Advertising is Education 2


When people think about advertising, they don't usually think of it as something educational.

Advertising is usually portrayed as something that drains brainpower rather than augments it. Science fiction authors like Phillip K. Dick were obsessed with painting dystopian futures like those portrayed in Blade Runner and Minority Report in which the average person was regularly assaulted with incessant advertising messages that prevented them from focusing on anything.

To a certain extent, that’s true. The cognitive surplus created by technology tempts advertisers to bombard viewers with persuasive imagery and text focused on getting a piece of their viewers’ brains.

But is that pernicious vision of what advertising is – a drag on cognition – what it’s all about?

The Educational Value of Advertising

There are many different types of advertising with multiple goals. But one of its most important is the ability of advertising to teach readers and viewers about new products that they may not be aware of.

For example, if I search for “hearing aid” on Google, I see 14 different advertisements. The ads range from hearing aids costing nearly $400, assisted hearing phones, and those offered through a $20 per month payment plan. In the regular search results, I see some informative articles along with a listing of hearing aid centers in my area.

If you take out the advertising, it’s a longer slog for the consumer to cogitate that information by themselves. The advertising teaches the reader an array of options in less than a few seconds.

The enhanced targeting of advertising makes it easier for advertisers to make sure that messages are both relevant and educational. Facebook is beginning to do an excellent job with this; mostly only sending ads relevant to the users’ interests – and soon, actual purchasing habits.

Why should people buy what you’re selling?

Teach them!


About JC Hewitt

JC Hewitt is an independent copywriter and marketing consultant based in New York City. He loves innovative companies of all sizes.

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  • Thorny title, and accurate! Sharp insights as always, JC. I think this is mind-numbingly true. If it weren't for advertising's role in educating about options, we would be surprisingly a bit lost.

    In some models, government might take up the slack with public campaigns, but it takes a free market culture to see even the corruptible potential in that model, as well, when the same government campaigns rely on government contracts from marketing companies who are just trying to make money while staying competitive. Every purveyor of product information has an economic stake in consumer / user habits. It is inevitable that advertising must come to play the role of educator, and has been steering that way for some time.

    Infomercials are biased, but they do teach a good bit towards making a buck, demonstrating expertise and thereby attempting to gain trust and ensuring that others are forced to go beyond their competitors. A more competitive market inevitably means a more informed public, and that market will probably rely heavily upon social media to gain ground. There is a course through consumer culture's crass competitive bottom line to a more informed and empowered social equation, regardless of whether we are on that path now or not. The yin and yang of economic forces and resistance to those forces are ultimately on the same side. This is one entry point to that kind of awareness.