Viewers influenced by advertisements daily


Advertisements influence much more than just what shoes Americans buy or what types of beverage they decide to drink; they also affect women’s body images, how much Americans drink, smoke and even eat, said
Jean Kilbourne, media critic, author and filmmaker.

Kilbourne spoke at Northern on Monday, March 31 to educate students about the power advertising has over Americans.

The average American is exposed to over 3,000 ads every single day and will spend two years of his or her life watching
television commercials, Kilbourne said.

Most people think they don’t pay attention to ads or tune them out, but the statistics are showing differently, she said.

“We’re not robots, we’re not brainwashed.
but you can’t grow up in America and not be influenced by advertising,” she said. “Its influence is quick, cumulative and, for the most part, it’s subconscious.”

One example Kilbourne talked about was cigarettes and the powerful lure they hold in today’s advertising.

The tobacco industry spends over $15 billion a year on advertising and promotion and yet the tobacco companies keep arguing
that ads don’t influence people, Kilbourne said. The companies claim they are trying to get adult smokers to switch brands, but that is highly unlikely because very few smokers switch brands each year. That isn’t enough to warrant $15 billion worth of advertising, which is actually used to get people to start smoking, she added.

“We all know that ads often lie. Smoking ads say ‘Alive with pleasure,'” she said. “[That] sure beats dead with cancer.”

Another huge problem in advertising is the overwhelming emphasis on physical perfection for women and girls, Kilbourne

“We literally never see an image of a woman considered beautiful that hasn’t been digitally altered to make her absolutely
inhumanly perfect,” she said.

Kilbourne added that the body type that is splayed all over the media is a body type that only about five percent of women have.

“These days the greatest contempt is for those women who are even in the least bit overweight.”

Eating and exercise should be some of life’s pleasures and if people learn to use their bodies in a healthy way, they will eventually be the weight or size they are
genetically meant to be. And then people can learn to love themselves, Kilbourne said.

“But that’s very difficult to do in a culture that teaches all of us, women especially, and men increasingly, to hate our bodies,” she said.

Men deal with stereotypes too, though a different kind. Men are expected to make a lot of money, Kilbourne said.

“It’s a very difficult, wounding kind of stereotype, one that makes men feel like failures and creates a lot of anxiety,” she said.

Advertisers are preying on young people in another way, and that’s with alcohol, she added.

They target young people for the same reason the tobacco industry does–because addictions start early.

“Addiction is bad news for most of us, but for the tobacco and alcohol industries, it’s the name of the game,” she said.

Underage drinkers account for 18 percent of all alcohol sales and drinking is the No. 1 problem on every college campus in America,
she said.

If every adult in America practiced low-risk drinking every day, which alcohol companies claim they want when advertising to drink responsibly, alcohol sales would be cut by 80 percent, Kilbourne said.

The problem with all these addictions is they are all public health issues, and in order to solve the problem people need to change their attitudes, she said.

“You can die from alcohol without ever picking up a drink, you can die from cigarette smoke without ever lighting up a cigarette,” she said. “Every woman in America is affected by the tyranny of ideal beauty and the obsession with thinness.”

Kilbourne said the solution to this is Americans overcoming these problems and living a better life, despite all the
negative ads.

“This is about advertising, but on a much deeper level, it’s about freedom–freedom from addiction, freedom from denial and
freedom from manipulation and certain forms of censorship,” she said.

Alice Jasper, a junior psychology major, said she agreed that ads can be a very powerful thing.

“It made me feel better about myself,” Jasper said in regards to Kilbourne’s message. “In some respect it made me feel less guilty about being blindly led by these advertisers.”

Lenny Shible, director of the Health Promotions Office, said he thought Kilbourne did a great job of showing how the media impacts a lot of choices people make.

“We need to get back to a place where there’s a balance of what we’re trying to accomplish with the overall health of Americans,” Shible said.