The influence of advertising on human being’s mentality and thinking


Each era was marked with events, which considerably threatened raising a young person, who was brought up in a particular culture. These days are characterized by the influence of mass media, and especially advertising, which may contribute itself to the improvement of the society by comforting and inspiring people as well as by motivating them into actions to their benefit and to the benefit of others. However, it may become also a tool, which is not helpful and pedagogical, but destructive to the young person’s personality. The most common means of influencing the personality of an individual as well as of the whole community are: violence, crime, pornography (pronophony and pornovision), harmful messages to the subconsciousness, visual domination, and propaganda (ideological and political).[1]

When analyzing the functions of the media, one can distinguish four basic needs of the recipients regarding the mass media. Above all, they: “1. are a form of escape, at least for a moment, from dullness and monotony of life; 2. fill the void, since fictional characters keep us company and they help to establish relations with other people by providing the topics for discussion; 3. are the source of information on current events, which are interesting for the recipient (media as a window on the world); and 4. function as symbolic indicators of certain values, due to which an individual accomplishes the process of self-identification and identification with a particular social and cultural group”.[2] Advertising works in a very similar way since it uses these mechanisms to its own benefit although its basic task is to create and make the potential customer realize of the existence of a given product or service.

A human being does not live alone, but among other people, by creating society, which, in turn, produces their own culture. According to John Paul II culture “is this notion, through which man, as a human being, can «be» man even more fully [..]. Man and only man is an originator and the creator of culture, man and only man expresses himself in culture and he confirms himself there as well”.[3]

Culture is a specific way of human being’s existence and life. It creates a group of connections between people living within each community by determining the interpersonal and social character of human existence. The subject and the creator of the culture is a human being, who can find their own expression and balance in it.[4] Advertising may harm the tradition and the local culture values. It is necessary to remember about the “cultural harm done to these countries and their inhabitants by advertisements, whose contents and methods reflect the values dominating among the developed societies and, at the same time, they come into a conflict with healthy and traditional values of the local cultures”.[5] Undoubtedly, these countries and their inhabitants “should have the possibility of an active, independent, and responsible participation in the process of reception of the mass medium, because it influences their conditions of life in a multidimensional way”.[6] There is also a great threat that the place of artistic and moral values may be occupied superficiality, vulgarity, and morally unacceptable practices. Such a situation appears especially in the place where the struggle between the competitors is the main indicator of the broadcasted advertisements and when money directs all the production. Therefore, it results in ignoring the educative and social needs of the people belonging to certain categories of recipients, such as children,[7] seniors,[8] the poor. Advertising has presented certain social groups in a dishonourable way many times so far. The case concerns mainly women, who are treated as objects, as a tool to gain one’s goals:[9] “How many times have women been treated not as people of an inalienable dignity, but as objects, who are to quench one’s lust for satisfaction or power? How many times has the woman’s role as a wife and mother been disdained or even ridiculed? How many times has the woman’s role in a workplace and in a professional life been presented as a parody of man’s role ignoring the specific characteristics of female intuition, her empathy, and ability to understand, which are so important for the «civilization of love»”.[10]

Advertising may influence culture positively. Profits, gained due to its existence, can support production of programmes of a high quality – not only intellectual, but also aesthetic and moral. Such a situation contributes indirectly to the development of the society only when advertising is recognized as an artistic element, which builds and inspires to behave in a morally good manner. It benefits not only the society as a whole, but, most of all, each individual separately – by building one family. At the same time, advertising may “make life more enjoyable for example by means of a typical sense of humour, good taste, and an entertaining style. Some advertisements are masterpieces of popular art, full of unique ideas and exceptional charm”.[11] The positive contribution of advertising can be seen in those places where it influences positively on shaping the moral and religious life both in the case of a young and the older human beings. Due to providing religious contents, which call on to tolerance, sympathy, altruism, and compassion towards those who need it, attitudes helping to shape, bring up, and develop are raised in a human being. Thus, the attitude towards each man is established. That is why, the presence of Church in mass media is nowadays so urgent. The same thing applies to its presence in advertising. Especially, when it may be an indispensable element of the strategy to reach those who have got lost, hide, or do not believe at all. When undertaking such steps, “bishops should seek cooperation with church specialists acting in that field, including the international and national film, radio, television, and press organizations”.[12] Mass media “may and should be tools in the Church’s service of re-evangelization and a new evangelization of the present-day world”.[13] Despite many opinions in this sphere, which Church has to face, one should not be discouraged, but “be able to observe carefully the development of modern advertising techniques and use them appropriately to spread the evangelical address in a way reflecting the modern man’s expectations”.[14]

