Advertising is information about products and services that most of us use daily, communicated, he reminds us, in the most persuasive manner possible to convince us to acquire these products and services. It has been called an aspect of art, speech in service to the public, a sign of healthy capitalism, a necessary evil, and the stuff that makes the commercial world go around. It has been part of our reality from the time the printed world came on the scene, both in the East and in the West.
To find how much influence advertising has on our actions, a small city in Europe attempted an experiment. Specialists in advertising gathered together to plan an imaginary shopping mall. After studying the most successful strategies that have been used to interest the public in buying a product or service, they went ahead and advertised in local media, announcing the many good and inexpensive items that were available at the "new shopping mall."
The result, the priest says, was a great success. On the day of the opening, over half the population of the city came to a very large field without any buildings, just a placard identifying the place as the location of the shopping mall. The citizens knew they had been fooled. The reaction was varied. Some were angry and considered themselves conned; others were thankful for being made to see how powerful advertising is. It was an example that makes clear how easily influenced we are by advertising.
The priest goes on to tell us the four principal concerns that are most often brought to mind when any advertising is being planned: Attention, Interest, Desire and Action (AIDA as it is known in the industry). The attempt to get the public's attention so that they will delve into the content of the advertisement enough to arouse their interest, spark desire and motivate them to a buying action requires an attention stopper. Here is where many of the moral concerns come to light: using sex, violence, and fraudulent claims to grab the consumer's attention.
He finishes the article with the instructions from the Pontifical Council for Social Communication:
Human dignityTruth in advertising
Even today, some advertising is simply and deliberately untrue. Generally speaking, though, the problem of truth in advertising is somewhat more subtle: it is not that advertising says what is overtly false, but that it can distort the truth by implying things that are not so or withholding relevant facts (#15)
There is an "imperative requirement" that advertising respect the human person, his interior freedom, his right and his duty to make a responsible choice; all of these would be violated if man's lower inclinations were to be exploited, or his capacity to reflect and decide compromised. (#16)Social responsibility...
Advertising that fosters a lavish lifestyle, which wastes resources and despoils the environment, offends against important ecological concerns. Advertising that reduces human progress to acquiring material goods expresses a false vision of the human person that is harmful to individuals and society alike.
When people fail to practice a rigorous respect for moral, cultural and spiritual requirements--based on the dignity of the person and on the proper identity of each community, beginning with the family and religious societies-- then even material abundance and the conveniences that technology makes available will prove unsatisfying and in the end contemptible. (#17)
Consequently, there is the obligation on the part of all of us to discern the often corrupting influence of advertising from its legitimate uses, and have the courage and wisdom not to be overcome by it.