Monday, March 8, 2010

Prime Time Advertisements

During my weekly one hour of television, i get exposed to mainstream advertisements that drive me absolutely nuts! Consider the order of the following adverts: First there's a Wal-Mart commercial talking about the billions of dollars people will save by shopping there. This is followed by a DQ commercial and a Wendy's commercial about their latest cheap deal under $5. We then see yogourt and gronola bar commercials touting the latest nutritional fad. The series of ads is rounded off with a weight loss advertisement with patients talking about their weight loss challenges and success.

Is there something wrong here? Is it not bad enough that a substantial chunk of commercial activity is largely predicated on negative socially and ecologically outcomes that we now capitalize on these negative effects through more commercial opportunities? Is this what we teach in our business schools? From a business perspective, it's clearly more worthwhile to sell things that create problems to boost other opportunities to sell more things. Nestle recently indicated that they aim to enter the French market because consumers there are starting to emulate the Western fast food diet. Nestle has a Jenny Craig arm that comes with a range of apparently healthy products. Yet Nestle is increasingly criticized for its processed foods contributing to an obesity epidemic. Interestingly, one can argue that Nestle is captivating on increasing levels of obesity that its own products have helped to create.

Should we not be educating our future graduates that perhaps this approach is fundamentally flawed? Or do we dismiss this as just the natural course of events that makes our economic foundation tick?

If the answer to this last question is yes, then I have no place in a business school.


  1. People are stupid. If they want to fall for the dumb advertisments and make poor decisions, you can't fault a company for trying to take advantage of that.

    If you start to notice that you're fat because you're eating fast or processed food, and you don't stop, who is to blame?

    Russell Zavitz

    The more interesting question for me, what is the one hour of tv you're watching? Let me guess - Grey's Anatomy?

  2. I can't agree with the generalization that it's the consumers fault for bad decisions. The marketing departments of these major corporations target segments of the market that may not have a decision to make between junk and real food. Just a decision of what can they afford.

    These advertisements prey upon those who have fewer options, and convince them that a product like no name granola bars with 14g of sugar and 8g of fat are a wholesome and affordable snack.

    The following article
    outlines some of the bigger issues that allow that to happen.

    To me it is criminal to continue to market and produce a product that is proven to create health and environmental problems without any attempt to remedy the product or process.

  3. My guess is that the 1 hour of television is Survivor!!!! The tribe has spoken!!!!

  4. These examples are precisely why I educate my students on the power and persuasion of the media. As teachers, this is where our focus needs to be. In fact, this week, I showed a Frontline documentary entitled The Persuaders: Americans are Swimming in a Sea of Messages. My students were absolutely astounded and even used the word creepy to describe the tactics used by marketers. These students should have had access to the information provided in this film long before they reached the university level.