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In Defense of Advertising:
Arguments from Reason, Ethical Egoism, and Laissez-Faire Capitalism

by Jerry Kirkpatrick, Ph.D., Professor of International Business and Marketing, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

Excerpt 1, From Chapter 1, pp. 27-32 (notes omitted)


Marketing is the parent discipline of advertising; both are products of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution.To be sure, elements of both marketing and advertising have existed since antiquity: the first trade between primitive people was a market transaction, and traces of media advertising (signs) have been found as long ago as Babylonian times. But it is the extensive division of labor and mass production brought about by the Industrial Revolution that gave rise to the institutions of marketing and advertising. It was not an accident that both were made predominantly illegal in socialist countries of the twentieth century—as a theory, socialism loathes such egoistic, capitalistic activities.

Marketing Is Entrepreneurship

Marketing is the function of business that identifies and anticipates the needs and wants of consumers, creates products to meet those needs and wants, and then delivers the products through various techniques of promotion and distribution. At its strategic or top management level, marketing is an expression of entrepreneurship, because it unites innovation with execution; that is, marketing unites discovering an idea with putting the idea into action. Marketing creates need- and want-satisfying products and then delivers them to consumers. Advertising is a vital part of the delivery process.

The genus of marketing is entrepreneurship; its differentia is the creation and delivery of need- and want-satisfying products. An entrepreneur is the person who perceives ahead of anyone else profit-making opportunities in the marketplace, then, more importantly, acts to take advantage of those opportunities. Many people throughout history have come up with brilliant ideas, but what distinguishes them from entrepreneurs is that entrepreneurs not only conceive new ideas but also act on them. Inventors, as history has shown repeatedly, are not often also entrepreneurs; Thomas Edison was an exception.

An entrepreneur, as the word’s French etymology indicates, is an “undertaker,” the person who initiates action or takes the first step. There are two types of entrepreneurship: financial and marketing. The financial entrepreneur is the capitalist in the traditional sense of the term: one who raises equity and debt capital, then allocates it to the most profitable opportunities; metaphorically, the financial entrepreneur provides the financial superstructure of a profit-making skyscraper. The marketing entrepreneur uses the capital to identify markets and develop new products, then to deliver the products to the markets; the marketing entrepreneur, metaphorically, provides the floors, windows, office (the product), and the elevator and stairs (the means of distribution). The marketing entrepreneur is the producer in the traditional sense of the term.

Advertising Is “Just Salesmanship”

Advertising is mass-media selling. It is the communication of product information by means of the mass media, the purpose of which is to sell products to consumers. At the turn of the twentieth century, when newspapers and magazines were the primary media available to advertisers, advertising was referred to as “salesmanship in print.” One writer referred to advertising as “multiplied salesmanship.” Advertising is a method of communicating to consumers that is less expensive than other methods. That is, it is cheaper to communicate to many consumers at one time through the mass media than to one person at a time, as through one-on-one personal selling, and it is more effective than relying solely on the process of word-of-mouth communication.

This means that there are only two major differences between advertising and personal selling: (1) advertising’s selling message is delivered to many people at one time, whereas the salesperson’s message is delivered to one (or at most, a few) at a time, and (2) advertising’s message is delivered through a communication medium, such as television or newspapers, whereas the salesperson’s message is delivered without the intervention of a medium, that is, it is delivered personally. The genus of advertising is salesmanship; its differentia is the means by which the selling is done, namely, via mass media. To understand advertising, therefore—what it is, how it works, and the nature of its alleged power—we must always relate advertising back to its genus.

Advertising is mass-media selling. Its purpose is to sell products. This does not mean, however, that with advertising “you can sell anything to anyone.” The first principle of good advertising is what the textbooks call “the primacy of the product.” That is, without a good product—a product that meets the needs and wants of consumers—you have nothing; good advertising cannot sell a bad product. In fact, many an advertiser has said that the surest way to kill a bad product is to advertise it.

