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Theses on Advertising | Paul A. Baran | Monthly R... about:reader?url=http://monthlyreview.org/2013/...

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ThesesonAdvertising|PaulA.Baran|
MonthlyReview
byPaulA.BaranandPaulM.Sweezy

OriginallypublishedinScience&Society28,no.1(Winter1964:
2030).

Confrontedwithaprogressivedeteriorationandanincreasing
AmericanizationofmassmediainBritain,theBritishLaborParty
appointedaCommissionundertheChairmanshipofLordReiththe
assignmentofwhichistoconsidertheroleofcommercial
advertisinginpresentdaysocietyandtorecommendwhether
reformsarerequired;ifso,what?ThisAdvertisingCommission
solicitedoralandwrittentestimonyfromvariousworkersinthat
field,submittingtothemaquestionnairecoveringtheprincipal
pointsonwhichcommentswereinvited.Havingalsobeenasked
forourreflectionsonthematter,wepreparedthefollowing
statementthepurposeofwhichisnotsomuchtoanswerallthe
questionsposedinthequestionnaire,astopresentamoreorless
integratedviewonthis,mostimportant,subject.Beinginadequately
informedaboutconditionsprevailinginGreatBritain,weaddressed
ourselvestotheexperienceintheUnitedStatesonthe

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assumptionthatmuchofitisrelevanttoproblemsexistinginother
countries.

I.AdvertisingandtheEconomy

1.Sincethelastquarterofthenineteenthcentury,American
industryhasconstitutedanoligopolisticsysteminwhichsmall
numbersoflargefirmshavebeenresponsibleforthebulkoftheir
industriesoutput.Atthepresenttime,theonehundred
andthirtyoddlargestmanufacturingcorporationsaccountforhalf
ofmanufacturingoutputintheUnitedStates.Thefivehundred
largestbusinesscorporationsinthiscountryembracenearly
twothirdsofallnonagriculturaleconomicactivity.1

2.Exceptduringafewcomparativelybriefperiodsofwarand
postwarreconstruction,Americanbusinesshasbeenplaguedbya
persistentshortageofeffectivedemandinrelationtoitsproductive
potential.Inthewordsofamarketingspecialist,Theproblemof
businessusedtobehowtomanufactureandproducegoods;but
theprincipalproblemhasbecomenowhowtomarketorsell
goods.2

3.Underoligopolisticconditions,pricecompetitionisavoidedasa
responsetotheinsufficiencyofdemandandotherformsofsales
effortaresubstituted.Therivalriesofthebusinessworldare
nowadaysaskeenorkeenerthanever.Competitionwithrespectto
thequalityofproductsandtheservicesassociatedwiththemhas

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increased.However,lessstressisbeingplacedbymanyofour
largerbusinessesonpricecompetition.3Thisis,ifanything,an
understatement.

4.Advertisingsensustrictoshouldbeconsideredasmerelyone
speciesofthelargegenusofnonpricecompetitivedevices.
Perhapsequallyimportantarespuriousproductdifferentiation,
artificialphysicaland/ormoralobsolescence,andthelike;these
are,however,forthemostpartrenderedpossiblebyadvertising.In
thewordsoftheMcGrawHillDepartmentofEconomics:Today,
theorientationofmanufacturingcompaniesisincreasinglytoward
themarketandawayfromproduction.Infact,thischangehasgone
sofarinsomecasesthattheGeneralElectricCompany,asone
strikingexample,nowconceivesitselftobeessentiallyamarketing
ratherthanaproductionorganization.Thisthinkingflowsback
throughthestructureofthecompanytothepointthatmarketing
needsreachbackanddictatethearrangementandgroupingof
productionfacilities.4Inthefollowingremarks,however,we
confineattentiontomassmediaadvertising,bothinviewofthe
Commissionsstipulatedtermsofreferenceandbecausesuch
advertisingtakenbyitselfnotonlyplaysanimportantpartinthe
nonpricecompetitivesaleseffortbutalsoservesasan
indispensableadjunctofmostothersalesstratagems.Thesecular
riseofadvertisingexpendituresisasignofseculardeclineof
pricecompetition.5

