The Hidden Agenda of Advertisers

By HST Reporter, Peter (19)

On September 16, 2009, Dr. Jean Kilbourne presented a lecture at Phoenix College on the topic of Advertising and Addiction. Dr. Kilbourne is internationally recognized for her pioneering work on alcohol and tobacco advertising and the image of women in advertising. She wrote a book, Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel, and is also known for her award-winning documentaries “Killing Us Softly,” “Slim Hopes,” and “Calling the Shots.”

In her speech, Dr. Kilbourne explains how affluence can solve some issues such as malaria and smallpox but can contribute to other maladies such as obesity, addiction and compulsive shopping. According to Dr. Kilbourne, the culture in which we live is toxic. Images from advertising bombard and abuse us in an effort to persuade us. It has been shown that children as young as six months old can recognize a corporate logo. An average person spends three years of his or her life viewing advertisements. The advertisers say they are selling freedom, but in fact they are selling slavery and addiction.

More people die of cigarettes than all other addictions. As 1,000 smokers are dying from their product each day and 2,000 are quitting they need to get 3,000 new smokers a day. People rarely start smoking over the age of 25. Almost every adult smoker is a child smoker who grew up. Children are the target of cigarette advertisements. The advertisers say it’s to get smokers to change brands. But this is not likely since the money spent by people changing brands is less than the amount spent on advertising. And 90% of kids who smoke buy the three most heavily advertised brands. Coincidence? I think not!

Girls are targeted by implying that smoking keeps you slim. All cigarettes aimed at women have words like slim, slender, etc. in the name and/or advertisement. This isn’t just the case with cigarettes; a woman’s insecurity in her appearance is exploited in many types of product ads. Ads portray women as inhumanly perfect. Women are turned into objects, or parts of them are morphed into objects; sometimes even disembodied body parts are used to sell.

Girls are told to look thin, to become nothing. Advertisers sell the “V” look which is in 5% of our female population’s genetic makeup. 95% have a pear shape and they are taught through advertisement and entertainment that this is unattractive to men. Dieting cannot change this. Diets frequently fail and people gain more weight later. Yet many young girls are dieting and causing permanent damage. Obesity is a complicated problem with many contributing factors and it can’t be solved by people selling something.

Alcohol ads are just as devious. Alcohol is a depressant, yet the advertisements show young drinkers as excited and exciting. Booze ads promise good stuff but nothing good can come of it. The distillers depend on drunkards and problem drinkers for their livelihood. Their ads touting “drink responsibility” and “use a designated driver” even contradict themselves – if people drank responsibly, they wouldn’t need a designated driver. The fact is, if everyone drank responsibly, sales would drop and the alcohol industry would lose 80% of their business.

College drinking in particular is a big business. But most addictions start early. The distillers want underage kids to drink. They want kids to break the law. They target the youth and deny that they do. Note that the energy booze drinks are sugary/fruity and are appealing to kids. Drinking is made to look cool and fun. Eric Clapton advertised Miller Beer but now wishes that he had not become a drunk. Clapton said he regrets having spent a good portion of his life anesthetized. Unfortunately, his statements are not widely disseminated.

Advertising is such a lucrative business that television shows and magazine articles are not the important part; it’s all about the advertising. Time magazine minimizes emphasis on cigarettes as the primary cause of lung cancer in women because they do not want to lose tobacco company dollars. Cosmopolitan as well as Family Circle magazines promise liquor companies that their readers will buy more of their products if they advertise with them. The deregulation of children’s television allowed advertisers to use popular characters to sell things. Advertisers actually hire psychologists to design their ads.

Dr. Kilbourne brings to light the unspoken, subliminal impulses and feelings that the advertisers want to keep silently operating under the surface. When people see an advertisement, they need to think critically and uncover its purpose. By discussing advertisements openly, one can dissipate the mist. What does the ad say and what is it really trying to do?

Dr. Jean Kilbourne is an interesting, engaging, and enthusiastic speaker, obviously passionate about her subject. Even though she didn’t say so, she addressed many concepts that are based on biblical principles. For example, if everyone would just follow the Ten Commandments – the 7th and 10th commandments in particular, which say “Thou shall not commit adultery” and “Thou shall not covet” – most advertising would be dead. It’s also amazing how some of Dr. Kilbourne’s ideas seemed to come right out of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. [Click for excerpts:]

For more information, visit Dr. Kilbourne’s website: . To view actual video clips from her lectures, see:

Peter is a 19-year-old homeschool graduate, currently enrolled in the honors program at the local community college.


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