The purpose of advertising is to sell products, but this does not mean that good advertisements must be funny or entertaining or sexy—any more than a good salesperson in order to be successful must be funny or entertaining or sexy. Humorously entertaining and sexy ads tend to win awards, but they seldom sell products. It is notorious in the advertising industry that consumers respond to such ads by remembering the joke, the music, or the sexy model, but forget the product—or worse, they attribute the ad to the competition. Advertising is salesmanship, not entertainment.

There is nothing mysterious or incomprehensible about the way advertising works. In content, an advertisement says only one of three things (sometimes two or three of these in combination). In introductory campaigns, the ad says, “New product for sale.” In competitive campaigns, the ad says, “Our product is better than the competition’s.” In reminder campaigns, it says, “We’re still here, don’t forget us.” That is all.

In method, the persuasive structure of advertising copy is based on principles first set down by Aristotle over 2,000 years ago in the Rhetoric. They are the appeal to emotion, the offer of proof, and the appeal to the credibility of the communicator. The appeal to emotion (which is not the fallacy of the same name) is a statement of the benefits consumers will get out of the product by buying and using it; it can be either a positive appeal to the desire to achieve pleasure, such as the appeal to physical attractiveness issued by some brands of toothpaste, or it can be a negative appeal to the desire to avoid pain, such as the appeal to cavity prevention issued by other brands of toothpaste. The appeal to emotion, in truth, is an appeal to values, what consumers value and are therefore looking for in products.

The offer of proof is a statement of reasons or evidence why the product will deliver the claimed benefits; in advertising, this is often referred to as “reason why” copy. Often, although not always, this reason why copy is a statement of the product’s features. There is a cause and effect relationship between features and benefits: namely, features cause benefits. Consequently, for example, the reason why one brand of toothpaste will increase your physical attractiveness is because of its whitener and mouth-wash ingredients; the reason why the other brand will help prevent cavities is because of its fluoride ingredient.

Appealing to the credibility of the communicator is an appeal to the honesty and integrity of the advertiser. After all, why should anyone believe what the advertiser has said in the first two steps of the persuasion process? This includes references to the longevity of the advertiser and the use of testimonials and endorsements, expert or otherwise.

The use of these three steps of Aristotle’s Rhetoric constitutes rational persuasion. There are, of course, other less rational forms of communication practiced, not just by advertisers, but—to keep a clear perspective on advertising—by politicians, teachers, journalists, and even by parents. These other forms of communication or irrational persuasion—puffery, sophistry, and deception and fraud—will be discussed in chapter 3. . . .

The Nature of Applied Science

As disciplines of study, marketing and advertising are applied sciences. Some sciences are more fundamental than others. Philosophy, for example, is the most fundamental of all sciences—fundamental in the sense of being more basic and universal in applicability than the others. The special sciences depend on, are derivatives of, or are applications of the fundamental sciences. Physics, biology, psychology, and economics, for example, are fundamental special sciences, all of which in turn depend on philosophy. But engineering, medicine, and marketing are several steps removed from (that is, are more concrete than) the fundamental sciences and therefore are applied sciences. The applied sciences draw their most fundamental principles from their parent disciplines—engineering from physics and chemistry, medicine from biology, marketing from psychology and economics; new principles defined in the applied area, arising from new facts discovered, must be consistent with the more fundamental sciences.

The applied sciences, as concepts, are concepts of method. “Concepts of method,” states Ayn Rand, “designate systematic courses of action devised by men for the purpose of achieving certain goals. . . . All the applied sciences (that is, technology) are sciences devoted to the discovery of methods.” Marketing and advertising are normative, or “how to,” disciplines that define principles to guide man in the achievement of specific goals. The goal of marketing is the creation of need- and want-satisfying products and the delivery of them to consumers. The goal of advertising is communication to make a sale. Marketing and advertising rest most directly on, and derive their most basic principles from, psychology and economics. But psychology and economics, in turn, rest on philosophy.

By examining the fundamental sciences on which advertising rests, it will be possible to discover the roots of the criticisms of advertising.

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