A report on the Centre for European Policy Research's policy site, Vox, claims that advertising can be directly linked to human dissatisfaction.
The report, written by Chloé Michel (Swiss Re), Michelle Sovinsky (Mannheim Uni), Eugenio Proto (Bristol Uni), and Andrew Oswald (Warwick Uni), argues that there is a "link" - note that neither the word "correlation" or "causation" is used - between rises and falls in advertising activity and, some time later, corresponding movements in levels of national wellbeing.
According to the report, doubling ad expenditure results in a 3% drop in life satisfaction. Although these claims seem rather fanciful on the face of it, the work is serious.
Annual surveys of life satisfaction of almost 1 million people across 27 European countries were gathered, between 1980 and 2011 (note that this includes around 10 years of the Cold War, where advertising expenditure was significantly less). This was compared against advertising expenditure for the same period, and the link was inferred. Also, assumptions that there is an equivalent link to GDP was rejected. (Visit this website here
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There are some parts of the report, however, which critique capitalism more than just advertising:
If individuals have 'relativistic' preferences, so that they look at others before deciding how satisfied they feel, then when they consume more goods, they fail to become happier because they see others also consuming more. The pleasure of my new car is taken away if Ms Jones, in the parking spot next to mine, has also just bought one. More recent evidence on 'comparison effects' has been reviewed by Clark (2018). Mujcic and Oswald (2018) also find longitudinal evidence of negative wellbeing consequences based on envy.
Also, the report thankfully concludes that it is not an exhaustive piece of work, but rather the start of a longer conversation. The control that advertising might have on our lives needs to be investigated beyond numbers alone.
Although there is evidence of an inverse longitudinal relationship between national advertising and national dissatisfaction, we still need to uncover the causal mechanism. But this demands investigation, because the size of the estimated effect here is both substantial and statistically well-determined. (click here today)
Take a look at the report here.
(This article contains paid placement links.)