involving our secret miseries and self-doubts. They wished to manipulate our guilt feelings, fears, anxieties, hostilities, feelings of loneliness, and inner tensions. Some of these were more difficult than others with which the advertisers had to cope. Guilt, for instance, proved to be one of the major problems the motivational analysts had to consider, for Americans are still basically puritans at heart. It was determined by Dr. Dichter, therefore, that every time the product involved was a self-indulgent one, it was necessary to assuage the guilt feelings of the purchaser in order to sell him.
Advertisers must discover the hidden motivations that make people act as they do, particularly act irrationally. Packard cites the instance of cigarette advertising. People were vaguely aware that cigarettes were not good for their health long before the evidence linking cigarettes with cancer–and myriad other disorders and diseases–was publicized, but still they smoked. Advertisers in general were basing their appeal on the idea that smoking brought about dreamy happiness, or they tried to lure people with the subliminal message: “This won’t kill you.” Dr. Dichter determined that this approach was wrong, and he hired Social Research, Inc., to make a thorough study for his Institute for Motivational Research. The report that was made received wide circulation in merchandising circles. A dozen reasons were found why many people continue to smoke despite their feelings of guilt about the habit. Among these reasons are the following: for the relief of tension, to express sociability, as a reward for effort, as an aid to poise, as an aid in anticipating stress, as proof of daring, as proof of conformity, because it is an accustomed ritual. People held a cigarette when in a room full of people because it made them feel less nervous and more poised. The major discovery of this investigation, however, was that Americans smoke to prove they are people of virile maturity. Smoking is seen as proving their vigor and potency (which is interesting because in fact smoking lessens these traits in the human body). States the report: “This is a psychological satisfaction sufficient to overcome health fears, to withstand moral censure, ridicule, or even the paradoxical weakness of ‘enslavement to habit'” (Packard 59). Smoking is therefore an emotional and psychological issue, and reason does not seem to be part of the process to any significant degree. This habit is not rational, as is shown by the fact that young people smoke to seem older and older people smoke to seem younger. The motivational analyst therefore changed the way advertising approached this subject during the 1950s. Ads then showed people under pressure or smoking as a reward for tough jobs done. The characters seen in these ads exuded virile maturity, and the negative medical claims were hidden.
Smoking is not the only activity that received such treatment, for the consumption of sugar by Americans also elicits feelings of guilt of a different variety, and the advertisers had to overcome this problem as well if they were to hawk their wares. The public was shunning anything conspicuously sweet or sugary, and publicity concerning the dangers of being overweight and of tooth decay added to the feelings of guilt experienced by the consumer. There was something of a war over the affections of the consumer involved in this, for much of the publicity concerning the harmful effects of sugar was generated by manufacturers of low-calorie foods and sugar substitutes. Again, Dr. Dichter and his motivational analysts-studied the psychology of those who purchased the sugared products to determine again their reason for doing so in spite of their feelings of guilt. The purpose of this was again to devise a selling strategy. One candy firm came up with the idea that the consumer could be rewarding himself with the purchase and consumption of the sweet, and they played this idea up in their advertising. Sales doubled in test areas (Packard 57-61).
It should be apparent that these sales methods were proving effective, and therefore the use of marketing research and psychological profiles increased. The advertisers sought extra psychological values that they could add to their product to make it more appealing, and they studied our subconscious needs, yearnings, and cravings to this end. First, the need was identified and certified to be compelling; then, the motivational people began building the promise of its fulfillment into their sales presentations, even on such unlikely products as air conditioners, cake mixes, and motorboats. Packard describes eight hidden needs in particular, eight needs which these advertisers have used in their campaigns: emotional security, reassurance of worth, ego-gratification, creative outlets, love objects, a sense of power, a sense of roots, immortality. Consider this last in particular–immortality. Clearly, no salesman can deliver on this promise, but still the promise itself fills an emotional need. Packard discusses a conference of insurance men at which it was noted that most of the then current selling messages were considered to be blind to the realities of the breadwinner of the house, the man who is usually making the decisions concerning insurance. Those ads typically either glorified the persistence and helpfulness of the insurance agent or else portrayed the comfortable pattern of life the family would have after the death of the breadwinner as a result of the insurance. It was stated that both approaches are absolutely wrong. Studies had noted the desire for immortality on the part of men purchasing insurance, and therefore more effective advertising would concentrate on the emotional problems of the buyer himself rather than picturing the comfort of the survivors (Packard 72-83).
