What is advertising for? Most people would probably say it’s about letting a customer know about what goods and services are available, or telling you why you should buy their product and not someone else’s. But more and more, advertising is really about telling you what you need.
My question is, why do we need advertising to tell us what we need? Don’t we already know? To look into this, let’s talk animals for a moment.
Every kind of animal on this planet, including humans, are born with the ability to survive. Otherwise they wouldn’t, right? Each animal is born knowing what it innately needs to guide its own development in the world. Even a baby—especially a baby—knows what it needs, and when it needs it. (The only thing a baby lacks is the ability to communicate with others clearly about its needs.) But for humans, our Industrialized Society steps in and says, “You must eat at such and such a time, you must sleep at such and such a time, you must get used to a ‘proper’ schedule” And the baby is forced to wait to be fed and to stay awake when it needs to sleep by well meaning people who think they’re doing the right thing.
But the thing is, children who are raised to ignore their real needs lose their ability to recognize them, and develop a dependence on substitutes. Let me say that again: if you don’t know what you want, you start craving something, anything, even things that are bad for you, if only they seem to fill the need. Children who’ve learned not to trust themselves to know what they need grow up into adults who haven’t got the time to figure out what they want, and handily, there are all these advertisements and marketers ready to step in and ‘help’ them with this problem.
I’d like to argue that our consumer culture is a result of all these people not knowing the difference between what needs are real for them, and needs that are artificially introduced by others. When you don’t know what you want, and if someone proclaims loudly, over and over, that “Coke is it”, why wouldn’t you believe them? Especially if it really does make you feel good, if only for awhile.