No real apples need apply: lost in the world of images

By Madronna Holden

When is an apple not an apple?  When it appears in an ad for an apple.

Many years ago ad makers decided that a picture of a real apple was not good enough, so they created models of apples to photograph for their ads. Today there is computer retouching to create the  image nature never presents us.  That is how women in ads get so impossibly thin and unblemished, as Jean Kilbourne details in her films on women’s images in the media.

And when is a doctor not a doctor?  When you saw him in a pharmaceutical ad—at least until a few years ago when the American Medical Association came out with guidelines discouraging the misleading practice of selling pharmaceuticals with actors posing as health care professionals.

Unfortunately, the shamming did not stop with these rules in 2006.  Last year investigators uncovered the fact that many research articles in peer- reviewed medical journals were not written by real doctors. Instead, the pharmaceutical industry was ghost writing them. Merck outdid them all by writing an entire fake scientific journal that came out for a year before anyone caught on.

Not surprisingly, an article published this summer in Business Ethics presented the “blemished record” of doctors on the payroll of pharmaceutical companies. It seems that the manipulation of image for profit does not do well in maintaining the ethics of medicine.

Unfortunately, large pharmaceutical corporations spend more money on advertising than on research and development and use a number of “hidden” marketing tactics.

And today it is patient testimonials that are the perview of actors.

A good example of the importance of image– and its danger to our health is the use of food coloring. According to a recent issue of Nutrition Action,  the FDA has been aware of data for several decades that clearly shows the negative effects of ingesting chemical food coloring.  Such dangers range from cancer to hyperactivity.  Given the fact that the coloring does not add anything to food, Nutrition Action urges that we simply ban it.

We might have done that long ago–or never developed such colorings in the first place, if image were not so important to us.

Many food colorings appeal to children—who are also most vulnerable to their negative effects. This was the protest of a doctor who complained to her pharmaceutical employer in the 1980s that putting dyes in children’s antibiotics was a health hazard. She was summarily fired.

Children also have a harder time with the mental effects of ads.  You can spot many an unhappy parent with a small child in tow in grocery isles, as the child insists on adding to their basket something they recognize from commercials. The advertisers have done their research. They test their ads before audiences of children, adjusting things should the children’s attention lag.

They are testing adults too.  As documented in Spellcasters, “neuromarketing” uses  MRIs to design ads bypassing decision-making centers of the brain for those that act on impulse. A few decades back laws forbade the use of subliminal images in advertising–images shown so quickly that they registered on the subconscious but not the conscious mind.  But we haven’t passed legislation to deal with this new twist.

The idea that buying things should replace community and familial connections predates any of these technological niceties.  Stuart Ewen documents the history of advertising’s image manipulation in creating the social values that ground consumer culture.  Nearly one hundred years ago, a group of influential CEOs met to decide the goals of social engineering through advertising.

Specifically, they wanted to foster  loneliness and anxiety in the general populace—so that they could entice them to buy products in order to relieve their discomfort.  And having made the consumer bereft of a sense of kinship with others, they planned to substitute the idea that the modern corporation is our social milieu– or in the words of the meeting minutes, the “father of us all.”

Many of us feel we do not pay attention to ads–or are oblivious to their messages.  The fact that the average US citizen spends over three years of their lives watching ads gives pause to this claim, as does the fact that the ads continue to be effective in selling us things, as careful research done by the advertising industry indicates.  A recent study shows that patients visiting their doctor’s office having seen an ad for Paxil are nearly seven times more likely to leave with a prescription for it than are those who simply show up and describe their symptoms.

In analyzing consumer culture, we need to ask what ads sell use besides– or along with– their products.

For one thing, ads govern media content.  For years, corporations have been telling magazines that if they run particular articles (e.g. positive articles on aging in women’s magazines), they will lose their ad accounts.

The most egregious case I know is the pact network TV made with advertisers at the beginning of the first Gulf War not to show body bags– since this “downer” made consumers less likely to buy things.  At that time I was teaching a class consisting of parents of a number of Gulf War soldiers. These parents of soldiers were livid at this network deal: they themselves knew well enough that there were real men and women dying in the War.

Persistently, ads sell us the idea that all life’s problems can be solved in a few minutes by purchasing a product.  And that we have a right to a life of convenience and privilege based on such products.

We are also sold an addictive consumerism, as ads urge us never to be satisfied, so as to consume more and more. Thus ads express the values that “new” is better (and the past must be discarded, not learned from), and larger is better (as in fast food servings), in a world of technological delights and “magic bullets”.

Perhaps most insidiously, ads sell the importance of image itself. This severely impacts young people coming to adulthood in the US.   In her observation of the lives of girls in different ethnic and economic neighborhoods, Schoolgirls, Peggy Orenstein observes a direct connection between girls’ measuring themselves against images in the blitz of ads they experience and their falling self-esteem– which currently plummets by half as US girls reach adolescence. This dynamic siphons off the energy and potential in these girls as they focus on creating the right image rather than following other goals.

Along with other young people, these girls struggle with the idea that their self-worth is bound up in buying things, as Juliet Schor documents in Born to Buy, which details advertising’s grooming of the consumer personality from birth through childhood.

Collectively, ads sell us the idea that images are important enough to risk our health and the future of our children for– as in the case of pesticide-manicured lawns.

Or  they sell us carefully groomed candidates for public office  in the ads mushrooming in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited corporate funding of campaign ads. We are in a dangerous image-land when politicians take corporate money to air ads proclaiming they are on the side of “Main Street” rather than “Wall Street”.  With the proliferation of such ads, we are giving ourselves over to rule by image.

In order to address the dangerous potential of rule by image, I have a few suggestions for changes– feel free to add your own.

In a democratic society, we should not be  hawking  our candidates for public office according to image.  We sorely need campaign finance reform.  With such reform, we would also take an essential step toward putting lobbyists out of the money business, so that citizen groups could speak to their representatives on the issues rather than with campaign monies on the table.

We could also do without ads for pharmaceuticals. After all, most of the developed world disallows these: we could follow their lead in taking medicine out of the media business.

And we ought to disallow any ads that appeal primarily to children.

And in each of our lives, we can work to undermine consumerism by creating a sense of community and caring with real persons.

We can engage with the natural world that sustains us: the world that is fragile and precious rather than infinitely susceptible to manipulation, as is the world of images.

This essay, along with other indicated material on this site other than comments (which should be attributed to their authors when quoted)  is copyright by Madronna Holden.  Please feel free to link here, but this essay may be used off site only with attribution and permission.

141 Responses

  1. I think after reading that we have spent three years of our lives watching ads, is why I hardly notice images anymore along with fastforwarding through them. I was at JCPenny the other day and I actually looked at image of a woman that was on the wall behind me. She of course, was a model but even though she looked like a woman, she did not seem real since she was literally airbrushed. There was not a pore to be seen on her skin since they airbrushed them away. It was just a figure that resembled a woman but not a ‘living’ woman. It is interesting that our children only get the touched up versions of an apple or whatever the ad is selling but blemishes are deleted from the image. It is no wonder why if they actually receive the product that they persisted in favor for, that it is diminished once they receive it; for then they realize that it is not the perfect picture image that they thought it to be. Or our teenagers look at themselves daily wishing to be a certain figure or image that they will never be. I think if we can turn off the images or at least the television or computer screens long enough to realize there is a beautiful living world outside with real people , then we will see that we are a community and not be afraid to speak to one another and care for each other because at this point, we are all living apart from each other, passing each other by on the streets and in the shops but never connecting and to change is to begin with me.

    • The fact that some are ignoring (or trying to ignore) this barrage of images may well be why advertisers are upping the ante by using neuromarketing, Tina. Jean Kilbourne discusses why (see the short clip of her film linked here) even those who feel they are bypassing or ignoring the ads are influenced by them. Perhaps not watching tv or reading particular magazines at all helps. Your last point is important– how would you say it conflicts with the plans for social engineering that those early CEOs put together? Thanks for leading off the comments on this piece.
      And one of the most important questions this media manipulation raises for me is how it supports a dualistic society that keeps up separate from the natural world.

  2. I had no idea that media manipulation was at such an alarming level. I knew that there was manipulation at some level, but not to this degree. Evidence of actors, or other falsehoods can be seen in commercials or paper ads involving products and there is always a tiny “*” with a disclaimer (in even smaller print) that says that the person is an actor or whatever. Media outlets must feel that as long as they can keep the consumers duped into believing anything they want, they can keep the money flowing.

    • I find this alarming as well, Andrew. It is especially daunting that so much manipulation is hidden, as you indicate. Recently, the FDA told a large pharmaceutical corporation to keep a buzzing bee from dancing across the screen and distracting consumers during the required listing of drug side effects.
      A tragic side effect of “keeping the money flowing” is rapid denigration of our natural environment.