There are hidden messages in these approaches that call to the subconscious desires and needs of the individual. One of the major hidden–and not so hidden–needs of the individual is for greater sexual gratification, and advertisers appeal to the sexual appetites of the consumer in blatant and hidden ways both. Key states that it is not possible to pick up a newspaper, magazine, or pamphlet, or hear radio, or view television anywhere in the United States without being assaulted subliminally by sexual matter. The cover of his book sports a photograph of a drink, and he says that the ice cubes in the glass spell SEX if looked at in a certain fashion; however, the appearance of the word operates on the viewer unconsciously in any case. He writes: “Readers make such illusions invisible to the conscious mind through a psychological device psychologists have labeled repression, one of the perceptual defenses” (Key 5).
As evidence, Key notes that this Gilbey’s ad was tested on over a thousand subjects. Sixty-two percent of the men and women tested reported feelings of sexual stimulation or excitement as a result of viewing this ad. Male test subjects seemed to resist a conscious response to the content of the ad slightly more than did women, but none of the men or women tested was aware consciously of the subliminal content or discovered this secret until it was explained to them after their responses had been recorded. This ad is designed to sell the product through a subliminal appeal to latent voyeuristic or exhibitionistic tendencies within the unconscious minds of those who viewed it. Key says this is not at all an isolated instance of subliminal manipulation through pornographic content, and that in fact the mass media is saturated with similar sexual manipulations. Key notes that there are serious moral implications in the use of such subliminal techniques in public communication, and the right of the individual to decide issues on the basis of free will is threatened by these techniques. There is also the question of invasion of privacy involved here, for there is nothing more private to an individual than his unconscious mind.
Key also finds that this subliminal persuasion is dangerous to the mental health of the populace, for in the service of commercial profit, highly skilled technicians probe into and manipulate the most intimate, subtle, and complicated mechanism of the human nervous system. These techniques elicit other reactions than those intended. The same Gilbey’s ad that elicited sexual feelings also elicited feelings of fear from none and one-half percent of the test subjects. The size of the test sample is too small to make accurate projections, but in the entire population that saw the ad there is a distinct possibility that millions could have experienced pronounced negative feelings with only a short period of exposure to the ad (7-9).
Sex as a sales promoter has long been understood, and sex images have been used by ad men as attention-getters if nothing else. With the depth approach to advertising, however, sex took on deeper ramifications and subtleties, with penetration to deeper levels of consciousness being sought. The earlier approach in which the woman was promised that she would get her man was found to leave the buyer frequently disappointed and resentful. If the first bottle of perfume failed to deliver on the sexual promise of the advertising, it was then difficult to sell the second bottle to the consumer (Packard 84).
One thing has been clear since the 1950s–motivational research has become a vital tool of advertising. Dr. Dichter and his associates during the 1950s were asked to investigate the appeal of sexual matters as well, and they often found startling psychological truths at the bottom of the purchasing habits of the American people. Also, some of the twists given sex took odd forms. A major fountain pen company had a study made on the sensuality and sexual connotations of pens. The conclusion was that the pen is experienced as a body image by men, and that this is the reason they will pay up to fifteen dollars for a pen with an image that is particularly satisfying to them, even though a cheaper one would write just as well (Packard 86).