However, advertising may evoke completely different attitudes. It especially concerns these situations, where instead of moral principles, man is corrupted by envy, greed, and unhealthy competition. The advertisements’ authors shock with their perversion, vulgarity, and disgust on purpose by referring to the unhealthy and dishonourable contents for a human being. Most of all, it refers to pornography, which has recently spread on a wide scale and which has been causing extensive social problems, especially due to the fact that it is promoted by such media as: “books, magazines, tape recordings, cinema, theatre, television, video cassettes, newspaper advertisements, and the television messages, which often present scenes of violence and sexual permissiveness, which are very close to pornography and morally unacceptable”.[15] Such a morally corrupting practice “used to be limited only to the rich countries, nowadays, however, due to the mass media, it is beginning to challenge the moral values of the developing countries”.[16]

The oldest advertisement of a brothel was found in the ruins of Pompeii. It was the “bas-reliefs of the «three sisters’ house»…”.[17] Pornography is by no means a new problem. Understanding this phenomenon must be done with regard to moral values resulting from dignity and sacredness of a human being. Only then it is possible to perceive other aspects, such as: pedagogical, social, or legal one etc. The phenomenon of pornography in the mass media is “not only presenting shamelessness in public, but it is a planned and methodical propaganda resulting in deformation of human awareness in the direction of ridding of shame and the attitude of moral modesty as something, which is allegedly not socially acceptable anymore. The deception of such motivation easily comes to light: a brutal attack on moral values is to be used as an argument that these values are allegedly outdated”.[18] It is characteristic that there is not any universal definition of pornography. We can speak about a phenomenon and its consequences, but we are not able to reduce them to one single definition since it would mean diminishing a multilayered phenomenon together with its social consequences into rules which would not get to the heart of the matter. The multitude of trials to define pornography causes much confusion and the attitude that for some people «something» is already pornography, and for others it is still not.

Pornography influences human subconsciousness and imagination in a harmful way. Contact with non-existing and triggered-by-imagination reality with the erotic and strongly emotionally charged contents particularly distorts children and young people’s psyche. It harms them while their point of view on the world, sexual life, love, and marriage is being created. Thus, it violates “the dignity of those who indulge in it (actors, sellers, audience) because they become the object of primitive pleasure and prohibited profit for others”.[19] In such a case, a body is reduced to an object of achieving the aim and, hence, the human freedom is violated and man himself is reduced only to corporeality, which is to arouse unbridled lust. The pedagogical task is “the necessity to reconstruct the picture of human love, to make people aware that love depends on the willingness and readiness to give good to the other person and it has to take into the account this good above all other things”.[20]

Specific problems are raised by advertisements referring to the religious and moral issues. In the first case, the most reprehensible are those “which sometimes adopt the religious motifs or use the images and characters from the religious sphere in order to sell particular products”.[21] It is particularly unacceptable when the religious symbols are treated as a «cheap» sales trick to attract customers to one’s product (service) by ridiculing the symbol or approaching it in a disrespectful manner.[22]

In the second case, “it happens that products, attitudes and behaviour patterns at variance with moral principles are advertised and promoted. The example of that may be the advertisement of contraceptives and abortion pills as well as products harming health, advertising campaigns in favour of effective birth control supported by governments, so called «safe sex», and other similar practices”.[23] Advertising regarded by the law as illegal also must be taken into the account. In such a case, it is the law[24] that guards the order and takes care that the sanctions are executed for broadcasting the advertisements of: alcohol,[25] tobacco products (on television, radio, children and young people’s magazines),[26] medications available only on doctor’s prescription,[27] some number lotteries, and pools.[28]

Advertising influences human mentality and thinking. The first rule that was incorporated into the advertising technique relates to various kinds of people’s needs developed due to cultural factors and to hidden desires. The second principle is to create irrational, i.e. incomprehensible or senseless situations. The point is so that the customer felt unjustifiable fondness towards a given product, which as a matter of fact, was not better than the other analogous products of different companies. Therefore, the point is to create a feeling in the recipient’s mind that this very product is better than the others. In this case a very imported role can be attributed to visual symbols. Everything must be happening according to a settled scheme: to suggest it in such a way that the recipient should feel fondness towards this product and buy it. As time went by, production of advertisements adopted such a form that the potential buyers themselves are presented in an advertisement, however in an idealized form, in compliance with their dreams as people, who are happy with their life, cheerful, rich, without problems. As a result, a myth of a happy family was created /here, an example of the advertisement of the Uncle Ben’s rice can be cited, where the whole family, smiling and joyful, welcome their son, who is coming back home after a long separation, and they offer him rice. The recipient is to be persuaded that all he needs to be happy is… rice/, a myth of a carefree, light-hearted person who has no serious troubles, who is joyful and comfortable with his fate. «This is your world » – says the advertisement of a Renault 19 model. The feeling of safety in a difficult and complex modern world is promised by the following advertisement of a bank: «PKO – with you throughout your life ».

