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Advertising Damages Mental Health

"The child understands what he/she sees on television before speaking. He/she understands the pictures in magazines and on advertising billborads like illiterates.. The logical understanding that what is on the box is virtual like what is in the newspaper comes late to us.."

By Paul Kalkbrenner

[This essay originally published in: Hamburg Chaos Communication Congress, December 1997 is translated abridged from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.chscene.ch/ccc/congress/1997/004.]

In a study, the Munich psychoanalyst Franz Strunz showed that Sigmund Freud erred when he analyzed the dreams of children. Freud's thesis was that infants in their dreams are free from the intimidations of parents and society. In their dreams, they live an absolutely free and happy life.

In his investigations, Strunz demonstrated that dreadful monsters, crimes and catastrophes bristled in the dreams of his analyzed children. Most of the analyzed children were paralyzed by the dangers about which they dreamt at night.

The development of television was the only difference between the children analyzed by Freud and Strunz. Freud could not foresee the influence of television, media and advertising.

The media has changed more than the dreams of children. A basic understanding of reception is necessary here. How does perception function?

Language consciousness first develops at age 4. Until then, the little child only saw the world in pictures. Language and logic are incomprehensible to the child for a long time. Thus the child understands what he sees on television before speaking. He understands the pictures in magazines and advertising billboards like illiterates.

Children who test crack at age 7, rob their schoolmates at 8 and try to rape their younger sisters at 9 are only testing out what they already saw in the media. The power of media pictures educates them long before their parents and society can make clear linguistically/ verbally what is wrong and right. This phenomenon only concerns our generations that became great for the first time in history with these virtual pictures. The logical understanding that "what is in the box" is virtual like what is in the newspaper" comes late to all of us.

One of the best-known advertising ideologues, Jacques Sequeles from the Euro-RSCG agency formulated: "Advertising conquers everything and has become the schoolmaster of our children. They only sit for hours with their teachers but enthusiastically watch the television for a thousand hours. They sit glued or spellbound to our spots. Thus advertising becomes the schoolmaster for life." (6)

The power of pictures of visual communication is also unbroken in adult age. This power of virtual pictures is stronger than logical arguments. Even if you feel elevated above this, the tirade of advertising pictures is still drilled into you.
For that reason, all advertising works with pictures. Successful brands are word-pictures. Everyone knows the Coca Cola logo and the attitude toward life drummed into our heads by countless advertising spots and print campaigns. Everyone knows the Marlboro logo and identifies the logo with freedom and adventure, cowboy-romanticism and austere manliness. With an advertising budget of over 500 million DM (German marks), Telecom managed to convince thousands of fools to buy their worthless shares in a few days.

The first one who knew and used the power of media pictures and corporate identity, quasi-the father of advertising, was Adolf Hitler. No trademark was as well known as the swastika. No marketing campaign was as successful as the Nazis' campaign. While the people were dedicated to blond Aryan beauties, the feeling of happiness according to the Boy Scout style, the cult of the natural and true German, cloudless skies, powerful cars and gigantic, perfectly organized mass events, the opinion of the Fuhrer was echoed in public opinion. The first TV Olympiad of the world bombarded people with strong heroes on posters and statutes. Everyone who didn't correspond to this fascist ideal died in the concentration camps (KZs): Jews, gays, unionists, artists and communists.

Everyone believed this mammoth advertising campaign. No one was open to the logical arguments of resistance. This campaign was so successful that the (radioactively) contaminated today still speak of the Auschwitz lie. So much for the power of pictures and advertising propaganda.

Santa Claus is another, rather harmless example. Why does he wear this red coat? Why does he wear these boots and the red-white pointed cap? Because an American graphic designer drew him this way for Coca Cola many decades ago. Because Coca Cola consistently penetrated this image by spending billions over decades. Red and white as the colors of Coca Cola was a milestone in the history of marketing.

Pepsi strives for higher things. This corporation now attempts to protect a certain blue color as a trademark: Pepsi Blue.


"There are no distinctions any more between the mechanisms of advertising, television and other media. They function everywhere in the same way with the same trick. Gradually the editorial part was confused with advertising.

On television, all American series roll out the same "enticing" dream model as advertising. All the game shows, tele-shopping shows and shows like "The Price is Right" are connected with advertising, make themselves advertising or call people to consume by promising fantastic promotional gifts that change our life. More and more, shows resemble gigantic promotion events where actors and singers are always invited to promote their latest film or their latest CD. They always present themselves with radiant smiles just like advertising...
We have fallen under the rule of the television dictatorship that came over us gently in an advertising manner and not forcefully. This makes the dictatorship especially dangerous.