Analysts found that products have fundamental differences in meaning for men and women, and this knowledge enabled merchandisers to be more precise in shaping their appeals. Consider the case of a new car, about which there is a gap in motivations concerning the attitude of men and women toward it. The woman wants to ride in the new car, but the man wants to polish it and take care of it. Women have had increasing influence in the purchase of automobiles, and advertisers and car makers take this into account, and they emphasize safety and style as a result. Dr. Dichter pointed out to manufacturers that they were gearing their advertising to the wrong sex, appealing to the man of the family in reference to filling station products because the man was considered the practical member of the family. Dr. Dichter reported that the woman had taken over the fixing of the car, and therefore the advertising should be geared toward the woman (Packard 92-93).
One of the most distressing aspects of the seductive qualities being infused into advertising centers on the advertising that is aimed at children, and there has been much concern over this in recent years. Children are considered incapable of making the distinctions concerning the veracity of advertising that adults can (though adults are also incapable of fending off the effects on their subconscious of so much of advertising today). David Riesman noted the changes taking place in American character during this century, noting that children were actually consumer trainees. In earlier times, boys’ magazines concentrated on training the young for the frontiers of production; today, however, the training is for the individual to consume as much as possible. Advertising therefore builds eager consumers for the future. This question was addressed directly by the Gilbert Youth Research head in the mid-1950s, noting that it was necessary to target the youth market as effectively as possible. Packard cites an ad in Printer’s Ink some years ago which bluntly stated that: “Eager minds can be molded to want your products!” Efforts are made to make young people loyal followers of a certain brand. The potency of television in conditioning the young to be enthusiasts for a product is incredible and became indisputable during the 1950s (Packard 157-159).
It is also clear that the subliminal language utilizes so effectively by so many advertisers is taught to the young through television. As McLuhan notes, the very nature of the medium indicates how messages are to be transmitted and received, and the exposure of the young to the media from an early age trains them without their knowing that this is taking place. Lasch notes that images dominate American society, and television clearly deals in images over actual content. There is a clear relationship between advertising and propaganda that relates to the importance of image: “the important consideration is not whether information accurately describes an objective situation but whether it sounds true” (Lasch 143). Television deals in this sort of approach, and the power of television to convince young minds of the truth of claims is regarded highly in advertising circles.
Adults are not immune from this sort of thing, either, and clearly most advertising is designed to induce the adult to purchase things. However, the adult who has grown up with the mass media has been trained to follow the precepts of commercials and other kinds of advertising, and generally this is what happens.
There are many different techniques used by advertisers to elicit the desired action from the individual, many of them deriving from the forms of the mass media as they have been developed. McLuhan and Fiore discus many of the concepts that have been linked forcefully in the media and which have become familiar-though perhaps-unconsciously so–to readers and viewers in America. They state that the commercials “reflect a truer understanding of the medium” of television than do other programming materials. They also feels that there is no time for the narrative form, and that therefore the concept of the story line–borrowed from earlier print technology–had to be abandoned. Television commercials are influencing contemporary literature. McLuhan and Fiore say that the main disappointment in television is the failure of its critics to view it as a totally new technology demanding different sensory responses, for these critics insist on viewing television as simply a degraded form of print technology. They also state that the popular films of the day have derived their form and techniques from these same commercials (n.p.). Advertising forms are therefore having an impact far afield from their intended purpose, and this impact is as sublimated and unconscious as the results in the area of advertising itself.