  3. A major part of advertising is packaging and it has gone too far.With the advent of the internet marketers have unlimited access to an audience. One of the negative effects is that these days just about anyone can be sold the “40 acres of swamp land in Florida” if it is packaged right. Currently in the heated political climate we are in it is shocking how ads can be used to promote someone, manipulate words and ideas, and with no proof can land all over the airwaves and cyberspace and be sold as “truth”.

    • Thoughtful point about internet marketers, Deborah. There have been close to 2000 “spam” comments attempting to make an appearance on this site. Catching and inhibiting them is one of the reasons that you have to go through “moderation” to a post a comment here.
      But note as well, that they are simply using technology to follow up on a trend that is over one hundred years old (as in the social engineering designed by ad makers then). I think it is important to consider what it is about our worldview that makes us so susceptible to images.
      Thanks for your comment.

  4. My first foray into non-commercial land occurred while I was living in Germany in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. My husband was in the Air Force and the only television we watched was that provided by Armed Forces Network, which purchased the programs but not the commercials. Imagine my delight – seven years of nothing but programming. It was difficult, upon my return to the States, to have to wait through what seemed like a never-ending barrage of advertising every time I tried to watch a program. At that point, I realized why television programming exists: to force feed product advertising into our living rooms. It has very little to do with providing any type of entertainment.

    I’ve been greatly relieved of the need to pay attention to commercials since the satellite television distributors started offering DVRs. I record most everything I plan to watch and then (gleefully) fast-forward through the ads.

    Your statement that “corporations have been telling magazines that if they run particular articles … they will lose their ad accounts” seems ridiculous on the face of it, until you realize that if this is true then it means that the magazines are making more money from advertising than they are from their subscriber base. Which then dovetails with television networks, which apparently make more money from ad revenues than they do from selling their programming.

    In the end, there’s always PBS.

    • Hi Barbara, it is unfortunate but true, as you surmise, that most large magazines earn a small proportion of their monies from subscribers. Indeed, that subscriber base is just a way to sell ads (by indicating how many readers a magazine has).
      There is PBS– and this brings up the point of whether airwaves should not be more publicly controlled as a portion of our commons. PBS receives less substantial funding that public funding in other countries–and it seems to me that the corporate sponsorship of programs is growing more and more like real commercials.
      It must have been quite a transition experience in going back to commercial tv!

    • With the invention of things like DVR and commercial-free satellite radio, it kind of makes you wonder how and where the advertising companies are currently scheming to hit us with next. You know they are not going to take it lying down!

      • Of course, there are not many who can afford such technology as of now– and perhaps you know that low income neighborhoods are paying more for lower quality produce in supermarkets located there. Just as the cigarette ads were clearly targeted to the audience of potential consumers (girls under the age of 11, according to data Jean Kilbourne refers to), the poor are another vulnerable class–and vulnerability seems to be the name of the game in finding an audience (and if they aren’t vulnerable to begin with, ads should make them feel so…)

      • Hi Breannon,

        No, they’re not lying down – you know how you can watch tv shows on the computer now – like from They’ve recently starting showing commercials during the stream, and there’s no way to fast-forward through them 🙂

        • I have noticed this in documentaries. If my memory serves me, those showing the “Future of Food” on the internet a few years back, were breaking for ads from corporate food processors– ironic to say the least.

      • Actually, they’re advertising more subtly within the shows on t.v. now. I remember reading about how companies were concerned about people fast forwarding through commercials, so now they just insert their products into the shows in the hope that consumers will pick up on their favorite characters using a particular phone, or wearing certain styles, drinking certain beverages, etc., etc. It’s less obvious, but they’re hoping that those subconscious cues will work in their favor (and considering the power of the subconscious, it just may).

        • Thanks for bringing up this point, Crystal. I understand they are doing this in movies as well– another take on the ways they formerly controlled magazine copy.

      • Hi Crystal – Yes!! Now I understand why my favorite characters on Days of Our Lives, while having a conversation in the Brady Pub about something that’s actually happening on the show will suddenly launch into the benefits of eating some weird kind of snack food. They show it on camera, they talk about it, and all I can think while it’s going on is, “how sad for these actors to have to do commercials during their soap”. Thanks for bringing this up 🙂

  5. As Andrew states, I always knew media manipulation and propaganda techniques existed but had no idea that these tactics were so prevalent and in some cases unethical. Unfortunately we are letting the media decide what we need to lead a happy and healthy life. As a society we continue to lose our appreciation for the earth and natural splendor of the environment, and focus the extent of our happiness on acquiring the newest form of technologies or trendiest clothes. On a personal level, I recently purchased the newest iPhone. As I sit here typing this message, I begin to think “Did I really need this overpriced device? No. Did I consider the environmental ramification resulting from its manufacture? No. Did I consider what positive things I could have done with the ridiculous amounts of money I am going to be paying monthly for this device? No.
    I simply came across a television ad filled with paid actors in trendy/appealing situations, and thought “Hey, that could be me”.
    Applying these same manipulation tactics to industries such as pharmaceuticals; ethics really come into question. I’ve noticed that pharmaceutical ads are composed in a way to allow people to create a self-diagnosis for themselves, which in most cases is usually incorrect. Unfortunately, it seems manipulation techniques are becoming more advanced, and the new generation may be totally reliant its guidance for daily living.

    • Hi Kazmi, the level of this manipulation is certainly, as you indicate, out of hand, when ads decide what a “happy and healthy life” consists of. Thanks for sharing your recent personal experience in this regard.
      Thoughtful point about pharmaceuticals and self-diagnosis. Actually, some of the “diseases” advertised in these ads are created by pharmaceuticals. One drug recently pulled from the market for “urinary incontinence” made it seem like a physical condition in need of a radical cure– and several takers of this medicine experienced such severe depression as a side effect that they committed suicide.
      I think we need to be vigilant so that the next generation does not become even more reliant on ad images for their life decisions– the “center for media and democracy” (on our links page) which analyzes media PR campaigns indicates a hopeful trend in terms of meeting ad campaigns with solid information.
      It does concern me that in a democracy, which relies on the knowledge of its citizens, paid ads have such unwarranted and dangerous influence.
      Thanks for your response.

  6. It’s amazing how much effort we can put into avoiding reality, whether we do it intentionally or are duped into it. For some reason we can be much more impressed with something artificial than with something natural. I think it may have something to do with artificial things are easier for us to relate to because they were made by humans and so carry a very human quality with them which can give them the familiarity of looking into a mirror. Whereas interacting with the natural things can take effort in relating to because the mirror has not been as polished and cleaned by focus groups, brain research, and the support of our culture.

    I think education would be very important in helping to offset the efforts of these forces which seek to creep inside us and direct us from outside. If education were able to develop the potential which a individual carries in themselves rather than trying to steer them towards already established areas of society, something strong could come from the individual to at least to begin to hold back all the influences that seek to control them from outside.

    • Thoughtful perspective, Andy. I like your observation about the effort we put into “avoiding reality”– not true for some societies, which anthropologist Paul Radin remarked, live in a “white blaze of reality”.
      I think a dualistic worldview allows (encourages?) us to evade reality in this way– and certainly if we see ourselves as thus distinct from the natural world, we are looking for something more intimate.
      Interesting idea about looking in a mirror– one could also look at it from the opposite side of the coin: that maybe we don’t to see the real us (warts and all), so we escape to the airbrushed version.
      I think you are absolutely right about the energy and potential we might unleash if we were to engage–and remain grounded in– our personal authenticity.

  7. The ads on TV for pharmaceutical companies are among the most tragic example of corporate greed run amok. Knowing that doctors don’t have pharmaceutical training but get their knowledge from the drug company reps. , pretty much guarantees that of if a patient asks for a drug there is a high likelyhood it will be prescribed especially if it’s one that has been heavily promoted to physicians. I watched the creepy spellcaster youtube video and was appalled, but not surprised at the newest technology appropriated by corporate media.
    We have certainly seen the effects of acquiring things and attaching our personal value to those things in the last decade. This dangerously and consciously manipulated desire for home and well-being has eroded our economy and the security of many of our fellow Americans.
    I whole-heartedly agree that we need campaign finance reform. As Nancy Pelosi stated in a recent interview, if our Supreme Court, Congress and Senate can be bought as they are frighteningly close to being, we no longer have a democracy but our Country will have moved into an oligarchy and /or plutocracy.

    • I was also appalled by that youtube video! Drug ads on television have always bothered me because of how fake they feel. I used to work at a summer camp for children, and I remember one time I said I had a headache and half of the children parroted back various pain killer tag lines from tv ads. That was especially disturbing to me; our kids are being brainwashed!