5.ThegrowingoligopolizationoftheAmericaneconomyhasbeen

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paralleledbyacorrespondingexpansionofadvertising.
Expenditureuponnewspaperandperiodicalsadvertisingin1890
amountedtoover$76million,abouttentimesasgreatassimilar
expenditureatthetimeoftheCivilWar.By1929,ithadclimbedto
over$1,100millionandconstituted1.38percentofNationalIncome
asagainst.59percentin1890.Thisprocessgainedmomentum
withtheappearanceofnewadvertisingmedia(radioand
particularlytelevision),sothatatthepresenttimebusinessoutlays
foradvertisingandrelatedservices(advertisingagencies,market
researchbureaus,publicrelationsadvisors,andthelike)exceed
$15billionannually(approximately4percentofNationalIncome).It
shouldbenotedthatthisamountdoesnotincludethecostsof
marketresearch,designingforadvertisingpurposes,andthelike
carriedonwithintheproducingorsellingconcernsthemselves.
Whilereliableestimatesonthelatterarenotavailable,$10billion
peryearisconsideredbyexpertstobeanotunreasonablefigure.

6.Inappraisingtheeconomiceffectsofadvertising,economicshas
traditionallyfollowedtheleadofAlfredMarshallbydistinguishing
betweengoodandbad,constructiveandcombative
advertisements.Thoseintheformercategoryarecommendedas
providingusefulinformationonnewproductsandhelpingtodraw
theattentionofpeopletoopportunitiesforbuyingorsellingofwhich
theymaybewillingtoavailthemselves.6Othertypesof
advertisingarecondemnedasawasteofresources,doingharmby
addingtotheimperfectionsofthecompetitiveprocess,causinga
distributionofincomedifferentfromwhatitwouldbeundermore

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perfectlycompetitiveconditions,andmanipulating(anddistorting)
consumerstastesandmotivations.

7.Theadventofthenewadvertisingmedia(radioandtelevision)
andtheconcomitantproliferationofadvertising,althoughnot
introducinganysubstantiallynewargumentsintotheeconomic
discussionofthesubject,lendemphasistothosepreviously
employed.Thedefendersareabletopointtothepowerfulspurto
spendingandconsumptionprovidedbymodernadvertisingandto
stresstheresultingstimulationofmassproductionmethods,the
introductionofnewproducts,andtheconsequentopeningupof
newinvestmentopportunities.Occasionally,theyalsocredit
advertisingwithfurnishingthemediawithfinancialmeansfor
valuableculturalactivitiessuchasbroadcastingofclassicalmusic,
presentationontelevisionofgoodfilms,plays,andeducational
material.7

8.Theeconomistswhoarecriticalofadvertisingdeplorethenow
massivewasteofmaterialandhumanresourcesassociatedwith
theadvertisingprocessitselfaswellaswithotherformsofthe
nonpricecompetitivesaleseffortwhichitrenderspossiblethe
increasinglyfraudulentproductdifferentiation,lessandless
warrantedandmoreandmorecostlymodelchangesinconsumers
durablegoods,propagationofevermoresuperfluousgadgets,etc.

9.Thedebatebetweenthecriticsandthedefendersofadvertising
remainsofnecessityinconclusiveinviewofselfimposedlimitations

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onthescopeofthedebate.Thecriticsrejectionofadvertising
generallyispredicatedupontheassumptionthatfullemployment
wouldprevailintheabsenceofadvertising.Then,indeed,the
resourcesnowdevotedtoadvertisingwouldbemoreusefully
employedelsewheresince,asChamberlinputsit,asaresult[of
advertising]demandfortheadvertisedproductisincreased,thatfor
otherproductsiscorrespondinglydiminished.8

10.Defendersofadvertisingarguethatbystimulatingconsumption
andinvestmentitplaysanindispensableroleinthefunctioningof
thecapitalisteconomy.OnthisbasisofAmericanexperience,this
argumentappearstoustobesound.Therecanbelittledoubt,we
think,thatthechronicunderutilizationofresourceswhichhas
plaguedtheUnitedStatesformorethanagenerationnowwould
havebeenagooddealmoresevereifithadnotbeenforthe
spectaculargrowthofadvertisingduringthisperiod.Ifthisis
correct,itfollowsthatattemptstoabolishorcurtailadvertisingcould
haveseriouslyadverseeffectsunlessaccompaniedby
comprehensiveandeffectiveplanningforfullandsociallydesirable
employment.Thisisapointwhichcriticsofadvertisingconsistently
neglectandwhichshouldcertainlybegivengreatweightinthe
formulationofnewpoliciesregardingadvertising.