Key notes that one of the most effective general techniques in dealing with the media audience is to tell them what they want to hear or what they need to hear at both the conscious and the unconscious levels. Audiences have idealized views of themselves and also of what they wish the world were like, and these things are projected through the mirror of the media. What the individual receives back is his own idealized self-image. It must also be recognized that the control and maintenance of the audience on behalf of the advertisers is the fundamental reason for being for the American mass media. The media must reinforce existing attitudes and perspectives in order to accomplish this. The media rarely bring about any attitudinal change in the reader’s view of himself and the world around him, and indeed this is not the intention of the media. The American media does provide a myriad of different viewpoints, attitudes, beliefs, and opinions; however, virtually no one reads from this great abundance but rather seeks out that which tells him what he wants to hear. This phenomenon–which McLuhan calls Narcissus Narcosis–operates on the unconscious level and includes a hypnotic effect. The audience is unaware of what is happening in the mind, and the media must keep the audience in ignorance if it is to succeed in maintaining the attitudes of the viewers. The entire field of mass communication is therefore shielded by a self-flattering mystique that effectively keeps the audience from seeing how it is done. Institutionalized public relations programs, historical traditions constantly reinterpreted and updated to serve the needs of the present, and the endless catering to the audience’s idealized view of itself reinforce the basic mechanism of the sublimation of the audience psyches (Key 81-88).
Key further states that the use of subliminal stimuli for the purpose of motivating the audiences in the various media has reached a state of high proficiency. The motive behind advertising is simplicity itself–to sell and sell. The means of communication to achieve this goal, however, are well hidden (89).
Psychologists have also investigated the reason why women buy impulsively in supermarkets, and the insights gained influenced advertising techniques after that. It was suspected that some psychology was going on inside women shopping under these circumstances. Investigators found that the women went into a hypnoidal state as they shopped, something akin to the first stage of hypnosis. The investigator decided that the main cause of this trance was the fact that the supermarket is packed with products that can be purchased, whereas in former times only kings or queens could have hoped to acquire all these things. When the woman had filled their shopping cart and were on their way to the check-out stand, they would move as in a trance until the sound of the cash-register bell brought them back to reality.
Psychologists and merchandising experts have teamed in reference to impulse buying to persuade the woman to buy products she may not particularly need or even want until she happens to find them in the market. The manner in which the supermarket aisle is set up, the packaging of the products, various displays–all these and other elements of the shopping experience are used and directed to cause the shopper to purchase more than she may have intended and to buy on impulse without realizing that she is being directed subconsciously to do so. A good package design operates on the eye of the shopper like a beacon, and certain colors–such as red and yellow–are helpful in creating hypnotic effects. The name of the product on the box is considered unimportant, and the other elements of packaging are the real draw. (This relates to the ideas of McLuhan that the visual image is stronger than the word and that the television image has had a profound influence on other forms of persuasion. Packagers seek symbols that have a dreamlike quality. One designer cites such instances of dreamlike symbols as the mouth-watering frosted cakes that decorate the packages of cake mixes, sizzling steaks, mushrooms frying in butter. The idea here is to sell the sizzle rather than the meat, and the illustrations used help the woman’s mind leap ahead to imagine the end product. The people who design packages belief that the package makes or breaks the impulse sale. Among the tools used to assure this are ocular or eye-movement tests to show how the consumer’s eye will travel over the package on the shelf, and such tests are a gauge of the attention-holding power of the design. Psychologists have refined their analysis to the point where they feel that a woman’s eye is most quickly attracted to items wrapped in red, while a man’s is most quickly attracted to items wrapped in blue.
The manner in which the market is laid out is another important factor in impulse buying. Most markets are laid out so that the high-profit impulse items are those most surely noticed. In some stores, they would be on the first or only aisle a shopper would enter. Among the most tempting products are items in glass jar’s where the contents can be seen, or where the food is actually out in the open. Free pickles and cubes of cheese prove to be reliable sales boosters. A little extravagance is also a boon to impulse buying. One supermarket in California found that placing a pat of butter on top of each of its better steaks could increase sales by fifteen percent. These many methods of persuasion in the supermarket, notes Packard, might account for the fact that the average American family used to spend about 23 percent of its income on food and now spends about 30 percent. It would be possible for a shopper to save 25 percent on the family food bill by judicious shopping and avoidance of impulse buying (Packard 107-111).