      • The example of these children parroting back name brand pain killers to fix your headache is disturbing indeed, Allison.
        The good news is that you were working at the camp– so that you had the opportunity to have a counter-balancing effect on them.

    • Spellcasters is indeed a “creepy” video, Maureen– the good news is that there were those who cared enough about exposing this (and changing things) that they made it. I agree with you about pharmaceutical ads: my sense is that they prey on the vulnerable (those ill, suffering, in pain) for the sake of profit– which multiplies the potential ethical harm here.
      And I absolutely agree that we cannot let our democracy be bought– at which point it will no longer be a democracy.
      You are probably aware of the new election reform law in Congress (for those who aren’t, check it out here (next to last in the list):
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  8. The part of this article that shocked me the most was the dangerousness of the food coloring. I always thought, as the article says, that food coloring was not harmful and was fine to ingest. However, thinking about it, any chemical that colors your food and is not natural probably is not the best thing for our bodies.

    I know as a child I always liked the fact that medicines were colored. Now that I am older it is rather shocking thinking about the amount of children, and how much medicine each of them might be consuming that is harmful to their health.

    The fact that a doctor would be fired from a pharmaceutical company for protesting about this is ridiculous. That was definitely the strangest part of this article for me.

    • It’s usually the colors that appeal to kids–something in our brains appreciates brightness, I guess. But there are alternatives, if people “have” to have brightly colored food for their kids–I just bought some lollipops for Halloween that are colored with fruit juice instead of ‘FD&C’ whatever food coloring (and after a taste test, I can say they’re really good too).

      Sadly, it really is not all that unusual for people to lose their jobs for promoting an ethical concern over a purely dollar concern–and it happens because any repercussions a company might face if exposed are barely a slap on the wrist (if that). It really is terrible.

    • Food coloring applies even to non-kid targeted food. I remember many years ago when my mom started buying wild salmon instead of farm-raised salmon and my little brother refused to eat it because it did not contain the bright pink color he was used to.

  9. I agree with all of the above suggestions for changing our susceptibility to advertising, and would add that we should try to minimize our contact with ALL advertising. Ever since I wrote a paper on advertising several years ago, I have made studious attempts to avoid advertising when I can (and it’s really hard to do, let me tell you). I have to say that exposing myself to fewer messages telling me who I’m supposed to be or what I’m supposed to want (when I know that I don’t really want any of that) has left me far less anxious and self-conscious. I also don’t have to suffer the buyer’s remorse that comes with buying stuff I didn’t really want to begin with, with money I couldn’t really spare anyway (I always hated that wasteful feeling). I think it’s particularly important to shield children from advertising as much as one is able, as they are especially susceptible to its effects at very young ages (those below about 8 years old being most vulnerable, if I remember correctly).

    On another note, I’m wondering of the addition of food coloring to so many kids’ snacks maybe had something to do with the significant rise in diagnoses of hyperactivity ‘disorders’ that led to large numbers of kids being put on medications to calm them down (although I’m sure the pharmaceutical companies deserve some credit here, too).

    • I have also noticed that the more I remove myself from advertising, the less anxiety I tend to experience. This would be a beneficial lesson for many stressed working class Americans to learn! I worry about where our society is headed, since the individuals most exposed to advertising at young ages are starting to become the working class. I think your observation about food coloring and the rise of ADHD is a particularly keen one. Although unfortunately, most people aren’t aware of some of the negative effects of food dye.

      • Decreasing stress by staying away from advertising– a good thing indeed for many to learn. No negative side effects here (that I can think of).
        It is hard to come up with a justification for coal tar-derived food dyes in the first place. It IS possible to use particular herbs to achieve the same thing if you really want colored food.
        I remember several decades ago when the research first starting coming out on certain dyes, those who spoke out against them were considered extremists: I am hoping the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s suggestion that we ban them may get some attention.

    • You have an important point about minimizing our contract with this manipulative medium, Crystal.
      Thanks for sharing your experience of how this goal (difficult as it was) left you feeling less anxious and self-conscious.
      There are a number of links between hyperactivity in kids and ingestion of food coloring: I don’t know that we can say food coloring is responsible for all of this, but for the kids who are most susceptible, it definitely is a serious contributing factor. At the very least, it would seem something for a parent to try (deleting food colorings) before giving a child pharmaceuticals. I would recommend that such parents peruse the very readable Nutrition Action article–and check out the footnotes there if they wish to look furthere.
      Thanks for your comment, Crystal.

  10. In high school, the environmental club that I was involved in looked quite a bit at the “importance of image” in our society. One example we noted was the disappearance of the electric car in CA as documented in “Who Killed the Electric Car?” It was incredible to me that simply changing images and music in ads could lead to people rejecting or wanting a product. I think a lot of consumers have the opinion that they are “above” the ads, but in reality there aren’t many Americans who can completely escape the influence of the advertising industry.

    The body image issues that many young girls face as a result of ridiculous photoshop usage on models is a huge problem. As a middleschooler I remember reading fashion magazines and having absolutely no idea that the images had been retouched so extensively. I thought it was possible for me to obtain the flawless skin and tiny waste of all the models shown and that thought really screwed up my self confidence. Fortunately, I realized how crazy it was to compare myself with images of nonexistent women, but not all girls figure that out. Just like the example used in the essay of fostering loneliness and anxiety to create a market for products, a lot of companies benefit from the insecurity of young women.

    • Very powerful example in terms of the electric car–and the changing of music and images in an ad turning us from a better environmental alternative. By the way, the video you mention on the electric car is an important one– given the complicity of gas-engine producers in dampening our whole public transport system.
      Middle school is a vulnerable enough time without such ad images to contend with–thanks for sharing your personal experience– and you move beyond the ad influences. It is tragic when people profit from insecurity… I think that is most dangerous currently in campaign ads.

  11. Anytime there is talk of the high cost of prescription drugs in the US, pharmaceutical companies are quick to counter this by saying they charge so much to pay for research and development. Further investigation reveals that what we are really paying for is the advertisement of these drugs. According to a class I had on Health Finance last year, pharmaceutical companies spend close to 30% of their budget on advertising! This is in stark contrast to the just over 13% they spend on R & D. Why can’t we trust our medical practitioners in their treatment, rather than being encouraged to “ask our doctor” about a certain medication. On a side note, we might not always fully trust our medical practitioners to prescribe unbiased because they too are bombarded with trials of prescription drugs.

    I wish I could say not having cable for the past couple years has left me exempt from the onslaught of consumer advertising. Maybe if I never used the internet, never read the news, never listened to the radio, and lived under a rock would it be possible to fully escape the influence of advertising. This is not realistic and instead we simply have to take on a defensive stance when using any form of media. We have seen some strides in consumer protection with regards to advertising, such as the end of Joe Camel from the advertisement of cigarettes (even though big tobacco claimed they weren’t targeting kids). However, it seems now instead of the tobacco companies its the pharmaceutical companies in the opponents seat.

    • Thanks for sharing the specific data on the ratio of R and D to advertising among pharmaceuticals, Breannon. The link in this essay to “hidden” ads brings up the ways in which drugs are pitched to doctors– which, as you note, is not all that reassuring either.
      I see no reason why pharmaceutical ads should be on TV– or why pharm corporations ought to be able to pay doctors for selling the drugs to other doctors at seminars in expensive hotels.

  12. It’s sad, I still consider myself young and I have seen this change overtime myself. Girls HAVE to be skinny to be on TV, but the girl that is representing the brand, the shoe, the designer, whatever it is that she may be representing. DID NOT work hard to get to where she is which is what people think, and which is why people want to be just like that girl. There is way more than what meets the eye. It’s also sad that a simple part of nature…an apple- has been so digitally enhanced, and turned into a huge company so that when people think of an apple they automatically think of the company Apple. It shocks me that a “doctor” can go on TV and falsify information to this extent because this is how people get other people to “believe in” and buy their products, so basically their scheming the whole population. It’s sickening. I had no idea it was this bad. I knew that the girl on TV was not who she really was but I had no idea the effect is was really causing our world. Thanks for opening up my eyes! I enjoyed this read but at the same time it made me think about a lot of things, and it is very sad…I don’t know why anyone would ever be allowed to do such things to harm another human being. This needs to be stopped.

    • Thanks for your comment, Tayler–and for sharing your personal stance. I think there is no question but that putting profit before everything else gives some sad results when it comes to image manipulation.
      I hadn’t even thought of Apple as behind the apple manipulation. Shows how far out of the loop I am (and I think I’m glad to be!)

