The criticism that “most promotional messages are tasteless,” and that “promotion contributes nothing to society’s well-being” sometimes ignores the fact that there is no commonly accepted set of standards or priorities within our social framework. We live in a mixed economy, with differing needs, wants, and aspirations; what is tasteless to one group may be quite satisfactory for another.
An advertising strategy is concerned with an averaging problem that escapes many of its critics. The one generally accepted standard in a society like ours is freedom of choice for the consumer. Customer buying decisions will eventually determine what is an acceptable in the market.
Advertising has become an important factor in the campaigns to achieve such societal-oriented objectives as the discontinuance of smoking, family planning, physical fitness, the elimination of abuse, prohibition of drinking, etc. Advertising performs an informative and educative task; and that is why it is extremely important practice in the functioning of modern Indian society.
A Social Perspective on Advertising:
Critics attribute an awesome ability to advertising to persuade millions of Indians to do almost anything. Advertising has been accused of causing, either directly or indirectly:
(а) An escalation in the national crime rate;
(b) An increase in communal riots;
(c) A decline in the respect for leadership of every kind;
(d) The employment of strategies for the manipulation of children;
(e) The use of sub-threshold effects to slip messages past our conscious guard,
(f) A deliberate sale of products for their status-enhancement value;
(g) Illogical irrational loyalties;
(h) The exploitation of our deepest sexual sensitivities and
(i) The application of the insights of depth selling to politics.
Economical and Social Aspects
Advertising has attracted attention for its impact on economic and socio-cultural environment of society. Advertising activity has vast employment potentials as it has number of jobs associated with it relating to creation, production, and delivery of advertisement.
Indian advertising alone has a shire of 0.34 per cent in the gross domestic product. Though this is abysmally low as opposed to other developed and developing nations, it points out to the vast potentials for growth of advertising industry in India.
Advertising affects business cycles. In case advertising expenditure is planned judiciously during extreme time periods it could have stabilizing effects on economic conditions. When economy is weak the heavy expenditure on advertising would work as a stimulus for the economy as it gives a boost to the sluggish demand and also creates more revenue in the system. The large size of expenditure on political advertising during 2009 parliamentary elections is viewed as one of the significant factor in restricting the effects of global recessions on Indian economy.
Market economies need advertising to affect the level of competition, price and demand for various products. Advertising may cause market expansion. But there are certain market situations where advertising actually restricts the competition in the market and gives rise to the possibility of charging higher price for the product.
Such anti-competitive market situations tend to prevail due to heavy spenders on advertising creating entry barriers in the market. These market situations necessarily call for market regulations as it has happened in the case of telecom sector and insurance sector in India.
Use of advertising is critically assessed and even restricted in some cases. In view of its persuasive nature, sociologists and religious leaders hold critical views about certain effects of advertising in influencing and transmitting social values. Advertising is criticized because it causes materialism, makes consumers to buy products that they do not need, perpetuate stereotypes, affects children in their tender age, and controls the media for its content selection.
Those who are practitioners in the field of advertising support advertising on the basis that it only reflects and not shapes the values of society in which they live. These values are the result of socialisation and acculturation process. Advertising is only one of the environments which has its vast presence and with which the customer has an interaction.
These issues are largely the ethical concerns of advertising effects and therefore advertisers are expected to keep restrain either in the use of advertising or in the adoption of certain advertising practices. In some cases, the use of advertising in any form is considered unlawful such as when consumers are induced to buy products like cigarettes which are considered as potentially health hazard products or when the intention is to mislead the consumer.
Also, there are restrictions on the way legal and medical services are advertised. There are certain advertising practices which are considered unlawful. Consumer Protection Act, 1986, considers certain advertising practises as unfair trade practices and provides for certain legal measures to cover up against the loss to the consumer and to the society in case of the use of unlawful advertising practices. These measures are both corrective and punitive in nature.
Since advertising is such an endogenous part of our economy we depend on it for the sale of a large percentage of our output in India, and since it has been accepted, although with annoyance and concern by most Indians, it is not likely that its abolition will be sought or will be tolerated. Were it abolished, alternative methods of promotion would have to be devised.
The problem is essentially that of:
(a) Learning to measure both the micro and macro-effects of advertising, so that it may be employed most efficiently from the viewpoint of both the firm and of society ; and
(b) Imposing social controls that will eliminate or minimize the deleterious effects of advertising on social welfare.
If for no other reason than that it is an activity that employs several million people, promotion is of considerable economic importance. More important, however, is the fact that effective promotion has allowed society to derive benefits not otherwise available.
For example, the criticism that “promotion costs too much” views an individual expense item in isolation. It fails to consider the possible effect of promotion on other categories of expenditure.
Advertising strategies that increase the number of units sold permit economies in the production process. The production costs assigned to each unit of output are lowered. Lower consumer prices then allow these products to become available to more people.
Similarly, the price of newspapers, amateur and professional sports, radio and television programmes, and the like, might be prohibitive without advertising to shoulder the expense. In short, promotion pays for many of the enjoyable entertainment and educational aspects of contemporary life and it lowers product costs as well.
(i) Advertising as a Source of Information:
To what extent does advertising provide information to consumers about the availability of products relevant to the meeting of consumer needs, and the price and terms of sale?
First, the advertiser is the seller of the product or service. He has, therefore, more information about the product or service than anyone else. Whether the seller’s knowledge of his product is actually used expensively in the design of advertising programmes would have to be established by a careful study of the procedures employed in planning advertising copy.
If advertising agencies, for example, are found to be the ones that select from the cluster of product characteristics those that are to be stressed in a particular promotional programme, it would suggest that the seller’s intimate knowledge of his product is less important in determining what information gets to the consumer than other aspects of that choice, such as the probable impact of a given piece of information, consumer response in the light of product’s historical image, and the competitor’s policies.
On the other hand, much advertising is highly informative. This is particularly true of want ads of manufacturer’s advertising that inform potential buyers of the availability of products and of their attributes, and of the retailer’s advertising of product availability, characteristics and prices.
Wholesalers use less advertising than manufacturers or retailers, but where it is employed, as in the marketing of industrial supplies it is likely to contain considerable information, or is restricted to information about the availability of goods.
Much of the information conveyed in advertising is accurate, and this is most likely to occur when the potential buyer is well informed and where the information itself is of a nature that is likely to be conducive to purchase.
Advertising of industrial goods and supplies, for example, is often heavily loaded, with information about product attributes because of the interests and knowledge of potential customers.
In the advertising of all goods consumer or industrial the products that have useful attributes would be sold more easily on the basis of information about those attributes than on the basis of false information.
Although much advertising is truly informative, the greatest risk and uncertainty from the potential buyers’ point of view is the absence of any objective control over the advertiser’s decision on what information he will convey.
Seldom will an advertiser choose to convey information that would be damaging to his profit or sales objective; yet such information may be essential if the buyer is to make an optimum choice.
When information about a product is obtained from a party whose welfare can be (and usually is) affected by the quantity and quality of that information, there is good reason to question the validity of the information likely to come from that source. There are many subtle ways in which an advertiser can distort information without overstepping the bounds of truth, as defined legally and pragmatically in human affairs.
Everything he says may be literally true; but the omission of pertinent facts or knowledge may result in a perception of the product and its potential on the part of the buyer that deviates from what his perception will be, once he has actually used the product.
Such distortions may be will full, mischievous, accidental or unintended, but their effect can be the same, regardless of motivation. One important question, therefore, is whether advertising is a source of accurate and complete information about goods and services for the potential buyers of those goods and services.