It should also be noted that the buying public has hidden aversions which motivational analysis helped marketing people overcome. Such resistance often seemed blindly unreasoning and could not be dislodged through the standard methods of persuasion. It was found that many of these hidden aversions were based on our unreasoned, or seemingly unreasoned, prejudice against certain products offered for sale (Packard 136). The job of the motivational researcher has been to persuade people to purchase products burdened by such aversions. They have had considerable success in this regard. There is the matter of instant coffee, for example. This was not selling despite the fact that the product had the advantage of quick, easy preparation as well as being relatively inexpensive. In addition, more-money by far was being spent to promote this than regular coffee, and yet still it trailed in sales. Efforts therefore were made to find out why this was so. Most people reported that they did not like the taste, but it was demonstrated that the words “instant coffee” were loaded with unfortunate connotations and drove people away. These words did not have warm emotional overtones. The makers of regular coffee stressed such things as aroma, flavor, rich body–words that made you feel and smell the coffee percolating. Therefore, advertisers took a cue from the sellers of regular coffee, and their ads worked energetically to build emotional overtone and social status into their product. Visual images of the coffee granules graced the ads, and key words were emphasized for effect. Proper social form was also emphasized, linking the use of this coffee with proper social graces. Through these means, instant coffee achieved mass acceptance after being on the market more than a decade (Packard 141-143).
The fact that techniques such as these have been in use for some time has not gone unnoticed, but it is only recently that widespread concern over the fact has been seen. There are many reasons for this, of course, and the fact that the media have come under criticism for other problems–news manipulation, excessive power, advertising specifically for children, poor programming on television–has made criticism in this area also greater. As well, there has been particular concern since the techniques of mass communications advertising and manipulation have been taken over by political figures and people backing special legislative interests. What this really says is that we can tolerate being manipulated in the marketplace, but not in the political arena. Manipulation in politics is nothing new, of course, but the persuasive techniques of today are more powerful and more persuasive. The political image came to replace the actual character of the candidate, and the projection of the image became the concern of the candidate and those around him. Issues were no longer as important, and the image alone served to sway the voters and decide the election (Packard 181-187).
McLuhan noted the power of television, and in political campaigns television has taken on the major brunt of the campaign. Advertising as well turns more and more to television. This raises important questions concerning the morality of the media, and critics have turned from this to considerations of the manipulation that is even more prevalent. Says Keys: “Media has most clearly proven itself socially irresponsible and hopelessly entrapped by its own avarice” (Key 194). He feels that some form of large-scale media surveillance should be instituted at least to expose the techniques being used in communication by these groups.
However, would this make any real difference? It is true that many of these techniques have been widely publicized at the present time, but still they are used and still they are effective. They operate on the unconscious mind, and therefore it is very difficult to combat all of the influences that these techniques may.have on the individual. In fact, many of these effects may not even be known. It has been mentioned that some experienced feelings of fear where others felt only sexual stimulation, and this was a result that could not be predicted beforehand. There are likely other effects as well that are more negative and that we only dimly comprehend. These things cannot all be eliminated, but at the present time they are being carefully and intentionally foisted on the public for economic gain, with little or no regard for the consequences. The manipulations in the marketplace are something we have come to expect, though it is doubtful that the majority realize the depth of persuasion now in effect and the manner in which they are being manipulated and directed through advertising.
Even more unfortunate is the fact that the young are effectively being trained to accept this state of affairs, to participate by being receptive to the admonishments of advertisers, and to consume all that they can as part of the American life. The truth is that an entire generation has grown to adulthood in this climate of manipulation and therefore knows no other, and they participate willingly if sometimes unconsciously. The persuaders have an audience that is prepared and able to receive the message they are trying to communicate, and there is little that can be done to reverse the trend. Government regulation has little effect, and indeed it is unlikely that the government fully understands all that takes place in this regard. The psychologists and marketing analysts have formed a powerful coalition that can sell almost anything the mass audience wants or thinks it wants.