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Advertising is a major source of human dissatisfaction, new report shows

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That same thing that makes you reach, without ever properly thinking about it, for that well-advertised brand – as you shop in that multinational supermarket or an online store – might be the very thing that breaks you – as a human being.

More specifically, it might be the ad behind the product. At least that’s what a new study from Vox EU – the policy portal of the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) – seems to be hypothetically suggesting. But this link, as the article admits, is not clear.

The headline to the report seems pretty straightforward: “Advertising as a major source of human dissatisfaction: Cross-national evidence on one million Europeans” – but the summary of the study itself is peppered with such qualifiers as “not well understood,” “not perfectly understood,” and, “reasonable suggestions.”

Advertising is nothing new, of course – and it’s nothing confined to Europe between 1990 and 2011, either – and it has always played off the same old strengths and weaknesses: human nature, human needs, and human aspirations and ambitions.

But could any, or all of that combined, really make people less dissatisfied than they might otherwise be, in a world without advertising?

The report states that positives are that “advertising informs – it may promote human welfare by allowing people to make better choices about products.”

On the flip side: “Advertising stimulates desires that are not feasible. This creates dissatisfaction.”

In other words, it’s possible that promising one thing while failing to deliver on it may result in dissatisfaction – the Vox EU study of one million Europeans in 27 countries is said to have found.

More specifically, advertising “might reduce welfare by unduly raising consumption aspirations.”

That conclusion hardly warrants a study, one might argue. At the same time, dismissing “human dissatisfaction” as a negative might be ill-advised. After all, our dissatisfaction with any current state of affairs, and our impulse to change things for the better is a major component in our personal success and that of our very civilization.

But the study seems to want to focus on the way dissatisfaction – that otherwise healthy, if uncomfortable state of mind – can be used and abused to cement passive, consumerist tendencies in people.

The question then might become – which is it that really makes people “dissatisfied” – the practice of advertising – or the culture of consumerism itself?

But that question seems well beyond the scope of any answer this particular study aims to provide.

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