  13. I had no idea they used fake apples. That is lame. However, we live in a society that a lot of the things around us are fake. From people to object, we all hide things from others.
    People should live inside their own shoes and be true to themselves.
    What makes me really mad, was hearing about that magazine writing reports about drugs that have no professional input on it. We owe it to the public to keep each other safe, and without consulting a professional on these drugs, that is dangerous and reckless. Like you said, we should take all drugs out of the media and out of the hands of the marketing team of these pharmaceutical companies. The media doesn’t need to promote these drugs, drugs are made to help people recover and heal. Not made to make money for giant companies. Drugs are not green and made out of paper, drugs are chemicals which have big consequences if made wrongly. Stay focused in making drugs that are safe and helpful, not harmful. This is proven by all the recalls on drugs that are released.

    • Not only apples: they sculpt all the food dishes you see on tv out of inert materials (at least until the advent of computers). Lame is a good word for it. I like your perspective on drugs and the care with which we should use them, Will. Thanks for your comment.

  14. I can’t sum-up my response to this essay better than by quoting the Pit River elder, Wild Bill, from the 1900’s; “you can never get enough of what you didn’t want in the first place” (located in the essay “On Knowing What You Want”). Basically, without an understanding of who we are and what we need, leaves us susceptible to various outside influences, and the promotion of a capitalistic ideology.

    I also completely agree with all of Dr. Holden’s illustrated suggestions for change. I’d only like to add that we should promote greater strength in decisions making at the local government levels and do as much as we can to suppress federal interventions. You may think I support the Socialist ideology, but in actuality I believe in greater equality and the promotion of federal system that above all sets the base for our countries fundamentally supported system. This I do not believe is the current case. For instance, why is it considered feasible for those persons, placed into office by your “hand” and your tax dollars, to receive some of the best medical insurance available but many of you struggle to even attain health coverage? Call it socialism if you wish but I’d just like to see some equality.

    • The words of Pitt River elder Wild Bill might certainly be related to this topic, but these are not his words: instead, these are the words of a substance abuse counselor as quoted in the essay.
      And I think his or her words (the source is anonymous) are, as you indicate, pointed ones in dealing with this topic. Until we know who we are we won’t be able to stop the addictive cycle of consumerism– nor find personal satisfaction that allows us to be “full”.
      I think it is important that labeling (“socialism”) not stop us from parity–as in the case of health insurance–in the example you point out, Ryan. Nice point!

  15. I remember when I was growing up and realized that none of the apples from our tree looked as good as the apples on tv and in the media. I was really disappointed and asked my grandmother what was wrong with our apple tree. She told me that all apples had some kind of imperfection and that ads and books made sure to just photograph the “good side” of each apple.

    Now that apples in the media are digitally imaged to be completely perfect I wonder if people feel the same sense of disappointment I felt as a child when they look at a real apple.

    Its interesting that through our overuse of “perfect” images, food coloring, and other types of image “enhancement” we seem to feel an increasing sense of disappointment with real life and real food. How disappointing.

    • Thanks for sharing this personal experience, Darcy. I have often wondered why folks are willing to go to the store and buy apples instead of picking the apples on a tree in their yard– this (sadly) explains a bit of this attitude that apples in the store are better. In fact (see Lizzy’s comment on her first taste of the marvelous pear from her own yard) those apples in the yards likely had much more taste. Your grandmother was a wise woman.
      Our “disappointment” in the imperfect world of nature is surely a sad thing– but perhaps can be overcome by eating from our garden and seeing just how wonderful fresh food can be.

  16. I have to admit as a child I was one of those children dragging my mother through the grocery store begging her to buy me the those brightly colored cereals. It seems so unfair that small children are targeted when they are completely unaware of the additives and preservatives that are added to these cereals, and more disturbing is that they are also unaware of the potential harm. I also have to admit that even as an adult I have fallen victim to these false images of food. I remember that when I first contemplated buying organic produce that I was a little disappointed in its appearance. I wondered why the organic apples weren’t as shiny as the non-organic apples I was buying and why some of the organic produce wasn’t as plump as the produce I had been buying. Then someone explained to me that the shiny apples were coated with wax and some of the produce was plumper because it was pumped full of artificial fertilizers or was genetically modified. I still wasn’t completely sold until I had my first organic apples and pears and then I was completely sold on their incredible taste, and I also had the added benefit of not worrying about harmful chemicals.

  17. The way advertising agencies market products to the public is infuriating. The object is to sell products at any cost, even if it means using psychological tactics to play on the insecurities of consumers. The focus on profits is so important that when the country has experienced a tragedy such as September 11th or hurricane Katrina, the media steers citizens towards maintaining their shopping habits. I remember George Bush and Joe Biden both making speeches after September 11th and the economic crisis encouraging Americans to keep spending. It is presented as the patriotic thing to do. It also seems like the media is doing the same thing it did years ago by not showing graphic pictures of war. The focus on consumerism has gotten out of control to the point that we are distracted purposely from extremely important issues.

    • Anger is an appropriate response to such manipulation, Kelsey. And in the midst of all this manipulation, we might pause to consider that none of it might be needed if we were being sold what we really needed. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  18. it is true that marketing has taken terrible leaps and bounds to enslave us and to convince us that products that are otherwise worthless are something that we need it is coincidental that this article started off by talking about the false apples that were used in place of real apples. Such is the case with the company that is known with the symbol of an Apple this company that monopolizes their products markets to young adults that are unaware of the true potential and power that computers can have. The computers in the products they sell are overpriced and carry an aura of elitism, this company has placed it self as a rode block for future universal innovation in technology, by convincing others that is a better computer because of its nicer design and mass multi marking tactics.

  19. Image. It’s what our world revolves around. Not one single person in this forum can honestly say that they do not care about image. The type of toothpaste you buy, the clothes you wear, the brand you select at the grocery store, the commercials you choose to fast forward through and not fast forward through.. the list goes on and on because the truth is, that image is what people care about. I admit myself, image is a strong factor in my day to day life. I try my best to have a pleasing appearance, I watch my figure, and I buy the products that seem “nicer.” I do agree that the technological touch-ups of models (and seriously..even an apple?) is not the way that we should be living. But let’s also recognize, that through studies it has been shown that both men and women, prefer to look at images of better looking people as opposed to those less attractive, it’s embedded into the human mind. But it is a shame that our world thinks things must be “perfect” to sell, and a realistic image is always better than a fake. The “perfect” image that is essentially not even real, is what leads to eating disorders, depression, etc for some. When mentioning the idea that food coloring is in fact unhealthy and a hazard to people, I honestly was a little worried at the idea, but I will admit that I would hate eating food that had no color, no artistic appeal, nothing. Because, we live in a world of image. Our world should focus on the beauty and artistic appeal of things, but at a realistic medium.

    • Thoughtful response, Chamae. Are you confusing the idea of surface image with that of beauty– or vitality. I am thinking, for instance, of a gorgeous waterfall or an ocean vista that are beautiful in a way that a retouched image is not.
      An important issue here is the aspect of manipulation: though all of certainly like to look at more pleasant things (a waterfall vs. a clear cut, for instance), just what is considered pleasant in the human realm is subject to vast cultural differences– though we seem to agree that natural scenes are lovely– perhaps something to do with our evolution in the midst of nature?
      The members of most cultures that I know of like to adorn themselves in some way– but I am wondering if you think something like the Spellcasters film, which shows using cat scans to manipulate brain images in ads is not a bit different from that.
      You have a great point about the importance of aesthetics: can you see any way in which our focus on image is actually contrary to the true (life, creative, natural and diverse) expression of beauty?

  20. I definitely agree that we should not have ads for pharmaceuticals. If there is some sort of symptoms that a person is experiencing the doctor should prescribe only what is necessary, rather than what could make money. That is the whole purpose of a doctor. To be sure of the well being of the patients. Also, ads for children are definitely an issue. Children are starting to grow up thinking that the only way they can be accepted by others is to have the latest and greatest. Marketers take advantage of this, as well as the fact that a child’s mind is so easily shaped. In one of my business classes we termed it as that children haven’t been “branded” yet, so they are flooded with ads. It really is a shame that young girls feel that they have to look a certain (impossible) way to be appreciated, rather than focusing on their goals. They should learn to be appreciated for their achievements.

    • All good points, Michelle. Once again, it comes down to caring for human persons rather than taking every single opportunity to make a buck. And perhaps– as some socially responsible businesses have found (check out CSRwire linked here), the publicity for making ethical decisions may earn good will worth some business success. Unbranded children makes them sound like cattle to herd into someone’s ranching operation.
      Thanks for your comment.

    • I believe it is very true that we put faith in the actors on the TV to tell us fact. Childern especially are influenced and parents should take the place of responsiblity.

  21. The first thing I thought of when I read this was the purple ketchup. I remember begging my mom to get the ketchup for me because it was just so cool. However, I believe that dye cannot be good. Even normal ketchup has coloring in to make it look redder. Even when we are told not to pay attention to the media and not to strive for what we are seeing because it is not reality, we still do. As a society we need to redefine our values before we ruin the generation being raised in this culture where we assume they will not be influenced. Childern have not developed filters that adults have.

