The means of media influence
Fr. Kavanaugh was on the mark when describing the effects of advertising on society. Our moral values are being degraded by the bombardment of impropriety by the media. Adler would be quick in pointing out the reason why these messages have such a negative effect on people. There are two main tactics advertisers use to sell their product: either imply that their product will bring about the achievement of a particular (usually real) good, or make their product the object of desire, therefore making it an apparent good to people. The problem with associating products with the achievement of a good lies more in the realm of truth than in good, because it lies in whether or not the product can truly live up to its claims.
The relation between a product and the achievement of a good is an objective truth, though the goodness of said product may not be. The statement that Product X will make you more popular, solve your problems, or let you lead a happy life (statements usually implied in these advertisements) are generally not true. When advertisers make these statements, therefore, they are directly misleading the public. The other tactic used, however, is a bigger problem, being not only harder to identify but having more problematic effects. Since society likes to think of the good as a subjective thing, it would seem to be acceptable for advertisers to qualify their products as being good. However, Adler shows that some goods (namely needs dictated by human nature) are universal to all people. Advertisers commonly exploit this by associating their products not with the apparent good they are truly associated with, but with one of those real goods. Though these products are by no means needs, the associations make people believe that the advertised product embodies the good they need, and to achieve that good they must buy the product. Companies don't advertise perfumes, for example; they advertise relationships. They don't advertise clothing; they advertise independence. Slowly, as people hear these messages more and more, they start associating more importance to the product than to the good involved, like a sort of idol-worship -- and here is where the real problems set in. Now that advertisers have people sold on the product, they can influence people's desires. This is what Fr. Kavanaugh saw when he said that advertising is damaging society's moral values. Calvin Klein, for example, has already become one of those companies whose product has become more important than the good they represent -- in other words, Calvin Klein products are now in and of themselves the good some people try to achieve.
Thus, when their ads show immoral situations or actions (like the infamous child pornography ads that spurred many debates and a lawsuit against the company), people associate these immoral actions with the «good» Calvin Klein products, and people will slowly grow desensitized to them. Advertising, therefore, plays a notable role in the moral growth -- or stunting -- of society. Though their «job» is to make people envision their product as good, they often make people envision the values their ads advocate as good as well. Advertisers therefore have a responsibility to society to advocate proper moral values in their advertising, or at least not advocate improper moral values. And society should force them to uphold these proper values instead of the socially damaging ones many advertisers now use.
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By giving form to people's deep-lying desires
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