Advertising is everywhere. It pervades the media, the internet, and our public spaces. But despite its invasiveness, strikingly few question its effects on our consumption, our freedom of choice, or our cultural values.
“The truth is that marketing raises enormous ethical questions every day—at least it does if you’re doing it right…”
– Rory Sutherland, former President of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA)
Building on earlier work prepared for Common Cause, PIRC and WWF-UK have produced a report that begins to examine these questions. Think Of Me As Evil? Opening the Ethical Debates in Advertising argues that commercial advertising may well exacerbate the social and environmental problems that we collectively confront.
The report presents evidence that advertising may increase overall consumption; that it is likely to promote and normalise a range of behaviours, attitudes and values, many of which are socially and environmentally damaging; that it manipulates individuals on a subconscious level, both children and adults; and that it is so pervasive in modern society as to make the choice of opting-out from exposure virtually impossible.
What others are saying about this report
“This is a fascinating, clear-headed and critically important report. Reading it, I’m struck by the fact that nothing quite like it has been written before. Why not, I wonder, when this issue looms so large in our lives, and the ethical questions involved so obviously require investigation? I’m delighted that it’s been done at last, and that an urgently-needed debate can now begin.”
– George Monbiot, journalist, author and campaigner
“This report shines a light onto a seldom scrutinised sector—the advertising industry. Advertising, it suggests, harms society and the planet by increasing consumerism, manipulating cultural values, and intruding into all aspects of our lives. Yet where are the civil society campaigns against it? This report, it’s to be hoped, will inspire campaigners to take up the cause as their own.”
- Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion and leader of the Green Party of England and Wales
“This is the best written report on any social cause for many a year and raises all the right questions around the place and role of advertising in society.”
- Ed Mayo, Secretary-General, Co-operatives UK
Read or hear more
- Martin Sorrell’s defence of the ad industry (Feb 2014) and Jon Alexander’s response.
- Saatchi & Saatchi S on the issues raised in Think Of Me As Evil?, 6th April
- Report [PDF] by Waste Watch on the commercialisation of childhood, building on issues raised in Think Of Me As Evil?, 29th March
- Guy Shrubsole on advertising aimed at children, on the Guardian’s Sustainable Business Blog, 12th March
- 44 Club Debate, ‘Is advertising out of control?’, hosted at the IPA, 20th February
- Guy Shrubsole on the Green Living Blog, 16th January
- Authors of the report attended a Credos / Futures Company event on the Future of Advertising, 12th January 2012 – their research on this subject is due for March
- Jon Alexander on the Guardian’s Sustainable Business Blog, 25th November
- Ed Mayo’s blog about the report & RSA debate, 24th November
- RSA debate, ‘Advertising in society: what’s the deal?’, with report co-author Jon Alexander on panel, 24th November – video, audio
- Report co-author Guy Shrubsole talks about Think Of Me As Evil? at an event hosted by the 10:10 campaign, 10th November
- Interview with David Jones, head of ad agency Havas, on whether advertising is evil, 4th November
- Ed Gillespie’s Sustainable Business blog response to the report, 3rd November
- Response to the report from Tim Lefroy, chief executive of the Advertising Association, 1st November
- OpenDemocracy blog about Think Of Me As Evil?, 28th October
- Guardian Letters page responses to George Monbiot’s column, 26th October
- George Monbiot’s column about this report, 24th October
- Tom Crompton on advertising and bigger-than-self problems (Case study originally presented in Common Cause)
To join the debate about the impacts of advertising and what to do about them, please email Ralph Underhill: firstname.lastname@example.org
Published by Public Interest Research Centre and WWF-UK, this report examines the evidence that commercial advertising could exacerbate the social and environmental problems that we collectively confront.
Think Of Me As Evil? presents evidence that advertising may increase overall consumption; that it could promote and normalise a range of behaviours, attitudes and values, many of which are socially and environmentally damaging; that it manipulates individuals on a subconscious level, both children and adults; and that it is so pervasive in modern society as to make the choice of opting-out from exposure virtually impossible.
The report calls on the advertising industry and its clients to take responsibility for demonstrating that the impacts of commercial advertising are benign, and to support precautionary measures until such time as this is demonstrated. It also calls upon civil society organisations to pay much greater attention to commercial advertising and its possible impacts in frustrating delivery on a wide range of social and environmental outcomes.