Do you remember the television commercials for Noxzema shaving cream—the ones with the stripper music and Swedish model Gunilla Knutson whispering: “Men, take it off. Take it all off.”? Do you remember Mr. Whipple, chiding his shoppers: “Please don't squeeze the Charmin.”? And, of course, who can forget the Wisk “ring around the collar” commercials? Or, from more recent times, the John Hancock “real life, real answers” advertisements?
What do you think of these advertisements? Entertaining? Boring? Or distasteful, obnoxious, and irritating—or worse? Well, I like all of them. However, I have not always liked them (Noxzema excepted). Sometimes I wanted to throw my shoe at the television set when Mr. Whipple appeared and sometimes I felt like shooting the people who wrote the “ring around the collar” ads. Even my first reactions to the "real life, real answers" ads were negative. But over time my evaluations of the ads—and the corresponding emotional reactions to them—changed.
My attitudes changed because my knowledge of advertising expanded beyond the popular misconceptions I had acquired in my youth—misconceptions that most people today still hold. Because emotions are not causeless, I identified and changed the premises that underlay the negative reactions I felt toward the four television commercials mentioned above. As a result, my emotions changed and I now feel positive emotions toward all four commercials—not the same emotion toward each, to be sure, but a positive emotion, nonetheless. I like them because they all meet the standards both of good advertising and of good taste. Part of my purpose in writing this book is to convince you of this point.
A more significant part of my purpose, however, is to address the “or worse” response you might have had to the above ads and to address the negative evaluation you might have of advertising in general. Advertising today is under attack from many quarters. The most serious charges question its very existence. Other criticisms hold that advertising is a powerful force that must be regulated by the government. These issues cannot be taken lightly. A major purpose of this book is to demonstrate that advertising is, at once, a rational, moral, productive, and, above all, benevolent institution of laissez-faire capitalism.
The source of the “social” and economic criticisms of advertising is much more basic and fundamental than most people realize. In fact, a complete philosophic world view, or weltanschauung, underlies them. This means that not only ethics and economics play a key role in the criticisms, but also metaphysics, epistemology, politics, and esthetics. Bringing to light and refuting the philosophic and economic premises of the critics of advertising is the primary goal of this work.
Finally, appeasement and apology are rampant today among business and advertising practitioners who attempt to defend advertising. (This includes business school professors who choose to defend advertising—many, however, are vocal critics.) Paraphrasing Frederic Bastiat in his introduction to Economic Sophisms, I am not engaging here in controversy with the Marxists, the socialists, or anyone else openly hostile to capitalism or to advertising. “Rather, I am trying to instill a principle into the minds of sincere men who hesitate to take a stand on the issue because they are in doubt.”1 What I hope to provide practitioners, academics, and intelligent laymen is the intellectual ammunition with which to take a hard-hitting moral stand against the critics. My goal is to dispel any doubt you may have about the legitimacy of advertising and to give you the confidence to speak with conviction—when fending off the onslaught.
1Frederic Bastiat, Economic Sophisms, trans. and ed. Arthur Goddard (D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., 1964; Irvington on Hudson, N. Y.: The Foundation for Economic Education, Inc., 1975), 3. Bastiat's controversy was with the protectionists.