Advertising and behavior control

In the text “Advertising and Behavior Control” Arrington presents an ethical tension at the heart of marketing. On the one hand it is said that advertisers manipulate the desires of consumers, forcing them to purchase products they do not want. On the other hand, advertising perhaps offers an “information” service, communicating to the consumer what is available on the market. Arrington sides with the latter argument: while advertising may be accused of playing with consumer behavior, there nothing in the essence of advertising itself which suggests that advertising is necessarily manipulative. Thus, the ethical responsibility comes down to the consumer. To put Arrington’s position somewhat coarsely: advertisers are not putting a gun to consumers’ heads, forcing them to buy things.

Whereas Arrington’s argument does have merit, perhaps it falls short as follows: it grants too much autonomy to the individual within society. Arrington infers that every social choice is ultimately an individual choice. But does this not deny the fact that our “individualities” may also be socially constructed, and therefore are not autonomous? Hence, the identity of the consumer may exist because we live in a culture of consumption; to make an analogy, the identity of the child exists because parents exist. Arrington assumes some dimension of individual autonomy which perhaps does not exist in reality, simply because our decisions occur within a social context, and thus are affected by this context. This seems to be true regarding the consumer, since he/she only exists within a greater consumerist social context.