Advertising as Evidence of Wealth?

An 1890s advertisement showing model Hilda Cla...

An 1890s advertisement showing model Hilda Clark in formal 19th century attire. The ad is titled Drink Coca-Cola 5¢. (US) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our society is awash in advertising.  It reaches us through all forms of media, old and new, and constantly in public space and discourse.  Advertising even intrudes on our private space via our growing dependence on personal technology, like our phones and computers.  But I wonder how often we stop to think about what this advertising means at a sort of socio-economic level.

I am thinking of it this way.  Let’s roll back time a couple hundred years.  Imagine a feudal society or even the early capitalist systems of mercantilism.  Who thinks a feudal serf or the new urban poor of the early industrial age had much need for advertising?  Or perhaps more to the point, who would think advertising would have much need for the impoverished masses?

It is hard to imagine an advertising industry scheming to promote one product’s advantages over another to people who simply struggled to survive from day to day.  One did not need advertising to tell him what he needed and why.  My guess is the poor pretty much understood this instinctively, just as we all would if we were put into a daily struggle for survival, well-being, and maybe a taste a rare leisure.

So what does that say about us, especially a society that markets so much to rich and poor alike?  For starters, we are not as poor as we were centuries ago.  And that is a good thing.  We still have vast differences in wealth and poverty, however, and that perhaps is not a good thing, especially if we begin to back pedal from more egalitarian economic prosperity, reversing trends of shared socio-economic growth.

Nevertheless, things are different today– life is more prosperous and generous– and this difference exists because of overall economic growth.  Advanced economic societies show signs of prosperity, even among the poor, and life comes with some basic assumptions and expectations about what is just and humane.  An higher economic standard exits for all, a baseline of sorts.

This isn’t uniform throughout the world, of course.  While we seem to be entering an era when literally billions of the world’s poor are now breaking into the middle class, wealthy societies — those that support an increased level of increased and shared wealth — do not reach everyone.   Large parts of the world remain left behind.

I haven’t much more to say about it.  However it seems to me that a very simple way to judge where wealth is becoming a kind of shared prosperity is to follow the money, specifically the money spent on advertising.  The United States in particular has perhaps the longest relationship with a nexus between affluence and advertising.

If there isn’t already, there must be some economic index that follows advertising dollars and reach.  If not, a dissertation might exist here.  What does advertising tell us about our wealth and economic prosperity?

Just thinking out loud again.


One thought on “Advertising as Evidence of Wealth?

  1. Gary Farland

    Advertising has two purposes: to sell things and to have control over the media. It is much better when people pay for media content rather than get it “free”.


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