ADVERTISING: Information or Manipulation?

Posted on May 19, 2010 in Media

Soumya Venugopal:

We live in the age of information. We are told information is power. But do we get correct information? Are the media being manipulated by powerful, vested interests? These questions are not of merely academic interest. They are social issues that affect our daily living and influence our way of life. We, as citizens are daily exposed to misleading advertising, political spin-doctoring, selective media information and the outright corporate lies.

These processes work against the fitness of the individual and by implication against our societies as humans are not passive machines but dynamic organisms that react to the information presented to them. Today even scientists who are expected to respect truth sub serve their political or commercial masters who for gaining advantage at all cost, misinterpret almost all the information available to the public.

Democratic governments unfortunately are the greatest manipulators of information and set standards or lack of them to other advertisers.

Governments spend vast amounts on data collection. There is a plethora of statistics in all areas of expanding bureaucracy. It is strange, therefore, that relevant data to support government claims is always “missing”. This fact can puzzle not only the ordinary citizen but even our honorable Supreme Court as happened in the OBC reservation case.

The transparency of this manipulation is obvious for if what they say is true we have clear proof of the incompetence of our politicians and bureaucrats as managers!

The tendency to obscure truth by using euphemisms is a political favorite. Plain speaking does not work, so doublespeak is necessary, allowing ambiguous descriptions, words out of context, misleading analogies- all attempts to cast a better gloss on stealthy actions and hidden agendas that clearly wouldn’t engender our praise or support.

We wonder whether governments take a cure from commercial advertisers or is it the other way round, but both emerge as unbeatable competitors in the game of manipulation of information.

Advertising agencies find facts boring so they create for us a fantasy land whose surfeits put virtual reality games to dire shame. All in the name of “creative thinking.” Media advertising is a dream-world. But advertising is now spilling out into real lives and threatening to destroy our sanity. In the advertised world our consumption is our happiness- If we are prepared to be unquestioned morons.

Don not ask why should you wish to be the same as your neighbor? Just do as the advertisers tell you. Believe that 50% of households have product X. Either believe it and be a part of the happy world or feel left out. Do not ask if that product is quite useless for you and it is being sold only for the sake of selling. Just buy it because the advertisement says so.

We see what we want to see. Advertising agencies know this very well. Our tendency to believe what we would like to believe allows them to imply their product is something that it certainly is not, without actually being legally guilty of lying!!!

Gimmicks, gizmos and fantasies are only of use if you want them. ‘Free gifts’ of whatever type are junk and already included in the price. Look for substance in the product which you really need and not the glossy merchandising and flashy paint jobs.

Truth is the most important aspect of making the right choices in our lives and this aspect has suffered the most under the advertising impact. Quantity of information does not equal quality. We must sift away the dross and that demands “media literacy” for finding what has been suppressed and distorted, if we are to have a chance to be free. We must clearly and equivocally reject the advertiser’s culture of deceit, manipulation and bullying that threatens our freedom as consumers.