    • Purple ketchup? I have missed this one in my life. Children do not have the “developed filters” that some adults have, I would say– or perhaps that some adults think they have. There is an interesting article in the latest Nutrition Action that indicates adults think they are making wise food choices according to their knowledge even when they aren’t.

    • hahaha i remember the purple ketchup! do you remember the multi-colored microwave popcorn?

  22. I remember when I was a little kid, my parents made me watch this special one of the TV networks did, and it was about how they made stuff look so much better in advertising, and about how fake it all was. I remember one of the gimmicks they used was putting elmer’s glue on cereal because it looked better than milk did. Ever since then i’ve viewed advertising with a critical eye. Also, i recommend reading the book Culture jam by Kalle Lasn, who is the founder of adbusters for anyone who is interested in the negative side of advertising.

    • Elmer’s glue on cereal? Yummm– what those tv lights won’t do for reality. Thanks for mentioning Culture Jam. Adbusters is a great organization who not only spread information but seem to have a lot of fun doing it.

  23. “Persistently, ads sell us the idea that all life’s problems can be solved in a few minutes by purchasing a product. And that we have a right to a life of convenience and privilege based on such products.” This is so true. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been watching something on TV and see an ad for a pharmaceutical…and, during the next commercial break, an ad for a different one…and so on. If pill A doesn’t fix everything for you, try pill B (made by the same compnay as pill A, probably). Or, if you have side-effects from pill A, you can take pill B with it to alleviate them. Unfortunately, pill B has some side effects of its own, so you might also need pill C. In the U.S. especially, we are a land of consumers (or, as I’ve said before, “sheeple”) who need to be told what to buy because we’ve been brainwashed into believing we don’t know what’s good for us…but the big corporations do, and they just “happen” to be seeling what’s good for us. They have the corner on the media, who help brainwash us into thinking we “need” what they have to sell. As Carol Schaefer says, “Our desires have no end. We keep ourselves in a constant unsatisfied state of wanting something, and, when we get it, wanting something else. Desire, by its very nature, can never be satisfied” (Grandmothers Counsel the World…p. 140). The pharmaceutical and other huge corporations know we want the “best,” the “newest,” the “hippest” remedies; they sell them to us, and we buy them willingly. The only way to stop this is to change what we need. We don’t need all of this flotsam and jetsam…we need the air we breathe, the land we cultivate, and a relationship not only with each other, but also with Mother Earth.

    I can’t help but wonder how pharmaceutical companies get away with advertising on TV – after all, there aren’t any more tobacco or alcohol ads on TV any more. I agree that “We could also do without ads for pharmaceuticals.” I think they get away with it because these drugs are “beneficial” (unlike tobacco and alcohol), even though the list of side effects usually outweighs the list of benefits (by quite a bit). I hate that pharmaceutical companies (probably in conjunction with that demon the WTO) are trying (and, in some cases, succeeding) to patent indigenous medicines and/or herbs so that they can be the ones who benefit from the knowledge passed down through the generations, rather than letting them benefit everyone and be made in the spirit of reciprocity with the Earth from whence they came.

    • Especially good point about the legality of allowing pharm ads on tv– we are one of the very few nations that allow this.
      I just saw a study that indicated that the average drug now marketed by big pharm has 70 side effects–and of course, there are drugs to help with the side effects, and so on and so on… This undermines the use of the drugs that might actually work– as well as, as you indicate the idea that it might take some complex work to solve a problem rather than the instant fix of swallowing a pill. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    • I completely agree with you. Pharmaceuticals are/were invented to alleviate symptoms, not treat the underlying cause/problem. And I believe this to be the problem of why we are such an un healthy society.
      We are not curing the illness, only covering it up.

    • The vicious cycle that our society is currently locked in is infuriating for the simple fact that so many don’t realize what’s being done to them. We’re being fed garbage toxin-laden food and its making us ill. Who comes to the rescue are drug and pharmaceutical companies with “magic pills” to alleviate problems brought on in the first place by our poor eating habits and sedentary lifestyles. We wouldn’t need any pills at all if we consciously ate healthy and got up off the couch and enjoyed the outdoors. This cycle serves only to squeeze money out of the working classes and elderly, continuing the fact that they will stay held down and exploited. They are essentially indentured servants working for the elitist power brokers and other shareholders of large food, drug, and healthcare corporations, not allowed to know the true knowledge of the situation and fight back against the syphoning of hard-earned money from them.

  24. The sad truth here is that advertising works. With all the countless amounts of time and money that are spent researching and devising the perfect strategy for infiltrating people’s minds with images we are outmatched against marketers. What I continue to find comical is the names that drug companies come up with for their drugs. It is branding and recognition of this brand sells the product regardless of the side effects, or even more, what the drug actually treats. Drug names are tested so much that it’s known what feelings and emotions the drug name with stir up in certain individuals that they’re trying to target.

    Getting the attention of your target audience is the primary goal of marketers so some claim that they shouldn’t be blamed for a job well done, but some tactics should be considered pervasive and dubious. This is especially true in targeting young children who are continuously developing what the world around them looks like. Children mimic what they see, think it’s normal, and then seek to attain it themselves. Even after my kids watch a movie once, they start repeating some lines and acting like some of the characters. That’s why I limit the amount they see and always mix it up so they don’t see the same thing again.

    The media, much like the family connections a child gets, has a profound impact on their social worldview. This is extremely evident for those children who spend much more time with mass media than interacting with other children or family members. There are two documentary films that I know of that expose this issue to the public. The first is called ‘Consuming Kids’ and can be found here:

    Another notable documentary is called ‘Mickey Mouse Monopoly’. I couldn’t find the full version online, but here is a link for it broken up into 5 parts.

  25. I have been lucky for early on with my children. It honestly has always had to do with the lack of being able to afford cable but we have never had it in our home. My kids have grown up on movies and Netflix. For this reason, they never see adds and have no idea what is new and coming out. The only way they find out is when we are in the store and see things. Some times this causes them to be a bit ignorant about somethings and they’ll ask me what something is or what it is for but I do not mind having to explain to them. At least with me explaining to them they do not get the hipped up explanation that the ad on T.V. may have given them. They get the straight honest answer from me. At first I used to feel bad that they didn’t have cable and weren’t able to watch television shows but not anymore. I am very thankful for my decision not to have cable and even if my finances changed I would not get it.

    • Something to be said for not having cable, Adina? It sounds like you have much to be satisfied with in your relationship with your children–and nothing to be worried about in their being one step behind the latest fads.

  26. I linked to Jean Kilbourne’s film, Killing Us Softly 3. Jean has such a great sense of humor about such a serious subject. I was appalled at the ads she highlights to make her points. I was really offended at how much advertising involves, not only sex, but sexual violence. I am angered that any woman would even consider taking part in advertising like this. I thought I was pretty conscientious about the things my kids have access to, but after seeing this film, I know I will have to be even more careful. And now that my daughter is ten, it will be an important subject for us to visit in the next couple years. That will hopefully be good training since I have two young sons as well.

    • This is a great video by an educator who has analyzed ads for what they teach their audience whether or not that audience is conscious of it.
      Linking sex with violence in order to sell something is tragic enough but when, as Kilbourne points out, such ads also sexualize children, this is doubly despicable. Let us hope with Kilbourne that our culture will move to the point where such ads will be unthinkable.
      Your kids are fortunate to have such a conscious and responsible mother. Wouldn’t it be great if the community mores changed to the extent that parents did not have to protect their girls and their boys from such brainwashing?
      Thanks for your comment–and most importantly, all you are doing as a parent.

  27. Just a few weeks ago, I was sick with a bad lung virus. Before I went into the doctor to find out what it was that wouldn’t go away, I tried ever brand of over the counter medicine. As I stood in the isles and isles of cough syrup I felt overwhelmed by all the choices. In the end, most of the bottles all contained the same thing despite the fact they all looked different. It was in the cough syrup isle that I saw first hand how much marketing has consumed our society and taken over the shelves and the products. It is crazy to me that over the course of our lives we are going to view over three years of commercials. I bet at any rate, with ipads, iphones, and internet marketing, that number will only increase. The scariest part is that marketing enables us from making our own decisions based on our own opinions, thoughts and ideas, and this can rub off into other parts of our lives as well. How are we supposed to make an informed decision if we rely so heavily on some other factor telling us what to think, what to buy, and what to consume? I think the best thing we can do is drown out the voices, the fonts, the colors, and the brands and look straight at the cold hard facts and go from there.

