Sex, Guns, and Pride: Why we should stop blaming Marketers.

Marketing has often been the scapegoat of negative public trends.

From sex to sexism, from recklessness and violence to materialism- us marketers have taken the rap for “making the public what it is”.

Sure- there have been many examples where marketing has contributed in bad taste… (See images below).

Promoting sex:


Sexism in the gaming industry is a hot topic (lack of women as protagonists):


And when there are, that’s not necessarily promoting equality:


Promoting recklessness:




Good Marketing

But let’s not forget, marketing has done much to promote great things as well (more images below):

Environmental and Animal Protection:


Racial Equality:


Gender Equality:


Marriage Equality:


Income Equality:


The Reality of Advertising

And of course there are many examples in the middle. But lets consider what Marketing (specifically Advertising, a sub-field of Marketing) really is.

When bloggers, news-writers, and the average commuter hold conversations, commons ice-breaker include weather, holiday seasons, and everything which is wrong with the world.

A conversation about Advertising usually starts something like this:

“Can you believe the ads these days?”

And usually evolves to a common mindless agreement on how terrible “marketing” is to mankind.

But if advertising has shown promise in doing great deeds as well as great evils, surely it is not the medium, but the content creator itself?

And if advertising is just a tool, why is there so much hate against the concept of “marketing” itself? What makes this stand out as a scapegoat?

The answer lies in three qualities which are associated with advertising today: fear, distrust, and being an easy target.

The Power of Advertising

Why are people fearful of Advertising? Simple: the perception of immense influence and power.

And is this fear founded? Yes. It is, to an extent.

(But don’t over-estimate it either. And I think you forgot to leave contact details…)

Advertising is founded on one incredible concept: ideas.

Ideas enlighten, they penetrate the dullness of life and give meaning and purpose to all. To the well informed, ideas are like treasures- each one carefully considered and when considered valuable and meaningful this individual will protect it zealously. To the ignorant, ideas are a weapon. They are the harsh, blazing truth which destroys their certainty- or they are a warm, reassuring lie which seeks to manipulate them.

We thus see the formation of two uses of marketing (specifically advertising): the use of an idea to incite loyalty and meaning for those who are ready to receive it, and the use of an idea to subjugate all else who are too ignorant to realise what has been done. The latter is the problem- but this is not a problem of “Marketing manipulates” but rather a problem of “Marketing is imperfect”. When given a shred of truth, well informed individuals add this to their pile of knowledge, but ignorant individuals take it as a whole truth, not seeing that it is not the whole truth, and that it was never designed to be- could never be designed to be.

People fear advertising because in the face of information overload, the lack of the resource of time, and a society of impulsiveness, marketing holds power over the ignorant.

On the other hand, advertising does not control minds. Consumers do not lose their sentience, get “brainwashed” and are not left incapable of making other decisions. Advertising only seeks to persuade, and in the mind of a vigilant and resilient individual it is taken as what it is, one more slice of information among the billions which are missing.

Advertising is thus nothing to fear, unless you do not understand what it is.

Vested Interest in Advertising

Advertising has purpose. It does not happen randomly. It sounds pretty obvious and absurd to bring up- but this creates distrust.

The fallacy here is that “Advertising is always used to pursue someone’s agenda, thus is cannot be trusted.”

While this is true, advertising is not a win-lose game. If organizations want to win, customers do not necessarily lose.

Advertising could be used to inform, educate, and persuade (including wholesome ideas as well).

Advertising informs the public of products and choice- so customers can make better decisions. Advertising educates on the benefits of each, and also helps teach product usage. Advertising also promotes ideas- and this is where the controversy lies- but note that guns, sex, and pride is not necessary to get sales. Love, togetherness, and equality are far greater agendas which produce a longer lasting impression- and great marketing focuses on these.

“But the end-game is always sales” is a common argument, fuelling distrust for even wholesome persuasion.