Under the Berlosconi government, Italy was a pioneer of this new tyranny in which the heads of television stations become heads of state. They control the picture and thus the reality, the body and the mind, a convincing, subliminal dictatorship that is systematically guided by ratings experts. This is the worst possible of all dictatorships since no revolt is possible any more. This dictatorship needs no prisons or guards. Instead of bars and grating, there is the idiot box. (6)

Let me conclude with a quotation from Jacques Sequelas of the Euro-RSCG agency:

"The function of advertising is to lead consumers to their hidden expectations. By uncovering these expectations, advertising first creates the delight that is the true engine of our unbridled consumer society."

Without advertising, no consumer society could arise. Without advertising, our minds would be free to reflect about more important things.

homepage: homepage: http://www.mbtranslations.com
address: address: http://www.commondreams.org

an immense weight bearing down over time... 05.Jun.2004 12:20

this thing here

advertising, on the whole, is a negative life experience.

let's say the average life span of a human is 85 years.

that's 31,025 days.

it has been estimated that in a modern western consumer society, the average human may see up to 3000 print, radio, and television advertisements a day.

so up to 3000 advertisements a day, times 31,025 days.

that's 93,075,000 advertisements over a lifetime of 85 years.

do advertisements work by being honest? do advertisements simply present the facts as facts? no. if only that were so.

advertisements push psychological buttons. and they push them very very very well.

they make up problems to sell the solutions. they use sex. they prey upon sexual identities, such as the overtly masculine themes in all SUV ads, and the overtly feminine themes in all household cleaning products ads. they try to make consumers believe they lack something, and from this feeling of lack, of being lesser than their peers, they create needs for products which may not be genuine, needs which do not arise genuinely out of individual consumers.

"big masculine men drive big trucks" "women must dutifully clean their environments of every germ, or their children will die of some terrible disease"

advertisements are black holes which suck up, through appropriation, themes, models, steroetypes, interactions, fears, art, politics, everything. but what happens to these things, which have their own integrity or value, after they have been sucked up by the black hole and shot out of the jets of advertisements? they have been utterly trivialized. they have had their integrity and identities sucked out of them.

what do the bullshit masculinity themes in SUV advertisements do to masculinity? make the masculine identity stronger and more real? or does it in the end simply make a total mockery of what it means to be a man?

what about the trivialized interactions that make up 30 second commercials. the trivialized interactions between lovers, between men and women, between husband and wife, between child and adult, between employer and employee? these interactions are supposed to mke the consumer feel comfortable, "i know these people, i'm one of them."

but is it really so cool when an advertisement models reality? because what happens when reality starts to model an advertisement? what happens to genuine human interaction when lovers, men and women, husbands and wives, adults and children, just start reciting and parroting the interactions of 30 second commercials?

so take all of this and multiply it by 93,075,000. day after day after day after day after day after day of this. button pushing after button pushing after button pushing after button pushing.

and how many times has the advertisement promised something which the product it was selling could not deliver? multiply that certain disappointment by 93,075,000.

what does this do? don't tell me that this bombardment doesn't effect mental health in a negative fashion over time. don't tell me this bombardment doesn't corrupt the desires and wants and needs of humanity over time. it is an immense, slowly accumulating weight over time. in my opinion, it makes people immensely cynical and secretly angry, it makes genuine interaction impossible, or it totally overwhelms defenses, the ability to be skeptical, and it produces a gigantic "i don't care anymore" apathy. day after day after day after day after day after day after day after...

oh look. 05.Jun.2004 13:48

this thing here

A possable escape 05.Jun.2004 18:18


Mistakes Cause and Effect 05.Jun.2004 20:15

R. Schleyer, M.A,.

Kalkbrenner is certainly naive. He mistakes cause and effect throughout, a fatal error if his goal is truth.

The War for 'Democracy' 15.Jun.2006 20:35

J. Ames james769@rochester.rr.com

Two cultures at war: the first has ubiquitous posters, ads and billboards of the emperor, reassuring and threatening -- best friend/worst enemy. That would be Hitler, Saddam, etc.. The second has ubiquitous posters, ads and billboards of Britney, Big Macs, Cars, Lawyers, WalMart, Friendly's, Nike, etc. etc. Two things primarily distinguish the second from the first:

1. Aggression and its attendant industries are exported -- more or less completely (versus concentration camps, ethnic cleansing, class war, etc.). Domestic social aggression is replaced largely by professional sports.

2. Marketing and its constituents are sufficiently in control to enable the first condition.

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