II.AdvertisingandtheConsumer

11.Intheappraisalofthemassmediasoverallimpactonthe
public,opinionsdiffergreatly.(SeeSectionIVbelow.)Thereis

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moreconsensusamongexpertsonthepowerofadvertisingto
influencebuyingonthepartoftheconsumer,although
disagreementexistsontheextentofthatpower.

12.Thecriticsofadvertisingcontendthatadvertisingcampaignsif
sufficientlylarge,persistent,andunscrupulous(availingthemselves
ofsuchmethodsassubliminalsuggestionandthelike)cansellto
theconsumeralmostanything.Thiscontentionissupportedby
someofthemostauthoritativeexpertsinmarketingtechniques,
oneofwhomobservesthatasuperiorproductmeanssuperiorin
theeyesoftheconsumers.Itdoesnotnecessarilymeansuperiorin
termsofobjectivevalueoraccordingtolaboratorystandards,and
reportsthatstudiesconductedinthelasttwelveyearsshow
conclusivelythatindividualsareinfluencedbyadvertisingwithout
beingawareofthatinfluence.Anindividualismotivatedtobuy
somethingbyanad,butheoftendoesnotknowwhatmotivated
him.9Themoststrikingexamplesofthecapacityofadvertisingto
generatedemandforworthlessorevenharmfulproductshave
recentlybeenprovidedintheareaofpharmaceuticals,cosmetic
products,andthelike.10

13.Thedefendersofadvertising,ontheotherhand,maintainthat
noamountofadvertising,howeverconducted,caninducethe
consumertobuyaproductwhichdoesnotrepresentauseful
innovationorisnotbetterorcheaperthanwhatisotherwise
availableinthemarket.AsstatedbyRosserReeves,Chairmanof
theBoardofTedBates&Co.,oneofthelargestAmerican

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advertisingagencies,Iftheproductdoesnotmeetsomeexisting
desireorneedoftheconsumer,theadvertisingwillultimatelyfail.
11ThecasemostfrequentlycitedinsupportofthisviewistheFord
MotorCompanysfailuretoestablishamarketforitsEdsel
automobileinspiteofavastoutlayonadvertising.

14.Itiserroneoustoseektomeasuretheimpactofadvertisingon
consumersbystudyingtheirresponsestospecificadvertising
campaigns.Thatimpactcanonlybeadequatelyassessedif
considerationisgiventothetotalityofbioticurgesandsocialforces
whichisresponsiblefortheformationofhumanwantsinanygiven
historicalenvironment.Bysettingstandardsofvalues,by
establishingcriteriaofsuccess,bymoldingitsmembersfearsand
aspirations,societylaysthefoundationsfromwhichadvertisingas
awholedrawsitslifeblood.Theoutcomeofindividualadvertising
campaignsisdeterminedbyamultitudeofmoreorlessfortuitous
circumstancesparticulartoeachcase.

15.Oneofthefunctionsofadvertisingisthereinforcementofthe
sociallyand/orbioticallydeterminedwantsandpreferencesof
consumers.ThedesiretokeepupwiththeJoneses,toownthe
largestorthenewestautomobile,tofurnishoneshousewiththe
mostrecentlymanufacturedgadgets,cannotbeattributedto
advertising;itstemsfromthegeneralclimateprevailinginsociety.
Advertising,however,intensifiesthesepropensitiesandfacilitates
theirgratification.MadisonAvenueservesasalarmclockfor
Americassleepingdesires.12

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16.Advertisingprovidestheconsumerwithexpostrationalization
ofbehaviorwhichmaybeunacceptabletohimonothergrounds.
Whiletobacco,liquor,profligacymayberejectedbyanindividual
onrationalgrounds,therecurrentreassurancesbyadvertising
assuagehismisgivingsaboutindulginginsmoking,drinking,and
thelike,despitehisowndisapproval.13