In the book Anatomia telewizji w USA (Anatomy of Television in the US) by Jacek Fuksiewicz, the author writes: “A cigarette or a Coke gives not only a nice sensation of taste, but they are also obligatory accessories of social life, which guarantee acceptance among friends. A particular kind of soap, toothpaste, deodorant, or face cream – increases the temperature of feelings of the opposite sex partner, who might have been showing some symptoms of reluctance in the first part of the film. A car inspires respect among other people who are looking with admiration at the owner – it also gives the sense of power on the road. The whole family’s underwear, whiter than ever, thanks to the usage of washing powder of a particular kind, arouses admiration and recognition among the neighbours, who are now hurrying to the shop to buy it. Particular food products on the table evoke happiness and appreciation from the husband and children’s part”.[29]

Advertisements, based on these schemes and bombarding the viewers with them constantly day by day, are not restricted only to persuade effectively about the perfection of a given product. “Women are buying a promise – said one of the executives of the advertising agency in Milwaukee. – The cosmetic manufacturers are not selling lanolin, they are selling hope (…) We no longer buy oranges, we buy vitality. We do not buy just an auto, we buy prestige”.[30]

A similar manipulation of the masses can be found in political action. Our nation experienced it for the last 40-50 years.

It is visible that a human being has becoming more and more addicted to mass media. The law of demand and offer, which is taking advantage of continuous yearning for taking, rooted in every person, is a superior power. In today’s world, only what the viewer is interested in matters. And again, it all can be brought down to a simple scheme: masses are demanding, we are giving them what they want. Advantages: masses have what they want although they are manipulated quite frequently; the mass media receive money in such a way, which helps them to produce programmes, which, in turn, will be watched by people – a closed circle. Creating such susceptibility to particular images can, as a result, increase susceptibility to any human suggestions in general, and therefore, the broadcaster has considerably less problems with imposing given opinions and ideas upon large communities than in the case when the susceptibility to other influences is smaller. In such a way the spirit of the nation is diminishing and is being replaced with a mixture of unfamiliar products. In such a way, thinking, the way of reaching the life truths, and human mentality are changing.

