Advertising, the industry tells us, is merely a mirror for society, reflecting our trends and desires. But beneath the glossy veneer lies a machinery of highly sophisticated psychological techniques used to monitor, survey and manipulate our moods and commodify our desires in order to sell more stuff.

In a pathfinding series of guest blogs, academics in fields from public health to surveillance, degrowth and behaviour change explore the ways in which advertising intersects with pressing contemporary social and political issues.

You can read all the blogs in the Bad Publicity series below, with new topics added on a regular basis.

When ads get into our psyche

What happens when people come to believe the messages advertisements tells them, and incorporate those messages into their own beliefs and value systems? In this blog, Dr Amy Isham, an environmental psychologist from the University of Swansea, examines the ways in which advertising moulds our values towards materialism and the consequences this has for us, our children and the planet.

Advertising and the power of consumer activism

Dr Eleftheria Lekakis describes how advertising seemingly presents us with a superficial choice about what to buy. But beneath that lies a political choice about how we as consumers engage with the advert: to accept or refuse it, to protest it, to subvert it, and so on. While these practices can be tools of social change, we need to always be critical about how promotional culture is itself not the same as social change.

Plugged in: how outdoor advertising and surveillance technology promote commercial behaviours

In this blog, we draw on Dr Thomas Dekeyser’s 2018 essay ‘The material geographies of advertising’ to understand how surveillance technologies enable outdoor advertising to more effectively integrate into the urban environment, increasing its capacity to affect our behaviours in line with advertisers’ intentions. 

Advertising, public health and the pollution of public discourse

Thinking of outdoor advertising as part of the “water we swim in”, that is, as part of the backdrop to our everyday lives which we all too often overlook, Dr Nason Maani, Lecturer in Inequalities and Global Health Policy at the University of Edinburgh, examines the influence advertising has on what we consume, how we behave and even how we speak and think.

The commodification of life itself: how advertising promotes endless growth, and how it could be otherwise

Examining advertising’s role in driving consumption, Dr Simon Mair of the Univeristy of York makes the case for a closer criticism of advertising’s role in exacerbating the climate crisis. With examples from Soviet Realism to the Vauxhall Corsa, Simon’s blog dives into the mechanics of how advertising persuades us to keep buying not simply to satisfy needs but because we believe it will make us more human.