III.AdvertisingandtheMassMedia

17.Withtheexceptionoftherelativelyinsignificantsprinklingof
noncommercialFMradiostations,allradioandtelevision
broadcastingstationsintheUnitedStatesareprivatelyownedand
dependforfinancialsupportonadvertisingrevenue.Newspapers
andperiodicals,ontheadvertisingservicesofwhichapproximately
27percentofalladvertisingoutlayisspent,relyformorethan
twothirdsoftheirbudgetsonthesaleofadvertisingspace.

18.Allmediasolicitadvertising,andmostprovideadvertiserswith
servicesofvariouskinds,maintainingsocalledmerchandising
departmentswhichcollaboratewithadvertisersinmakingdecisions
onthetimingandstructureoftheiradvertisingcampaigns.

19.Sincethevolumeofadvertisingandthepricechargedforspace
(ortime)aredeterminedbythemediasaccesstothepublic
(circulationofnewspapers,viewingorlisteningratingsofthe
stations),theneedforadvertisingrevenuecompelsthemediato
catertoaswideapopulationstrataaspossible.Thisnotonly

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militatesagainsttoomuchhighbroworevenmiddlebrow
material,butprovidesastrongimpetustoawidecoverageof
sensationalmaterialsuchascrime,sexualdeviations,andthelike.

20.Theinfluenceofadvertisersontheeditorialpoliciesofthe
mediaisnotreadilyascertained.Itisimportanttorealize,however,
thatthereisnoneedtoassumeanynefariouscollusionbetween
advertisersandmediapolicymakerstoexplaintheuniformly
conservativeorientationofthelatterseditorialpositions.This
conservatismisadequatelyexplainedbythefactthattheowners
andexecutivescontrollingthemediaareinnorespectdifferent,as
farasbasicattitudes,mentality,andpoliticalorientationare
concerned,fromtheownersandexecutivesoftheadvertising
concerns.

21.Theprogramdesignsandeditorialpoliciesofthemediaare
subjecttotwoconflictingpressures.Advertisers,naturallyseeking
toreachthelargestpossibleaudience,areanxioustoavoid
antagonizinganyprospectivecustomersandthereforepreferthe
mediatofollowapolicyofconservativeandnoncontroversial
programmingandeditorializing.Yetthepublicsinterestinthe
mediasofferingsismorelikelytobearousediftheprograms
containnewmaterialorarerenderedmoreabsorbingbythe
tensionsresultingfromdebates,contests,andrivalries.The
solutionhabituallyadoptedbythemediasmanagementsisto
admitsuchtensionsinimmaterialareas:quizshows,sports,
competitionsamongperformers,anddebatesonmoreorless

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innocuouspublicissuesoramongspeakersofnottoowidely
divergentpersuasions.

22.Economiesofscalerealizedineffortstosecurenational
advertisingaccountshavecombinedwiththeeconomiesofscale
resultingfromcentralizednewsgathering,featuresbuying,and
newsprintprocurementtoadvancerapidlymergersand
concentrationofmediaonanationalscale.Strictlylocalmedia
primarilynewspapers,cateringtotheneedsoflocal
businesshavegonethroughamassivemergermovementonthe
locallevel,withtheresultthatalargeandevergrowingnumberof
smallandmiddlesizedlocalitiesintheUnitedStateshaveonlyone
newspaper(sometimeswithamorningandafternoonedition).The
consequencesofthistotheformationofpublicopinionandtothe
functioningofthedemocraticprocessareselfevident.

IV.AdvertisingandValues

23.Itiscrucialtorecognizethatadvertisingandmassmedia
programssponsoredbyandrelatedtoitdonottoanysignificant
extentcreatevaluesorproduceattitudesbutratherreflectexisting
valuesandexploitprevailingattitudes.Insodoingtheyundoubtedly
reenforcethemandcontributetotheirpropagation,buttheycannot
beconsideredtobetheirtaproot.Thereiswideconsensusamong
specialiststhatadvertisingcampaignssucceednotiftheyseekto
changepeoplesattitudesbutiftheymanagetofind,bymeansof
motivationresearchandsimilarprocedures,awayoflinkingupwith

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existingattitudes.