  28. It is amazing that as media savvy as many of us think we are, we are still so easily manipulated by advertising. I guess it is hard to compete with neuromarketing! My best strategy is to avoid as much advertising as possible. I don’t watch TV, subscribe to many magazines, or got to the mall (unless as a last resort!). I appreciate that I live in a town without many billboards and the Oregon highways also seem to have less ads than other places I have lived. Yet, it is still there on the sides of buses and in the newspaper, and I confess to enjoying a few of the circulars in the Sunday paper. Fortunately, I am usually too busy to actually go to the stores, so my looking at a few ads each week doesn’t add too much to consumer-land.

    I have been curious about JCPenney’s new campaign. While that is not a store I often visit, I had heard through news articles that they were taking a new approach and hired someone from Apple to manage their new campaign. Curious, I have looked at their new monthly ads since they started. For the May add, they had a Mother’s Day focus, and the models were mostly mothers and daughters- often with 3 generations represented, and were put forth as just “regular people”. What struck me though was the ethnic diversity in the flier as well as the inclusion of a lesbian couple with their daughter and one grandmother. I appreciated that they put this family in there as “just another family” (which of course they are!) with all the other groupings and I wonder if moves like this will change attitudes over time. If ads sell us things besides just the products, can ads like this “sell us” a new normal that might lead to a more inclusive society? In this case, I hope the advertising works!

    Peace, Jen

    • I had not heard of the Penny’s campaign– I am evidently even more separated from the media ads than you.
      There is a potential to do some good with these, as you point out.
      But there is also some difficulty in trusting this with the profit first motive that our society expresses.
      I am glad that there are three generations in some of these ads– that is a shift from the way that particular advertisers threatened to pull their ads from women’s magazines if they showed happy, healthy women with gray hair and wrinkles (protested this ruined their market for hair coloring, wrinkle cream, and other make up.) And in the current size zero market, we can’t forget that the diet industry is worth 40 billion dollars in revenue annually — and growing each year.

    • Jen,
      That is so cool! I hadn’t seen the JCPenney’s campaign yet, but having not only a multigenerational family (promoting age-acceptance) and having a queer family included too, seems to be a wonderful step toward more inclusive advertising. I adore your idea that ads can sell more than products – I believe that they have been selling us unattainable goals for quite a while now. If we could use that platform (which, if consumption rates are representative, is VERY effective) to create social change around increasing acceptance of diversity, that would be *super* cool. (Can you tell I’m genuinely intrigued by that idea? Because I am.)
      I’m sure we could come up with downsides to this – such as asking why we are turning to advertising and the media to gain messages of tolerance and acceptance instead of family socialization (or following the money, as Dr. Holden suggests), but I think I’m too excited about the idea of potential good to dwell in the bad about this!


      • Perhaps we have even begun this advertising for the good in some of our internet communications, Anna– especially with those sites that do not making money behind them as a motive?
        Thanks for sharing our enthusiasm for the positive potential here.

  29. I remember when I first learned about product placement in movies; the particular can of soda that a famous actress is drinking, the certain cereal that the child actors eat, etc… I had never been aware of the products being there until someone pointed it out. And then I wondered how this type of marketing works!
    It seems like such a sign of human weakness to want to be so much like someone else that you are willing to buy and ingest something because you think it will bring you closer to being like them. And, never realizing that the “them” has been technologically enhanced to appear “perfect”.
    There is a complete loss of individuality and a creation of a pop-culture/monoculture that only has the goal of achieving a sort of physical appearance and gains unity through their consumption of the latest marketed item.
    I agree that we should try to stop the marketing that is targeted directly at children. Otherwise, we are conditioning them to be unhappy with their appearance, and teaching them that it is ok to constantly be yearning for some type of product that will make their lives complete.

    • As I understand it, this product placement does not rely on our wanting to be like the actors in questions so much as the fact that product familiarity can tip the scale towards our selecting one product (the one we are familiar with) over another.
      Certainly, aiming ads at children has serious ethical problems such as the ones you mention– in addition to pitching choices to those not yet at the age to choose for themselves.

    • Rebecca- I think your comment about a “complete loss of individuality” gets at the root of some of the conflict in our culture. On the one hand, there is an explicit value of individuality. We hold out as heros those that “pull themselves up by the bootstraps and succeed” or buck the trend and create something new that is successful. We structure much of our society around independence and striking out on your own. We design our cities to accommodate single family houses and single occupant vehicles. Yet, at the same time, there is much social pressure to conform and not make any waves and look/act/think like the larger group. Media has been coming up a lot this week and it is interesting to think about how much of the latter pull is based on media influence…

      Peace, Jen

      • Good points, Jen. It seems that the conflict you point out indicates that we have the worst of both values in their extremes: we have only guarded and competitive individualism rather than authentic expression of critical personal thinking and personal uniqueness. And we have more of a focus on conformity rather than a dynamic and inclusive community which supports both the uniqueness and the needs of its members. Part of this is, I think, due to the quantification and stratification that predominates our thinking. If
        Numbering something is are way of valuing it, we fight to maintain our individuality against the current that sees us as abstract and all the same— as numbers in a profit/loss statement.

  30. I found myself thinking about the insidious nature of advertising earlier this week, when my Mother told me something was going to be ‘easy breezy’, and I immediately had to finish the phrase with “beautiful covergirl” (met with a blank stare from my Mother, who despises television and dislikes beauty products in general). The phrase, which I delivered in the same sing-song voice as I do “maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s maybelline” really demonstrates that even with a clear awareness of the powerful influence of advertising, one can still fall under the sirens spell and memorize the tag-lines/catchphrases /jingles. If those bits are rattling around in your head, it seems a short leap to believe that you are also internalizing the messages those ads are telling you (ie: you aren’t beautiful without this product, and the most important thing in your life should be to be beautiful).

    Jean Kilbourne’s films and lectures have been really enlightening when attempting to understand the overwhelming power that advertising holds over content, in magazines, on TV, etc. However, I was still unaware of the field of neuromarketing – I suppose that makes quite a bit of twisted sense though. This idea of consumption filling a void makes unfortunate sense too – I just wish there were clear steps to take to return to a society structured around less destructive practices. My family didn’t have a TV until I was in junior high (and even then, no cable) – I think that was likely a good step in the direction of a less consumption-driven childhood. I never experienced the crazy cereal aisle drama as a child. This probably contributed to my shock when the kids I babysat went bonkers in that aisle – they were effectively manipulated by the media.

    With that amount of power, I certainly agree that our politicians and legislation are likely influenced by these factors. Taking that into account when determining election/campaign funding and how media is regulated would likely be wise choices for our society to make.

  31. It is appalling to me the lengths corporations will go to sell a product…producing a fake scientific journal?!! That’s disgusting; but what’s even worse are other tactics being implemented by the pharmaceutical industry as described in this article on Natural News. Atrocities all in the name of making a profit.

    The social engineering through advertising makes me think of the “fear” tactics used by the U.S. government ever since WWII. And you’re so right about “hawking” our political candidates. We need to overturn the law making corporations “people” (Citizens United?).

    I worked in the magazine advertising industry for ten years and can attest to the fact that corporations have some control over magazines as to what articles they can or cannot run when one of their ads is in the book; and the worst were pharmaceutical organizations. As you say, they should not be allowed to advertise and should be banned, as was done with cigarettes.

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective from your own professional experience, Cheryl.
      A fake journal is bizarre- so is the length of time it took to discover that it was indeed fake. And though it seems “out there” in terms of tactics– here is the Harvard Business Review’s critique of pharmaceutical business tactics:

    • Hearing devices are even worse. There are advertisements about hearing amplifiers and they are less effective and can do more damage than if people go and get fitted for hearing (preferrably at local hearing aid location) than buying hearing aid devices after seeing a commercial. When I was reading this article, I thought of how vulnerable some of the seniors are to ads, especially the medical ones.

      • This is something with which you obviously have some personal knowledge. Thanks for point it out. I have seem ads that seem to be full of hype of this type in magazines and newspapers everywhere, Mary. And as you point out, they are geared to a vulnerable population.

      • I hadn’t thought of hearing aids, Mary. Thanks for mentioning it. I’m always bugging my boyfriend about getting something to help him hear better; after reading your post, I’ll stop bugging him and leave it up to his doctor!

        • Thoughtful reply– not that urging someone to find a way to improve their hearing (especially if they are concerned about it) is not a good thing– but as Mary reminded us, the hype around this issue is not a good thing.

        • My dad had a problem with hearing loss. The best thing is not to bug them about it because they are generally stubborn about things like that.

        • I don’t know that all the “theys” in the world are stubborn, but not bugging someone (rather than supporting them) seems to me as generally a good idea.

  32. Wow! The fox guarding the hen-house! Thanks for posting the link…it was indeed educational and will make me more diligent in researching the medications I’m currently ingesting.

