Tuesday, May 03, 2005


ADVERTISEMENTS:Manipulation of innocent people

By Isaria K. Mwende

This world is a giant negotiating table, and whether you like it or not you are a participant. We normally negotiate more than we realize. Sales clerks andservice providers are among the people we most frequently negotiate with. In most cases we do not negotiate with them on fair grounds. Advertising plays a substantialrole in this phenomenon.With the growing of the media - increasing number of magazines, news papers, TVs and radio stations, people are bombarded with hundreds of advertising messages daily: Services (transport, medical, horoscope etc), clothes, vehicles, dental creams, soap, cosmetics, soft drinks, beer, even cigarettes! The advertising industry is growing. Advertising is important because it creates awareness to the consumers about products available in the market. It helps to create demand for the products. It enablesthe consumer to choose from a number of products available in the market place.

Together with the meritorious intention of creating awareness and broadening the spectrum of choice to consumers on the availability of products suitable to meet their needs, there are gimmicks been used in advertisements. Most people are not aware of them, because they are prepared by clever artists, photographers, technicians and writers.

Most of the wonders promised in advertisements are not true. These day to night bombardments from the media are just meant to convince us that we need what theyare selling. Advertisements play with our emotions, that is why they use sports, beautiful ladies, famous artists and stars. They also use sexy images and fancy words to capture our attention, other wise, what has these to do with the quality of the product on sale?They will send you a message that you have to be up to date. But if we ponder this deeper - to whose benefit? Deep down one may be worried indeed about the state of his/her budget - how to make ends meet, on top of that he is been seduced to be modern. The modeling industry is a very good example. What makes a dress or a pair of shoes out of date? Do our sisters really need to change from time to time their hairstyles, clothes,skin colour - just to get modern? Even at the expense of one's health! Can a given brand of soap or detergent actually restore a piece of soiled cloth to new, so that it can be put back to the shop counter without a consumer noticing the difference? Really! But this is exactly what the adverts tell us.

The public need to be made more conscious of the methods used by advertisers to work on peoples psychological vulnerability - their pride, their sense of identity with their own generation, their own social group or the one they are climbing toward, sympathies, their desire to look more beautiful, younger, virile, more bold, etc. The advertisers worldwide are succeeding in making people change their very living and spending habits. That is why they are ready to spend lots of money in the advertising industry. The consumer himself meets these expenses in the final analysis. It is estimated that the price of a product may go up for up to 40% due to advertisement costs.

The advertisers succeed due to their contrived attacks on our logic and sense of reality. On one hand, they try to exploit the power of the fear in people to be different. The fear to be only a few steps away from the herd. Most people are not aware of how they are driven to conform. They live under the illusion that they follow their own inclinations and instincts, that they have arrived at their opinions and decisions as a result of their own thinking and that it just happened that their ideas and decisions are the same as thoseof the majority. Not knowing it is due to the power of the bombardments from the advertising messages, leading to acceding to the temptation to buy justbecause every one else is doing so.On the other hand, advertisers try to exploit the propensity of man to be a step ahead of the other, the desire to be great, important, the desire to excel: The desire your children to attend a better school than those of your neighbour. We brag about the quality of our watches. That's why the advertising messages will constantly tell you that this product is better than the rest. One's mind captures the message and goes with it.Another method used by the advertisers is sexual arousal. They know that sexual desire is the most powerful of human desires. They then embed sexual titillation in their advertising messages, using pictures, sounds or words. These messages are not vivid, they are hidden, so they appear ordinary. It is only the unconscious part of one's mind that is capable of recognizing and storing these messages where they lie dormant, un-criticized, unevaluated and unknown to the individual until the time of purchase, when decision is required. The buried information then surfaces and is transferred to the conscious mind, which acts upon it. If one is thirsty for example, the unconscious mind immediately decides the type of drink the person has to take, depending on the messagesinstilled earlier from the advertisements. No reason and no logic is used, because the unconscious mind is incapable of this.All these things, in one way or another, help to mould the attitudes of people - of your attitude - and hence the thoughts and finally the actions of all of us.

The bombardment is torrential. In these ways thousands of people are daily massaged and manipulated. Thissuppresses the right of individuals to decide on their own free will, making people to pursue false goals and values. Of course the marketing experts are groping for ways to keep sales soaring in the face of mounting saturation. To avoid glut they need gluttons. Our consumer society was not built in a day. There was a time most of these items being advertised today, were rare commodities in Tanzania some years back. We used to buy them through rationing. This is gone now. Under the structural adjustment programme, manufactures (the private sector) have flooded the markets with new products and ever changing, but not necessarily of higher quality. Constantly the cry is to update. They will tell you that this detergent has such and such new ingredients. The question is, does it wash better than the rest? Already, in the developed countries, advertisements are creating environmental problems. Many items - clothes, shoes, utensils, TVs, furniture, etc are thrown away, because they are no longer fashionable rather than because they are worn out. "Junk mail" is another problem. The term is used to describe advertising and promotional material, which is sent to individuals un-requested. These also end up in thedustbin, creating enormous waste to deal with. If we are making such a loud noise about violence against women and child labour, why no one speaks about this very crucial violation of human rights?

We buyers need to take heed. No less important are changes in the way we perceive things. Every time one is exposed to commercials or advertising messages of any kind, one must remind himself that in most cases these are propaganda designed to convince him that other people's opinions are more important than his. Since not all advertising messages are bad, we must learn to ask ourselves, what kind of information didwe get out of it that which might help us decide whether that product might really be good and useful for us to buy. We should learn to tune into those few that really do offer a good deal on something one might find useful in his life, basing on the actualneeds.

We should learn to see things the way they really are, to know our options, test our assumptions and act on a solid information. Money comes hard. Why waste hard-earned money?Apart from knowing the nebulous tricks used in advertisements, commercials, placards, promotional pamphlets and leaflets, people need to be educated on how to spend their money wisely. This should be one of the main subjects given during the final year in primary school. Seeds need to be planted early at this stage of learning. Children are more adaptive and responsive. What they learn is brought home to their families and the community at large. Secondary schools and colleges should also include this subject in their curricular. In this process of change towards global economic integration and a world economy characterized by the liberalization of trade, globalization of capital markets and rapid diffusion of advanced technologies and consumption patterns, such knowledge is absolutely necessary. Most of us have been trained as money earners and not as spenders. As a result, we learn it the hard way, sometimes, paying very high prices.

Our governments have also an onus. If dangerous and poisonous substances like agrochemicals (fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides herbicides, rodenticides, etc) are labelled and advertised misleadingly due to the present marketing competition, it will lead to misuse and mishandling of these substances. This will pose a health risk to the farm worker, the consumer of the farm products and the community as a whole. We allneed to eat and we all need to be safe! Actually, our governments have a duty to care for the citizens. They should take the lead in orchestrating action to save people from the junk being advertised through the media. Who else can come to our rescue from thispredicament! Government should establish institutions that will scrutinize and ensure that the commercials and advertisements do not merely cheat people callously. The institutions should have power and authority to expose publicly the techniques that operate against the public interest. It should make sure that people are not manipulated, cheated, lied to or exploited by unscrupulous traders. In some countries the advertisement of cigarettes is against the law. This is a good example to be adopted worldwide, because the proposition that cigarette smoking is hazardous to human health is no longer controversial, it is a scientific fact.

There is no doubt that when people are manipulated, regardless of the motives, the right to decide for themselves is taken away as well as what they want to do and who they want to be. After all said, we need more critically today than at any other time, a truly democratic world in all senses. The availability of reasonable choice! The forces of competition must be set to work in the public interest. We should be allowed to exercise our free will