It's Time To Reimagine The Role Advertising Plays In Our World Today

With advertising being immensely misunderstood as strictly manipulative, deceitful, and at best, meaningless entertainment, author Ahmad Abu Zannad hopes to shed a positive light on the potential impact of advertising.

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The average person is exposed to 5,000 ads per day- in fact, it's been said that at the age of only 36 months, babies can recognize up to 100 logos.

Luciano Mortula/

Clearly, there is no doubt that advertising has an impact on every single human. Yet, for an industry whose business is to help people understand what is on offer for them from other businesses, advertising is immensely misunderstood to be strictly manipulative, deceitful, and at best, meaningless entertainment. We are constantly interacting with an industry that we do not even understand, and we keep on negatively judging it.

In my book, Adman Vs Chomsky, I attempt to change these misperceptions and shed a positive light on the impact (or potential impact) of advertising. Since advertising is not going anywhere, we need to better understand it, agree on its ideal definition, and judge it accordingly. To do so, my book introduces four insightful and bold roles for advertising:

1. Advertising saved our free markets Every single behavioral science (psychology, behavioral economics, evolutionary psychology, and neuroscience) is telling us that human behavior is driven by either the automatic system, or the reflective system. And as humans, we have developed the mechanism to shy away from any effort caused by the reflective system, and therefore, 95% of our decisions are driven by the automatic system. As such, every single field that is dependent on nudging the masses into a certain behavior has been designed to work around the fact that these masses are driven by their automatic system. This is how our urban cities are planned, how technology interfaces are designed, and how traffic systems are built. Yet, we are not blaming urban planners, technology developers, and civil engineers of taking advantage of the gullibility of the masses. Now, our free markets are built on the hypothesis that the masses ought to be nudged into freely buying from sellers who are also freely selling. But our free market theory never took into consideration that these masses are driven by their automatic system, and that they will not make the effort to process all this information about all these sellers. And according to several Nobel laureates, in the absence of a system nudging the masses into buying into sellers they do not know anything about, our free markets would have collapsed. In this instance, advertising saved our free markets by making the act of trusting and buying into sellers we do not know anything about easy, less stressful, and more joyful.

Source: Ahmad Abu Zannad

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2. Advertising facilitates our interpersonal relationships As human beings, we are communal and symbolic creatures- in nature, we have used the signaling of our personal traits as mechanisms to either survive and/or reproduce. The origin of such behaviors is thousands of years of natural and sexual selection, with their drivers today called Darwin's meta drivers. In today's marketplace, we use brands to send out the same signals about our personal traits. To find a job, we attend universities with prestigious brands; to initiate a reciprocal relationship, we buy a gift from a certain brand; to intimidate a potential rival, we buy a big car; and to attract a potential partner, we buy luxury brands. It's nature versus marketplace, and what's taking the place of the costly or high maintenance peacock tail is a brand like Ferrari.

3. Advertising makes us happier 80% of all humans are optimists- as humans, we need to foresee a future that is better than our present and our past. Studies have proven that if we are even realistic about our future, we will suffer from mild depression. In a free market where we are constantly foreseeing our future in the brands we buy, advertising allows us to foresee a positive future and this keeps us at ease, healthier and happier in the present. Functional magnetic resonance imaging studies show that simply being exposed to brands like Apple and Coke triggers positive emotions of empathy and happiness, versus no emotions triggered when exposed to Samsung and Pepsi. The differentiating effect here is advertising, since, in a blind test, the same people preferred the taste of Pepsi. There are lots of other real life case studies where advertising had this positive impact on people.

4. Advertising gives us all a common purpose to rally behind Historian Yuval Noah Harari tells us that the only thing that made homo sapiens the superior species we are today is our ability to systematically rally in masses behind a common purpose, without having to know all its details. Today, such rallying is happening behind brands with purpose. 63% of consumers prefer to deal with a brand that shares their values. I believe that the masses who are driven by their automatic system are better equipped to judge a business based on its purpose, character, values, and its commitment to the community, than judging the details of its product features. If we systemize the process of brands declaring their purpose, using advertising to showcase their commitment, and leaving it to the masses to judge these brands, we can end up with a scenario where individuals, businesses, and societies are all mutually benefiting. For instance, when Nike took the stand with Colin Kaepernick, its sales went up by 10%. Now this should not be a one-off; it needs to be part of a system the masses can judge. Again, we are all affected by advertising some way or the other; yet, we do not know enough about the aforementioned impact or even the potential impact. And here's a clear and present invitation for all of this to change.

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