  33. This article brings into reality how much our culture is affected and controlled by advertisements. It is such a manipulative and corrupt business. As a mother, I have a no television policy in my home. One of my professors in college did a presentation on the effects of television and advertisements on children, she begged us to limit our children’s television exposure and to not allow any until age five. This stuck with me and was something I told myself I would do with my kids. I can honestly say it has made a huge impact on the way my child views the world, of course there is still advertisement exposure but it is something that is greatly decreased with less television and computer exposure.

    One of the most upsetting points in this article are related to pharmaceuticals. The idea that they are selling legal drugs on television, as if they are things that you should go out and buy like shoes, one for everyday and every outfit. How is any of this ethical? How do doctors live with themselves knowing that the drugs they are prescribing are being dealt out with little knowledge of the drugs effects and even less knowledge on the patient?

    • I agree with your point on the pharmaceuticals! It is just like clothing. How are we, most of us individuals with no medical training, supposed to know what’s best for us when most of us probably know next to nothing about how the body works and how medications work in the body? Thank you for the insight!

    • Good for you in your no television policy. I have experienced the differential attention levels of those young children who watch a good deal of tv versus those who watch little or no tv.
      You have essential questions about the ethics of advertising pharmaceuticals on tv. Most developed nations agree with you, since they prohibit this.
      Obviously no one would want a family doctor with such ignorance –though, unfortunately, time constraints and an outpouring of new drugs make such ignorance all too common.

  34. This piece made me think of the 1960 presidential election, how those who saw it televised thought Kennedy did a better job, hands down, than Nixon, who looked a little more disheveled than Kennedy, who opted for makeup. The first televised presidential election did it and still television and appearance are influencing what we buy on how it looks. If we just listened, would it be any different than actually getting to see it in person? If the model wasn’t beautiful would we buy it? If the apple wasn’t red would we throw it away? And why does that matter to us so much? Is it just because we feel something should look a certain way or do we just not want disappointment in our lives that we fall short of perfection?

    • Good questions to consider– we might also ask if there is something in our particular worldview that predisposes us to focus on image. Would this matter so much in all societies?
      Interesting point on the idea of “perfection”– how does this emphasis derive from our way of seeing the world?

  35. “When is an apple not an apple? When it appears in an ad.” That is so true. My first thought when I was reading this article is how advertisement portrays the human body. I speak often about how I have struggled with my own self image: I was not the skinniest one in my class and guys didn’t want to go out with someone who was larger than a size 14 when they could go out with someone who would possibly look good on the cover of a magazine. So much, there have been ads about weight loss: the pills to take if you want to lose weight or the dietary supplements. If you go the doctor, they would tell you to exercise more, eat more wholesome foods, and stay away from weight loss supplements that you don’t need. One thing I fortunate about not having is a television that is connected to cable or satellite: we don’t need to watch commercials that give negative body images when we already struggle with it. Women are not the only ones now with a low body image because of media, men are becoming victims as well.

    • I am sorry that you have had to struggle with body image in the wake of our cultural standards, Mary. This should never be for any of us. I am glad you are separating yourself from media images– it is fortunate you do not have a cable!

  36. I have always been aware how much advertising has effected Americans. But I never really realized exactly how deceiving it was. Perhaps I have been fortunate my life growing up without cable television, so most of the commercials I saw were limited. Even now, as an adult, I don’t watch much TV and when I do, I skip over the commercials. But even so, the grasp of the media still reaches me. Advertising is seen in movies and TV shows without many people realizing it. Also, the amount of “personalized” advertising based on your internet searches and frequented websites is scary!

    • Thanks for mentioning the advertising based on internet searches! Isn’t that crazy they there is an algorithm to our interests? If you like X and Z you might be interested in Y. It seems like we are being bombarded with ads everywhere. Even when being put on hold will a service provided you have to listen to endless ads for their products while waiting to speak to a real person. It is baffling at the amount of ways advertisements reach an audience, and you brought up a very good point about the internet. We sometime think we are safe from prying eyes…but that will never be the case, especially in the cyber world. It is becoming incredibly important to guard yourself and your family from what is being enforced to society. I think that morals and values are going to have a rather difficult time maintaining importance in the digital age.

      • There are not just the stats about you, but the cookies on your computer that help track which websites you visit and send the info back to certain companies. This sharing of information is why I don’t use Facebook. Be sure your browsers are set to “don’t track me” requests and since not everyone honors that, be sure to also set them to empty cookies when you close them AND never to accept “third party” cookies. OSU computer help can assist you to do these things if the “tools” or “options” menus on the browsers you use are not apparent to you.

    • Advertising is simply everywhere and always will be. If not cable then the internet. If not there then the radio, the movies, billboards. Its scary to know that if i log into espn i get ads for sports gear or ads for TNT game night. Next time you watch cable simply remember the show your watching and then watch the commercials and you’ll notice that those commercials have very common similarities with the program being viewed. Producers have gotten so good at identifying what the consumer wants all by examining what they watch.

    • I feel the same way with Internet ads that are way too personalized. I feel like these companies are stocking me. I am really worried about the cartoon images convincing people to purchase their insurance. I can’t wait for the day when I see a cartoon image in the before and after image for a weigh loss product.

      • That would be interesting… but folks like Annie Leonard are fighting back with animated films speaking to topics like climate change, water use, or the “We the People” Supreme Court decision that gave corporations the same rights as people.

  37. I completely agree that we should be more active and vocal against many ads that are out there. Pharmaceuticals are among the worst! Imagine if you were not able to hear what was being said in the commercial. You would be introduced to the product and then see images of happy families, children, adults…etc. Therefore, this product makes you happy! Nevermind the voice over mentioning the side-effects almost all of which lead “to death in some”. Another interesting thing to pay attention to when watching TV is how the program and the ads coincide with one another. Daytime TV has ads for anti-aging, any RX you can think of, As Seen On TV products…etc. The ads are aimed at a projected audience that the provider believes to be watching a certain show. Children’s networks will show ads for toys, candy, and fun. While local networks will advertise the weather and feature ads home town locations and areas of interest around the city. Its interesting to see how much thought goes into projecting a certain appearance to gain audience approval.

    • There are so many problems with the “this drug makes you happy” formula. Good point about being an astute consumer– ads are often linked to placement of products within the program itself.
      These are all very important to ponder!

    • Well what many people don’t realize is half the time they don’t even tell the side effects, there listed at the bottom in very small fine print. That way if something happens then they can’t be sued because they would say that it’s right there in the writing. Producers have tried and failed many times and have now figured out how to channel their products to the certain people that want them such as like you mentions about children’s toys and candy on children’s networks. Or even for the sports guys they’ve got more commercials consisting of alcohol, fast cars, and manly stuff.

  38. This article is so true. Just yesterday i was watching television when i saw an ad for Applebee’s and there new shrimp paste plate. It looked so good on the television that it started to make my mouth water. I decided to go try it later that night and it came out but it looked nothing like what i had seen previously that day. I was a little bummed out. Restaurants are also famous for using food in an ad to try and lure people in similar to the apple or doctor. They simply want your money and not your well being. And do they sure have kids lined up. With television being such a popular thing now, kids see a certain product and automatically assume they have to have it. They push and push until the parents finally give in and go and get it for them even though it may not be the best for them. Producers have figured out the market today and know how to sell their products to almost anyone.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal experience in this respect, Jason. Wouldn’t it be great is everyone who produced good for us had our well-being as well as their profit in mind. Not to mention, the well-being of the earth upon which we all depend for our lives. That is why I appreciate folks like those involved in CSRwire: a group fostering corporate responsibility.

  39. Everyday Americans are being lied to, now the medical industry is lying to the public. This is appalling that a doctor was fired for speaking up on the health hazards of dye in a child’s antibiotics and this dates back to the 1980s, this is scary and people put so much faith into companies.

    The average person watch TV will have consumed over three years of commercials and how many of these ads where were pharmaceutics drug commercials? The US and New Zealand is the only countries in the world that broadcasts
    Pharmaceutics commercials.

    I do remember when I was a child on Saturday morning cartoons they would show commercials on toys and breakfast foods. That day I would tell my mother to purchase this cereal, mostly for the toys inside of the box.

    • So we have a substantial tradition of marketing goods to those unable to resist (either because they are not told the full truth or the manipulated truth– or they are too young to discern that commercials do not depict their cartoon friends). this says something about what we need to change.

  40. Advertising is consuming, I don’t whether it is more difficult to keep children away from it or unteach such consumerism. I nanny every summer and babysit through the school year for a family with four kids, the children always have more updated electronics then I do. Once they see something they want on TV they are set on it and nothing can tell them otherwise. Unfortunately I watched over the past few year these kids get Nintendo 3DSs when they turn 9, iPhones at 10, and most recently iPads at 12. These products only lead more advertising when they kids can access the internet on them. I hope there is a change in advertising ways for the sake of the children.

