Roger Arrington, “Advertising and Behavior Control”


1.       Main point of article

          a.       To assess the extent to which advertising compromises human autonomy (=self-governance)


2.       Thwarting autonomy is not same thing as deceiving

                    i.        Worries about ads being deceptive and worries about ads undermining autonomy are not the same

          b.       Successful deception presumably thwarts autonomy

          c.       Autonomy can be thwarted w/o deception (w/o trying to get someone to believe a falsehood or w/o misleading them)

                    i.        Behavior control and coercion need not involve any deception

                    ii.       E.g., marketing to young children


3.       Arrington thinks that, for the most part, ads do NOT compromise autonomy

          a.       Though they can and sometimes do so


4.       J.K. Galbraith has argued for the existence of a “dependence effect” that compromises autonomy

5.       Dependence effect

          a.        Consumer wants depend on the same process by which they are satisfied.

          b.       Producers manufacture not only products but demand for their products as well

          c.       Through advertising, producers create desires in consumers

                    i.        Rather than satisfying pre-existing needs and wants, producers manufacture them


6.       Dependence effect is (thought to be) morally troubling because

          a.       If producer manages (controls, manipulates) consumer demand

                    i.        Then the economy ultimately serves producer not consumer

                    ii.       Have producer sovereignty, not consumer sovereignty

          b.       The power of the market to satisfy human desires seems much less valuable if the market also creates those desires

          c.       We can’t assume welfare is higher at higher levels of production if the wants satisfied by this production are created

                    i.        Morally troubling examples of wants being created and then satisfied

                              (1)     Doctor breaks arm then fixes it

                              (2)     Pusher gets you to try a drug and now you want it badly and he satisfies that want

                              (3)     Ads for breast implants in teen magazines lead to large increase in demand for breast implants

                              (4)     Marketing of new cars makes people dissatisfied with their older cars (which still work fine), so they discard them and buy new ones


7.       Evaluate following response to the charge that manufacturers, marketers, and advertisers control you:

          a.       I only buy what I want

          b.       If I didn’t want it I wouldn’t buy it

          c.       So I am in control, not the manufacturer of the product


          d.       Reply: If “your” wants are put in you by manufacturers, then mere fact that you buy what you want doesn’t show that you are in control


8.       Four ways ads might violate our autonomy

          a.       (1) By giving us non-autonomous desires (ones that aren’t really our own)

          b.       (2) By creating irrational desires and choices (possibly including desires for subjective effects)

          c.       (3) By producing compulsive behavior (unfree choices)

          d.       (4) By controlling consumer behavior


9.       (3) Compulsive behavior

          a.       Desires can’t be resisted, even though strong reasons to resist

          b.       Acting involuntarily

          c.       E.g., kleptomaniacs (they know likely be caught and that products they are stealing aren’t worth much, but still steal)

10.     Compulsive shoppers

          a.       Buy stuff even when strong reasons not to

          b.       Buy things they really can’t afford

          c.       Buy on credit, burdened with huge amount of consumer debt, takes forever to get out of debt


11.     (1) Do ads give us non-autonomous desires?

          a.       Non-autonomous desire = a desire which, though we have it, is not really our own

          b.       How decide if a desire is our own (is autonomous)?

12.     Innate versus culturally induced?

          a.       Autonomous desire is innate; our own desires are innate

          b.       Nonautonomous desires are culturally-induced; if a desire was produced by culture, it is not our own

          c.       Arlington rejects this analysis:

                    i.        Desire for art, music, knowledge are culturally induced and not innate, yet these clearly are our own desires

                    ii.       Very little we desire is innate (only sex, food, warmth)

                    iii.      Thus, mere fact that a desire is created by TV/Advertising/Marketing (is culturally induced and is not innate) doesn’t show it is non-autonomous

13.     Arrington suggests autonomous desire is one we identify with and accept as our own

          a.       Autonomous desire

                    i.        Identify with it

                    ii.       Acknowledges it as one’s own

                    iii.      Glad one has it

                    iv.      Want to satisfy it (have a second order desire about and in favor of the first order desire)

          b.       Non-autonomous desires

                    i.        Experienced as foreign to one’s character

                    ii.       Want to get rid of it

                    iii.      Rejects that desire

          c.       Examples autonomous versus nonautonomous

                    i.        I want to steal this and I’m glad I want to; yes, that’s me, I’m a thief

                              (1)     Versus I want to steal this but I wish I didn’t want to

                    ii.       I want to look at those dead bodies on the side of the road and I don’t mind wanting to

                              (1)     I want to look at the corpse, but I wish I didn’t

14.     Arrington’s analysis suggests that even if the dependence effect occurs, it need not undermine autonomy

          a.       If a woman is made aware of her desire for facial cream, really wants the cream, doesn’t reject this desire

          b.       Then that desire is hers (autonomous) even if induced by ads and marketing


15.     Some worries about Arrington’s account of autonomous desires

          a.       Would allow that desires created by subliminal ads are autonomous

                    i.        Is this plausible?

          b.       If one’s whole character shaped by ads, then you will identify with the desire, but the desire is not your own, because you are not your own person (or this part of you is not genuine)

                    i.        Indoctrination: Brainwashed to want to give all your money to some fake religious leader

                    ii.       Consumerism a kind of brainwashing?

16.     Another way of distinguishing autonomous/non-autonomous desires: How the desires where acquired

          a.        Desires acquired in an acceptable way are autonomous and desires acquired in an unacceptable ways are not

          b.       Desires acquired in the following ways are autonomous

                    i.        Education

                    ii.       Rational persuasion

                    iii.      Exposure to a product; information about the product

                    iv.      In general, desires that came about in an open, up-front manner

          c.       Desires acquired in the following ways are nonautonomous

                    i.        Deception, illusion

                    ii.       Manipulation

                    iii.      As a result of a long thought process and careful planning by others who are not looking out for your welfare but theirs

                    iv.      Subliminally


17.     (2) Do ads produce irrational desires and choices?

          a.       Specifically, if our desires and purchases are aimed at subjective effects is this irrational?

          b.       Subjective effect examples

                    i.        Cosmetics offering hope and adventure

                    ii.       A certain car offers feelings of power and status

                    iii.      Buy a type of clothing for social prestige

          c.       Defense of subjective effects

                    i.        Subjective effects real despite being subjective

                    ii.       We have real desires for them, product satisfies these desires

                    iii.      Even though desire and product engineered by manufacturer