24.Statusseekingandsnobbery;social,racial,andsexual
discrimination;egotismandunrelatednesstoothers;envy,gluttony,
avarice,andruthlessnessinthedriveforselfadvancementallof
theseattitudesarenotgeneratedbyadvertisingbutaremadeuse
ofandappealedtointhecontentsofadvertisingmaterial.

25.Thedebasementofculturalstandardsandthesubstitutionof
Kitschforartinmusic,theplasticarts,andliteraturedonotstem
fromadvertising,althoughadvertisinghasbecomethechiefpatron
andMaecenasoftheKitschproducersinundatingthemarket.To
the(notinconsiderable)extenttowhichthetastes,preferences,
andneedsofthepatronsinfluencetheworkoftheartist,the
advertiserscanbeheldresponsibleforthecorruptionoftheartistic
talentwhichtheypurchase.

26.Factorsreferredtoinparagraph21havetobeborneinmindin
consideringtheinfluenceofadvertisinganddesign.Althoughthe
desiretoreachandinfluencethelargestpossibleaudiences
motivatesthepromotionofleastcontroversial,hackneyed,and
cornyproductions,thedrivetoexpandsalesandtocreatemoral
obsolescenceofproductsstimulatestheintroductionandpromotion
ofnewandsometimesaestheticallyvaluablearticlesandmodels.
Thesearchforacompromisebetweenthosetworequirements
leadsusuallytothecheapeningandwateringdownofgenuineart
ortoanoutrightperversionoftheeffectsofartisticmasterworksby

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placingtheminwhollyincompatiblecontexts(e.g.,theuseof
paintingsbyGiottoinadvertisementsoftravelagenciesorof
medievalarchitectureinthepromotionofhotels).

27.Itissometimesarguedthatadvertisingreallydoeslittleharm
becausenoonebelievesitanymoreanyway.Weconsiderthisview
tobeerroneous.Thegreatestdamagedonebyadvertisingis
preciselythatitincessantlydemonstratestheprostitutionofmen
andwomenwholendtheirintellects,theirvoices,theirartisticskills
topurposesinwhichtheythemselvesdonotbelieve,andthatit
teachestheessentialmeaninglessnessofallcreationsofthemind:
words,images,andideas.14Therealdangerfromadvertisingis
thatithelpstoshatterandultimatelydestroyourmostprecious
nonmaterialpossessions:theconfidenceintheexistenceof
meaningfulpurposesofhumanactivityandtherespectforthe
integrityofman.

28.Thecausalnexusexplainingthenatureofvalues,prevailing
standardsofculture,andthequalityofforthcomingartistic
productioncannotstopatadvertising.Itleadsratherthrough
advertisingtotheunderlyingstructureofthemarketandprofit
determinedeconomicandsocialorder.

29.Thefailuretorecognizetheessentiallyinstrumental,mediating
partplayedbyadvertisinglargelyaccountsfortheinconclusiveness
ofthefrequentlyundertakenattemptstoexploreitseffectsand
impact.Advertising,beingareinforcingandproliferating

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mechanism,canneitherbeheldresponsiblenorbeabsolvedofall
responsibilityforprevailingattitudes,culturalstandards,andvalues.

30.Thetroublewithadvertisingisnotthatitpromotesconformityto
certainnormsoflifeandbehavior.Thetroubleisthatadvertisingof
necessitypromotesconformitytonormsthat,byanyrational
standard,areworthlessorhumanlydestructive.

V.Conclusions

31.Itisbeyondthescopeofthispapertodiscussthestructural
changesintheeconomicandsocialorderwhichwouldberequired
toeliminatethenegativeimpactofadvertisingonthemoraland
culturalstandardsofsociety.Itmustneverbelostfromsightthat
advertisingisapartofthemodusoperandiofprofitmaking
businessenterpriseunderpresentdayconditions.AsPigouclearly
recognizedmanyyearsago,theonlywayitcouldberemoved
altogetherwouldbeifconditionsofmonopolisticcompetitionwere
destroyed.15Americaslongexperiencewithantitrustlawshas
provedconclusivelythatthisisimpossiblewithintheframeworkofa
capitalistsociety.Itfollowsthattheeliminationofadvertisingaswe
knowittodaywouldrequiretheeliminationofcapitalism.Thisisa
conclusionwhichsocialistsshouldfindneithersurprisingnor
disturbing.