    • Me too! I have nieces and nephews and I kind of wonder if the income level in my family is a God-send after watching a video about advertising for a class and after reading this article, my heart goes out to our children who are being consumed at a young age to all these ads of what is in. Fortunately, my brother and sister could not afford to get their kids iphones or ipads and although one of my nephews has a ds, he doesn’t have much else in the way of electronics except a phone to call his dad, uncle, or grandma. To think about it, I think I was pretty fortunate to learn to live without tv that way I am not exposed to every commecial every day of the week to see what is “out” there.

    • I agree with you on this one. I think manipulation of children for profit is clearly unethical. In one ad company, they “hire” children to sit in front of a TV and adults to record when they turn their heads away so that the media company can make ads that keep the children’s undivided attention.
      There ARE other developed nations which outlaw adds directly at children.

  41. Being a daughter of a nursery farmer and working on the farm myself, I have seen many apples and know they don’t naturally look like what they do in commercials and ads. Its actually really funny to think that I know a perfectly colored and shaped apple is probably not a “normal” grown one, and didn’t think about the possibility of ads not being what they say. Why on earth would someone “pose” as a doctor and not actually be one? For money. Its extremely sad that people are willing to lie and stretch the truth to make a buck. In all honesty, after reading this essay, I started thinking about natural resources compared to GM resources and other products. I rather have the ugly, unattractive product, than a fake, misleading one.

    • Good point, Molly. Perhaps perfect will be the new ugly? Since blemishes tend to indicate apples that are not saturated with pesticides when they are grown, I kind of treasure that worm that can be cut out of the apple more easily than a systemic pesticide can be taken out of its flesh.

  42. A few weeks ago, I was watching a film for Sociology class about what ads do to kids. Over the generations, the ads have gotten better about getting to the kids primarily because they are well researched as far as what gets to kids and today, the total that parents spend on kids is over a billion dollars! One thing that Europe has done as far as making sure that kids don’t see commercials that are aiming specifically at them is that on the Saturday morning shows, they are reducing the amount of commercials that kids are exposed to which is one thing that this nation should do. Media knows who to reach out to and it’s not just the kids, it can also be the elderly they reach out to.
    When is an apple not an apple? When it’s in a commercial is definitely true and it’s heartbreaking when the mega industries get what they want: our money.

    • It is indeed tragic that children are targeted in this way. I just replied to one of your classmates on this same topic. Outlawing commercials targeted specifically to children is something we ought to follow the EU’s lead on.

  43. It’s so saddening to know that advertising is so crucial in today’s society. I recently read–although I’m not sure where, it may have even been on an essay on this site–that it’s not uncommon for companies to spend more on advertising than on research and development. How disgusting is that? It’s like they’re saying, as long as it looks good it doesn’t really matter what it does.
    I was shocked to read that food coloring is so harmful! I bake a ton, and use chemically produced food coloring quite often. (I will now be doing my part to use natural food coloring substances.) It’s amazing to me that whatever company lobbies for the use of food coloring is so powerful that they’re outweighing the FDA.
    I hate that we live in a society that is so based around looks–not only the apples in the magazines, the color of the frosting on a cookie, the politician on our television–but the woman modeling toys, the immaculate house in the paint pamphlet, and everything else that appeals to our eyes.

    • You may have indeed seen the stat here that pharmaceutical companies are now spending more on ads than research– pertinent with respect to this topic.
      I’ll bet your family loves your baking– too bad that the FDA did not take more of a proactive stance with respect to food coloring, but now you have the information. (You may find other info you can use in taking a look at the “Do Not Buy List” here).
      We are indeed too taken with surfaces and appearances in this culture. Thanks for your comment.

    • I definitely agree that everything revolves around looks. It is amazing how much we are influenced by appearance without even realizing it. And it definitely sucks that women get judged on their looks so much. I know I am constantly concerned about my appearance and it is all because of how are society is.

  44. We live in a world of instant gratification. If it doesn’t happen fast enough we don’t want it. Everything is at the tip of a finger. The ads that children see are shameful. As a family we have cut cable because my kids were constantly asking for everything they saw on tv. They are happier and less inclined to ask for things because they haven’t seen it on the tube.
    The ads that are photoshopping women to make them more beautiful than they already are degrading to women. It’s hard to tell whats real and whats fake. I would love to see an ad with a beautiful woman who has not been cropped, blushed and enhanced.

    • I think it’s awesome that you’ve cut cable for the kids. I remember going to daycare when I was 10 or 11 and the younger kids would scream “I want that!” during every commercial. I think situations like this create the greedy children of the upcoming generations, and it’s a shame.

    • I remember when Dove started their “Campaign for True Beauty” depicting photos of real women. Then they got busted taking the images of the women they selected and elongating their necks or airbrushing and other photo manipulation to make the “true beauty” more idealistic.

    • My parents only let me watch PBS when I was growing up which was one of the best decisions I think they could have made. As I got older I also got to watch the History and Discovery Channel as well as Animal Planet, when all the shows actually tought you something. As a kid it wasn’t all that fun because I didn’t know what everyone else was talking about, but looking back I have thanked them multiple times, when I see kids screaming for something or when I see my younger cousins begging for something they saw on TV until their parents break down and a week later they are bored and want something else. As for ads with women, check out the Dove Real Beauty Campaign that started around 2001. They have kind of drifted away from the original message, but they are one of the few beauty product companies to use ‘real’ women in their ads.

      • Thanks for giving us some perspective on the Dove Real Beauty Campaign and their message. It is certainly sad that we teach children to be bored (including with their own company?) by constantly over-stimulating them in the media.
        And it is always great to see someone who appreciates their parents’ choices.

    • Good way to save money and assert your values in more ways than one, Melissa. We do indeed need to share a world with our children that is “real”– and locate our sense of beauty there.

  45. While reading this article I found myself laughing out loud. Not because the manipulation of human minds in the name of profitable advertising is funny, but that it is so absurd.

    An apple isn’t good enough to be in a picture of an apple, a fake medical magazine made it in circulation for a year, MRIs are used to test advertising effectiveness…these tactics are so ludicrous it’s funny.

    What isn’t funny though is the adverse effects they are having on people. Stopping it would be an extremely difficult and lengthy process. But what if the truth of the advertisement was made just as prominent as the lie?

    We could call it TAHI- The Association for Honest Imagery. If there’s a sexy picture of somebody smoking, let’s put a picture of of a tar-infested lung just as big right next to it. It there is a picture bowl of bright, cheery fruit, let’s put a picture of the dyes that go into it and what they do to the human body. Got an advertisement for weight loss? Let’s show a heart damaged from malnourishment. All in all, if there is advertisement for profit, there could be advertisement for truth.

    • This is absurd indeed, as you point out.
      I like your idea of “association for honest imagery”. That would take some doing in the contemporary arena– but it would certainly give us something to think about if we thought of balancing out every ad image we say in this way.

  46. If you have not seen the comercial you should definitely take a look.

    It shows how much ads lie and alter appearance to make others buy the product. It is sad because even though I know that this happens in the media I still fall for the idea that I need to have that “perfect” look. We all fall for it even though we know it is not real! Why is that? I cannot figure it out and it sickens me.
    I do not doubt for a second that putting ads on television for medicine helps sell the product. But shouldn’t your doctor be proscribing these medications not actors? It is crazy how much our world revolves around what we see in the media.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more about doctors rather than actors (or presumed doctors) “prescribing” medicines. I also think that researchers should be writing their own peer-reviewed articles rather than having them ghostwritten for them by writers contracts by the pharmaceutical industry– an all too common practice today.
      Did you also see the comment here about Dove itself being caught airbrushing some ads and elongating necks, etc. in its own “self-esteem” commercials?
      Thanks for your comment.

  47. Image is extraordinarily important, and equally easy to manipulate. Think of McDonald’s commercials, they would probably make way more money if the food handed to customers actually looked like what was on TV. People tend to not even realize they were being manipulated. I wrote an ethnography on how college students internalize and act on messages of beauty in the media last term. What people told me was very different from how they acted. Actions were very close to media, whereas words seemed to be less focused on image. If you watch an hour of TV probably half the commercials will be for depression reducing drugs. At its worst these make people think that they are depressed (even if they are not) and allows them to think that they know what they should be taking better than their doctor when they ‘talk to their doctor about (insert product name)’. There has to be a way to stop false images from showing up in the media, since from my experiences people can’t stop themselves from thinking they are real. CGI is too good at this point. The entire world seems to need a bit of a reality check.

    • Thanks for sharing the results of your research, Rachel. To me the most telling point is the unconscious nature of the ways in which media messages are absorbed and acted upon.
      I hope that this essay and comments like yours will provide a “reality check” to at least a few. And perhaps consumer choices will even provide a bit of a reality check to the corporate profits of the image makers.

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