This is incorrect. The end-game is sometimes sales, but there is a far greater end-game: loyalty.

“Pursuing sales is like filling a leaky bucket.” This was told to me by my first year marketing lecturer.


The problem here is that customers are seen as expendable- and thus advertisers have to find more and more water, and use desperate tactics to fill as much of their bucket which can never be filled.

“Pursing loyalty- that’s plugging up the holes.” This view sees each drop as vitally important- and keeping them is much less costly in the long term than the alternative, and much more profitable. With this view, you fill soon find that one bucket is no longer enough.

So does marketing have a vested interest?  Yes.

Is that necessarily against yours as a consumer? No.

And is there cause to distrust advertising? Take it as anything you hear in life. Question it, test it- but don’t leave it as distrust. Find out what the company is aiming for, and whether the message is true or false. This way, you can benefit most from advertising.

Nobody else we can blame

The final issue with advertising is that it stands out and is highly ubiquitous.

Something goes wrong? Advertising is there. The fallacy though is that correlation is not causality. Just being there does not mean it must be to blame.

Consider the following diagram: this illustrates how ideas and attitudes can be co-created.

Copyright PengTiong

A common question is: does advertising force views upon consumers, or does it reflect their needs and wants.

The answer is: both.

Advertising is a tool used to benefit the consumer: marketers naturally want to give consumers what they want. But what happens when consumers want guns, sex, and pride?

If we trace back the blame, we come to the same problem. Did advertising create these wants, or are these genetically programmed within humans? Even so, does advertising make it worse, or does it just show the truth?

Then again, is it the fault of the platform to which users are enslaved to, or perhaps the companies which are propagating these messages?

So if blame is so debatable, why is advertising used as the scapegoat? Well, lets consider all the elements.

In terms of company, there are millions of businesses and organizations- which one is to blame? This route is thus infeasible and uninformative.

In terms of consumers- no it can’t be our fault that we think this way. Someone else must be to blame, right?

In terms of media, can we blame television? Radio? Social media? Technology?

Perhaps go a bit more old fashioned- newspapers, magazines, posters? Print media?

Lets go further… salesmen, word of mouth? Verbal communication? Now that is getting a bit absurd. How can we blame a communication channel to which we are so trusting. It is not their fault we trust them so much, use them so much, and are so reliant upon them.

So then the eye of blame turns to advertising. A domain of marketing. And for us marketers, there is nobody else we can blame, and nobody who will stand up for us.

Thus, in this respect advertising is lacking in being able to blame someone else.

So, what’s the message?

Advertising is not evil. It is not all powerful and it is not always manipulative, although it does suffer from being involved in the process. Advertising is too often used as a scapegoat for “what is wrong with kids/the world these days.” and this needs to stop.

Now, don’t get me wrong- I love advertising jokes.


This is hilarious, but we need to remember that this is not the truth of the industry. Contrary to what you see on TV, read in books, and ever in some over-zealous blogs- marketing is a tool which can be used for great good and evil, and inherently, advertising is harmless.

Dependent us humans, advertising can be used for either good or evil, and in this topic I will even venture the argument that long-term, well thought out, and visionary marketing will always seek to co-exist with the people, to grow with people.

A world without advertising may seem attractive: no distractions, no lies. Due to imperfect knowledge which permeates our markets, this is incredibly dangerous. No accountability, no ability to make optimal decisions.

Consumers would be left in the dark about what products best suit their needs, and who knows if it will spoil or even explode on you tomorrow? That happy feeling after buying a brand you really like- the ability not to worry about quality or the luxury of not having to read everything about the product in black and white because you know the company is good and reputable? Gone. Be prepared to allocate 5-10 minutes reading about each product (uniformly packaged, with no distinctive qualities) or buy blindly.

Advertising is a cornerstone of our lifestyle today, and we often under appreciate the benefits it brings, while we are painfully aware of how it could be used for evil. Stop blaming advertising, and share the blame on companies, media, and consumer culture.

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