Insurance, Attorneys, Diets, and Zits: The Minuses of Ads

Man watching televisionThough I’m not a big TV watcher, I recently found myself beached due to a prolonged bout with the flu. Channel surfing yielded nothing I actually wanted to watch, but I found myself riveted by what became an unofficial study of the realm of commercials.

If you’ve ever wondered about the subtle—or not-so-subtle—effects of television ads, you need only talk to your child. Several years back, my husband and I were talking about our taxes. My son, who was only 4 at the time, interrupted and said, “Just ask Roni Deutch—she’ll tell you what to do!” We both stared in wonder: first, that he had memorized this promo, but also that he had apparently heard it on a children’s network! Though he obviously had no understanding of what he was saying, the message had been clearly implanted—and appropriately parroted—so that it reached its designated target.

In my “study,” I noticed that most of the commercials fit one of four categories: insurance, attorneys, diet products, and acne remedies. What, I asked myself, are the unspoken messages behind these sales pitches?

  1. Insurance: The message I received from the barrage of insurance ads was, “Life is really dangerous, and you need to worry about every worst-case scenario.” While I think most of us would agree that our world can be a dangerous place, the constant reminder that we need to “shore ourselves up” against all the potential disasters is a way of keeping us constantly in fear. When we exist in such a state of hyper-vigilance, it becomes difficult to relax and trust ourselves or our neighbors. Without those qualities, life can be pretty stressful and unsatisfying.
  2. Attorneys: The near-constant advice to hire a lawyer encourages us to blame someone else for our troubles and hold others accountable for a monetary value. Of course there are times when attorneys are necessary to resolve disputes or give us a voice when we aren’t being heard. But the obsession with being “compensated for our loss” keeps us in an adversarial mode instead of moving through conflict and letting go. It also leads us too often to jump to an outside party, when we might be able to negotiate and mediate on our own. When we experience losses—which we inevitably do in life—there isn’t always a numerical amount that can heal our pain.
  3. Dieting: The obsession—especially after the holidays—with weight loss is unavoidable on television. Every other ad features a “medication,” diet program, or machine that promises us the self-esteem and peace we crave, if only we were thinner. The underlying message to me is that we are not good enough as we are, and that if we just find that perfect remedy, we will be beautiful—and therefore happy. And, of course, that we should value ourselves on the basis of how we look. Almost all the data show that a program that incorporates moderate exercise and portion control along with healthy food choices will, over time, yield a healthy body weight. But all the smiling celebrities and “real people” actors who share their happily-ever-after stories convince us that we, too, could be our best if we just tried that perfect, immediate cure-all.
  4. Acne: Mostly targeted at teens and young adults who are already super insecure, these “success” stories, like the dieting ones, teach our youth to evaluate themselves on their appearance and to believe in the instant fix. Imagine that you are already self-conscious about your breakout and that all you see on television is how to get rid of this humiliating problem. Where you may have been able to keep it in perspective, the advertisers keep you focusing on it to the point that it encourages obsession. And what if none of these supposed solutions works for you the way they do for all the smiling celebs? Do you then feel “less than”? What may have been a molehill has the potential to feel like a mountain when it is constantly thrust in your face.

As a mom, I have always tried to help my son understand the insidious nature of advertising because it is sadly so ubiquitous in our culture. Though we may be inclined to just write off commercials and say “they are only ads,” their influence is greater than we like to admit.

So, next time you turn on the TV, notice all the advertising and observe your reactions. Does a potato chip ad make you hungry? Does a makeup ad make you go check out a mirror? Be aware of the influences and you will make mindful choices that are based on what you truly need.

© Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lillian Rozin, LCSW, MFA, RYT, Aging and Geriatric Issues Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Mack

    March 12th, 2015 at 6:05 AM

    I agree that to many times we let what we see on TV influence our perception of the world, and if adults do it this easily then I guess we can only imagine how easy it is for a child to get sucked into it too!

  • caroline

    March 12th, 2015 at 12:22 PM

    Why is it that all types of media seem to do nothing but tell us or show us everything that they perceive that is wrong with us instead of helping us celebrate the good that is there?!? No wonder we all feel so bad, because according to all of that we are fat with bad skin and our insurance probably isn’t going to be enough coverage for us if we have a car wreck or worse!
    Now those are the things that can make anyone who listens enough crawl under a rock and hide!

  • Wyatt

    March 13th, 2015 at 10:05 AM

    But how would we know what to buy without the ads? lol

  • Sally

    March 13th, 2015 at 11:35 AM

    You are right on target about the commercials and ads for lawyers. I think that the more we see of that it just feeds into the notion that we are not at fault, that someone else is to blame and that for just a small fee, there is someone out there willing to help you prove that.

  • Irving

    March 14th, 2015 at 8:23 AM

    I guess that I watch so little live TV these days that I never really think about ads still having that same sort of impact on us that they once did. I think that the advertisers understand that about many people and so they are always looking for those opportunities when they do still have some influence over what we buy and when, and what better way to start then during the times when kids are in control of the TV and do not have that thought to just skip through the commercials?

  • eleanor

    March 16th, 2015 at 3:37 AM

    It’s a bad situation when we are held so hostage, so captive, by our television and yet all of us have been there from time to time/.

  • Billy

    March 16th, 2015 at 11:32 AM

    Wouldn’t it be nice for a change to showcase advertisers who make you feel good about yourself, instead of those telling us all of the things that are wring with us?
    Now I am am pretty stable and pretty confident, but when I think about the areas that you have highlighted and are talking about, yeah it is pretty easy to see how there could be those who get pulled in and think that they need something that will make them better.

  • Celia

    March 17th, 2015 at 10:26 AM

    The only thing that I have to say is that if we as the public did not buy into the ads then they would stop with the advertisements. But I think that we can all agree that most of us are searching for things that can improve and better our lives, and that is all the advertisers are trying to do, imply that their product or service is the one thing that we will need to accomplish that.

  • Julius

    March 19th, 2015 at 4:24 PM

    Hey a big draw of the streaming in most cases is that you don’t have put up with all of that! There are some ads but very few compared to regular network TV

  • Alan

    March 21st, 2015 at 8:36 AM

    If you aren’t already subconsciously looking for something that you are not going to find that via tv commercials.

    They know that most of us are searching for something and they are going to try what they can to hit that need.

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