[1] Por. A. Lepa, Pedagogika mass mediów, Łódź 1998, ss. 151-173.
[2] A. Lubecka, dz. cyt., s. 55.
[3] A. Szostek, Człowiek i kultura w ujęciu Jana Pawła II, Łódzkie Studia Teologiczne,  1997, t. 6, s. 157.
[4] Por. Jan Paweł II, Orędzie Jana Pawła II na Światowy Dzień Środków Społecznego Przekazu, Środki Społecznego przekazu pomostem między wiarą i kulturą, L’Osservatore Romano 5 (1984), s. 4.
[5] ER, nr 12; cyt. za: AEN, nr 16.
[6] AEN, nr 16.
[7] Por. Jan Paweł II, Orędzie papieskie na XIX Światowy Dzień Środków Społecznego Przekazu, Środki przekazu społecznego w służbie chrześcijańskiej promocji młodzieży, L’Osservatore Romano 4-5 (1985), s. 9.
[8] Por. Papieska Komisja Środków Społecznego Przekazu, Środki przekazu społecznego a problemy ludzi starych, L’Osservatore Romano 5 (1982), ss. 27-28.
[9] Por. B. Czerska, Reklama jest kobietą, AIDA 11 (1996), ss. 5-7; D. Doliński, Głupie, naiwne i czasami długonogie, AIDA 11 (1996), ss. 10-12; D. Köppl, Kobiety aseksualne?, AIDA 11 (1996), ss. 13-15; B. Duda, Kobieta – jaka jest naprawdę, AIDA 12 (1997), ss. 40-41; D. Doliński, Płeć produktu – hipoteza dopasowana, AIDA 5  (1997), ss. 36-38; T. Piss, Seksu naszego powszedniego…, AIDA 3 (1994), ss. 44-45; Cz. Curyło, O kobietach w reklamie TV, Aktualności telewizyjne, 1 (1999), ss. 84-88.
[10] Jan Paweł II, Orędzie Jana Pawła II na Światowy Dzień Środków Społecznego Przekazu 1996 r., Współczesne środki przekazu w służbie postępu kobiety w społeczeństwie, L’Osservatore Romano, 6 (1996), s. 7.
[11] ER, nr 7.
[12] AEN, nr 21.
[13] AEN, nr 11.
[14] ER, nr 8; cyt. za: Paweł VI, Orędzie na Światowy Dzień Środków Społecznego Przekazu, L’Osservatore Romano, 13 maja 1977, nr 2.
[15] Papieska Rada ds. środków Społecznego Przekazu, Pornografia i przemoc w środkach społecznego przekazu: odpowiedź duszpasterska, Wiadomości diecezjalne, Katowice, Rok 58, nr 6 (1990), nr 5, s. 194.
[16] ER, nr 13; cyt. za: Papieska Rada ds. środków Społecznego Przekazu, Pornografia i przemoc w środkach społecznego przekazu: odpowiedź duszpasterska, Wiadomości diecezjalne, Katowice, Rok 58, nr 6 (1990), nr 6, s. 194.
[17] Z. Bajka, Krótka historia reklamy…, dz. cyt., s. 6.
[18] J. Bajda, Zafałszowanie obrazu człowieka, Ethos, Rok 6 (1993) nr 4 (24), s. 73.
[19] KKK, nr 2354.
[20] T. Jakubowski, Wychowanie do miłości, Zagrożenia w dziedzinie płciowości – pornografia, Katecheta, 7-8 (1999), s. 42.
[21] ER, 13.
[22] Por. K. Oparski, Reklama potępiona, AIDA 2 (1999), s. 15.
[23] ER, nr 13.
[24] Por. B. Piwowar, Ograniczenia prawne reklamy w Polsce (cz. I), AIDA 2 (1995), ss. 33-36; B. Piwowar, Ograniczenia prawne reklamy w Polsce (cz. II), AIDA 3 (1995), ss. 32-34; E. Nowińska, Reklama radiowa w świetle prawa, AIDA 9 (1996), ss. 15-16; T. Goban-Klas, Amerykański kodeks etyki w działalności public relations, AIDA 11 (1996), ss. 37-38; T. Gryżewski, Etyka w działaniach RP, AIDA 11 (1996), s. 38; M. Pączkowski (oprac.), Reklama a etyka w europejskiej TV, AIDA 4 (1998), s. 11.
[25] Por. W. Olejniczak, W. Walczak, G. Zalejko, Inna reklama innego piwa, AIDA 10 (1996), ss. 18-20; R. Dybalska, Idealny odbiorca używek, AIDA 1 (1998), ss. 12-14; B. Prajsner, Reklama z pianką, AIDA 5 (1998), ss. 6-8; M. Pączkowski (oprac.), Johnie Walkera pić wypada? AIDA 5 (1998), s. 12; M. Pączkowski (oprac.), Trzy razy o wódce w Czechach, AIDA 5 (1998), ss. 12-13; E. Nowińska, Reklama napojów bezalkoholowych, AIDA 5  (1998), ss. 14-16; E. Nowińska, A co z napojami alkoholowymi? AIDA 5 (1998), ss. 16-17; P. Fouquet, M. de Borde, Alkoholografie – wizerunki reklamowe, AIDA 5 (1998), ss. 44-45; D. Doliński, Ostrzeżenia na etykietach alkoholu są mało skuteczne, AIDA 9 (1998), ss. 30-31.
[26] Por. K. Uściński, Papierosy – promocja bez reputacji, AIDA 1 (1998), ss. 4-7; N. Skałecka, K. Oparski, Papierosowa wolność pełna dymu i iluzji, AIDA 1 (1998), s. 7; K. Gusztyła, R. K. Ohme, Jak stworzyć plakat antynikotynowy, AIDA 1 (1998), ss. 8-10; M. Pączkowski (oprac.), Świat nie kocha palaczy, AIDA, 1 (1998), s. 11; R. Dybalska, Idealny odbiorca używek, AIDA 1 (1998), ss. 12-14.
[27] J. Jezioro, Ograniczenia prawne reklamy farmaceutyków, AIDA, 6 (1995), ss. 15-17.
[28] Por. A. Karpowicz, Jak reklamować się zgodnie z prawem, Warszawa 1997, ss. 11-21.
[29] J. Fuksiewicz, Anatomia telewizji w USA, Warszawa 1973, s. 76.
[30] Tamże.



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