32.Ifactionistobeconfinedtothefieldofadvertisingproper,it
shouldbedirectednotattheenterpriseswhichbuytheadvertising

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butatthemediawhichcarryit.Themaintenanceof
noncommercialradioandtelevision,strictlyrefusingtoaccept
advertisements,takescareofonelargeaspectoftheproblem.

33.Controllingthecontentsofadvertisementsinnewspapersand
periodicalspresentsformidabledifficulties.Anymeasuresinthat
directionriskcomingintoconflictwithprinciplesoffreedomof
speechandexpression.Legislationcouldbepromulgated,
however,renderingthepublicationofmendaciousandmisleading
advertisementssubjecttoseriouspenalties.Theprincipalproblem
tobesolvedinthisconnectionistheenforcementofsuchstatutes.

34.Americanexperiencesuggeststhatthemostimportant
conditionforsuccessfulcurbingofadvertisingabusesisplacingthe
burdenofproofnotonthegovernmentbutontheadvertiser.
Specifically,agovernmentboardentrustedwiththesupervisionof
advertisingshouldbeentitledtobancertainadvertisementsinview
oftheircontents,unlesstheaffectedfirmcanprovethetruthfulness
ofitsadvertisedclaims.TheAmericanarrangementinwhichthe
oppositeprocedureisfollowed,i.e.,theadvertiserispermittedto
continuepublicizinghisunwarrantedclaimsuntilthegovernment
agencyinvolvedcansatisfythecourtsoftheirgroundlessness
leadstoendlessredtapeandlitigationwhichdefeattheentire
endeavor.

35.Itshouldbepossibletoruleoutaprioritheadvertisingof
certainkindsofproducts.Justasitisprohibitedtoadvertiseand

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sellnarcotics,sotheadvertisingoftobacco,liquor,andother
productsthatareharmfulcouldbeoutlawed.

Notes

1. E.S.Mason,Introduction,inE.S.Mason,ed.,The
CorporationinModernSociety(Cambridge,MA:Harvard
UniversityPress,1959),5.

2. SteuartHendersonBritt,TheSpenders(NewYork:
McGrawHill,1960),52.

3. ArthurF.Burns,ProsperityWithoutInflation(NewYork:
FordhamUniversityPress,1957),83.

4. DexterMerriamKeezerandAssociates,NewForcesin
AmericanBusiness(NewYork:McGrawHill,1959),97.

5. T.Scitovsky,WelfareandCompetition(Chicago:R.D.
Irwin,1951),401n.

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6. AlfredMarshall,IndustryandTrade(London:Macmillan
andCo.,1919),305.

7. PaulA.Samuelson,Economics,FifthEdition(New
York:McGrawHill,1961),138.

8. E.H.Chamberlin,TheoryofMonopolisticCompetition
(Cambridge,MA:1933),120.

9. LouisCheskin,WhyPeopleBuy(NewYork:Liveright
PublicationCorp.,1959),54ff.

10. JamesCook,RemediesandRackets(NewYork:
Norton,1958),passim;MeyerWeinberg,TVinAmerica(New
York:BallantineBooks,1962),passim.

11. RosserReeves,RealityinAdvertising(NewYork:
Knopf,1961),141.

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12. JamesKelly,InDefenseofMadisonAvenue,New
YorkTimesMagazine,December23,1956.

13. LeonFestinger,ATheoryofCognitiveDissonance
(Evanston,IL:Row,Peterson,1957),passim.

14. LeoMarx,NotesontheCultureoftheNew
Capitalism,MonthlyReview11,no.3/4(JulyAugust,1959):
116.

15. A.C.Pigou,EconomicsofWelfare,FourthEdition
(London:MacmillanandCo.,1938),199.

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