You may have heard that some European countries have banned models that are underweight because seeing them has a harmful effect on teenage girls.
Should we be thinking about the negative societal effects of marketing? Should we ban marketing that is based on manipulating people by harming their self-esteem or encouraging them to do unhealthy things? Should we ban advertising that utilizes techniques that affect how our brains work? Should we demand that ads stop distracting us from our thoughts? I have been wondering about this.
Marketers today are learning how to reach down into the wiring of the brain itself, to manipulate us at a level that we do not consciously perceive and cannot control. Science has come a long way in recent decades. There is a new kind of marketing called neuromarketing that actually uses brain scans to measure how our brains react to certain stimuli. We are in danger of marketers using the information gained from these new techniques to come up with ways to sell us things and make us do things and we may in many cases be literally unable to resist.
It is not unprecedented to think about restricting marketing, even in the "free market" United States. We have confronted the problem of people being harmed by marketing in the past, with tobacco advertising and false claims of medical benefits. It used to be against regulations to make false claims in TV ads. But by and large companies have free range to manipulate people as they see fit.
But today we have an epidemic of obesity, the result of food-company marketing. The companies have learned to literally manipulate our metabolisms to the point where many of us cannot resist overeating. When you have a third of all of our people obese and another third seriously overweight it is obvious that the problem is not "self-control." The problem is systemic and beyond an individual's ability to control. Don't we as a society have an obligation to step in and correct this?
Obesity is just one example of what I call "marketing diseases." What about marketing that hits at our self-esteem? Makes us think we are ugly, undesirable, stupid, etc? Is this good for us?
Another kind of marketing is aspirational. Don't get me started about people who live fantasy lives, thinking they are starring in a James Bond or Marlboro Man movie, because of the harmful effects of unrestricted marketing on our human psychology.
Here is one more reason I think we should step in and regulate marketing and advertising. Advertising is the science of getting our attention. The most effective advertising gets us to stop what we are doing and pay attention to the ad.
But have you considered the extent to which such advertising is a distraction from our lives? We have public nuisance laws that prevent people from disturbing the peace. So what about advertising? At what point does advertising rise to the level of attention-grabbing distraction that we have a right to take control and prohibit? Good advertising gets our attention - and our attention is OURs.
I think we have the right to think about the things we want to think about. A concurrent right then would be the right not to have our attention distracted -- not to have things shoved in our face.
So suppose that we require companies to get our permission to expose their advertising to us? Suppose we charged a fee for the right to promote products and services to us?
So even when legitimate, there must be regulation of advertising and marketing to be sure that it is being used legitimately and that we are being fairly compensated for the use of us as a market for the products.
I hope this gets us thinking about our rights as people, versus the rights of companies to project marketing at us regardless of the effect.
What are your thoughts?
This post originally appeared at Open Left.
Follow Dave Johnson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dcjohnson