The corporate entity is without feeling or sense of responsibility.
- Profits over infant health
In the 20th century advertising became increasingly important, first in newspapers, magazines, and billboards and then on radio and TV. Near the end of the century the internet allowed an explosion of new kinds of advertising, but the print ads from the middle of the century are most striking, and illustrate a big problem in our business system: corporations have no incentive to do anything but maximize profits.
Will this situation change in the future? Unfortunately the signs say it will, but not for the better. When public complaints about ads such as these began to arise, advertising agencies became more subtle. The goals and direction did not change, however: induce people to buy things whether they needed them or not, and whether the products were good for anyone or not. It is more true today than ever before that companies will sell whatever they can get away with if it will make money, regardless of the harm that may result, unless specific government regulations prevent it. Only very small companies where the owner deals directly with end-user customers still provide the possibility of doing business with someone who actually wants to make sure the product works for you. To the rest you are a faceless commodity that can be motivated to buy things, and for whom there is little consideration before the sale and even less afterward.
Doctors smoke Camels; shouldn't you?
Advertisers will say anything to get you to buy. It isn’t just the lies we have to worry about, though. When you consider that corporations have hired psychologists of every type, sociologists, doctors, and many other specialists, all for the purpose of selling stuff, and that this has continued for over a century with every greater intensity and sophistication, it appears the individual consumer is overmatched. The subtlety and craft that goes into today’s advertising would make the process that generated these ads look like it came from the bronze age. They can figure out what cues would be noticed by the most wary customer, and make clever choices of words and images to overcome initial, logical objections to the product. They can do this in ways so subtle you won’t realize what is happening, and they can change your view of their product and even the world to suit their agenda, which consists of one item: get people’s money.
This ad suggests the woman is dependent on the man, and that the implied male "chef" is superior to the woman
Repressing women gives advertisers an advantage. Since women are more than half the population, and expected to focus more on the home and family than the men, who are expected to “bring home the bacon”, it makes sense for advertisers to reduce women’s importance as responsible decision makers in the family. After all, it would be more probable for a woman to complain about commercially induced problems like infant malnutrition from substituting soda pop for milk, for example, so reducing the importance of women in society is to the corporation’s advantage.
Suggesting that women are akin to children in relation to men ...
Of course, advertisers can go overboard and still get their message across. This ad, while certainly over the top, reinforces the image of women as being of lesser standing than men, just short of being children. Shock value gets people’s attention, and the image makes them laugh, but the impression that women are subservient to men is slipped into the viewer’s subconscious where it can be reinforced again, and again, and again. Keeping women weaker in a social context while men are separated from the real responsibilities of home and family lets advertisers sell more – which is the fundamental point of what they do.
The future is here, and advertisers are far smarter than you. Over the last century advertisers have become a great deal more sophisticated, and learned how to craft products and advertising that will both avoid triggering objections and hide any negative side effects. People with doctoral degrees in every field, but especially in psychology and sociology, spend their lives doing secret research for corporate marketing groups and working in teams to more effectively advertise and sell products to you. They understand things about you and your behaviors that you’re not even aware of, and use that knowledge in clever ways to change your understanding of anything that might affect your purchasing behavior, including your entire world view. When such power is integrated with political goals it can enable corporations to have even more influence on society and government through your voting and political habits. I often ask “How can we as individuals expect to prevail against teams of experts with Ph.D.’s in manipulating us?”
Advertising is only one aspect of corporate power over society. It isn’t just the advertisers that have become more sophisticated. Corporations have spent billions on buying access and favors in federal and state legislatures, much of that by contributing funds to political campaigns or supporting campaigns with issue-directed advertising and “attack ads”, so that specific regulations could be blocked or only allowed to pass in weak forms. Those regulations that pose problems to an industry can be undermined by inducing the legislature to take away funding from agencies that enforce the regulations, as evidenced in the 2008 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico when it turned out that the more than 1500 wells in the gulf were not being inspected much at all, and many corners had been cut because the government staff responsible for inspecting and regulating the oil wells was far too small to be effective.
The trend of increasing corporate domination of politics and society continues. The manipulation of government and society into whatever form promises the highest profits for the corporation has been going on for over a century. With major corporations continuing to increase their economic and political power, there is no reason to expect that the trend will change, and by the time human population peaks at the currently predicted 9.5 billion most countries will be all but run by the corporations who make the most money from them, and who have best consolidated their control. Wars will occur only where they provide increased profits, though for defense contractors that may be the only way they can make money. President Eisenhower issued a strong warning about the military industrial complex after World War II, and everything he said seems to have come to pass, though it only addresses a subset of major industries. While we won’t again see ads like those shown above, the ads we will see will be more subtle, more clever, and more manipulative, and most of us will probably miss how badly we are taken in. I live for a day when government takes its rightful place and protects the individual citizen instead of serving us up to commercial interests on a platter, but I doubt that day will ever come to pass.
As always, I welcome your comments. — Tim