Monday 20 January 2014

Advertising in Public Spaces

We are bombarded with advertising messages on a daily basis.

Some of them - such as commercial breaks on TV - we have the option to avoid. Others sit in public spaces, catching the eyes of thousands of passersby a day.

There are some negative effects of advertisements: the glorification of extrinsic and materialistic values (correlated with low subjective wellbeing), increased indifference toward the protection of the environment (also correlated with low subjective wellbeing), and the inability of people to move through public spaces without encountering messages with the potential to influence them. All of these strike me as minor relative to some of the big issues activists often concern themselves with.

But what are the benefits of advertisements in public spaces?

Advertisers would argue that their messages introduce people to products that may be desirable to them. This is probably true but are they idealized preferences? Probably not, given everything we know about positive psychology.

It also allows companies to raise awareness of their brands, which might be claimed to be "only fair." I have a conflicting intuition: that it is "only fair" to let people go places without being forced to come into contact with persuasive messages they don't want to be around.

Are there any real benefits to advertising in public spaces and do they outweigh the costs? If not, is the omnipresence of advertisements still a reality that we just need to get used to?

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