It is nearly impossible to go a day without seeing a single advertisement. Advertisements are so ingrained in our lives that we constantly consume them without even realizing it. They are plastered across billboards, pop up in Internet windows, and interrupt television shows daily. Even social media is filled with ads that are tailored to address your interests and browsing habits. Whether we realize it or not, advertisements can affect the way we think or perceive things. This becomes apparent in the most mundane instants, from getting a jingle stuck in your head to purchasing something you are not quite sure you needed. Advertisements’ ability to insert themselves into our subconscious have caused some to question their impact on addiction. If even the most menial aspects of advertisements can impact behaviors, it is fair to consider their reach.
Subliminal Messaging in Media
You cannot turn on a television without seeing an advertisement for a new pharmaceutical drug, a brand of alcohol, or a new vape cigarette. The goal of these ads is almost always to cause viewers to choose these products. Some may try to negatively target competitors, while others may try to show a more creative message to attract new customers.
Some companies have limitations on where they can advertise or what methods they may use. Alcohol brands top this list with restrictions that include only being able to advertise in places where 70 percent of viewers are 21 years or older and being unable to use characters or people that focus on minors. Despite this, alcohol is still popularly advertised in numerous sporting arenas and concert venues. Many have deals or contracts that make them exclusive partners and more visible as a result.
Vaping in the Media
Vaping ads are becoming more prominent, as companies try to tackle stigmas surrounding traditional cigarettes. Ads for vaping tend to address freedom of use and concerns regarding safety of use. Compared to alcohol, vaping is more forthcoming with its interest in getting new customers. This is primarily due to the fact that the product is relatively new and trying to establish itself in the territory.
How this Influences Our Teens
It is impossible to prevent adolescents from being exposed to ads that promote alcohol or vaping. Advertising around alcohol is difficult to avoid because it has become interwoven into so many recreational activities. While ads for vaping are still sparse, they are beginning to grow in number as more people are beginning to turn to e-cigarettes over traditional cigarettes. Their style and misleading safety information appeal to many viewers looking for a more socially acceptable alternative to smoking.
The Opposite Stance
While advertisements promoting these products are visible in numerous venues, there are other ads designed to counteract messages promoting addiction. These ads create memorable images and messages that have stuck with people for years. The “this is your brain on drugs” ad campaign featuring an egg is easily one of the most memorable anti-drug advertisements. Since the 1980s, groups have taken steps to prevent adolescent substance abuse through numerous campaigns. While some have been unsuccessful, others, like the D.A.R.E. program, have been effective in helping young people think twice before experimenting.
Causes of Substance Abuse
While these public service announcements come from a good place, in reality, the reasons a person begins using drugs or alcohol can be much more complex than many ads show. Ads that include elements of morality can complicate their message because individual behavior is not black and white. Compounding factors including genetic predisposition, environmental dynamics, and other influences can cause a person to begin experimenting with substances. Generally, ads that choose to categorize people because of these choices are ineffective, while those that focus on consequences and side effects of use tend to be better received.
Personal History & Addiction
While advertisements are not the sole source of influence in a person’s life, they do play a major role. There is no way to completely disconnect from these advertisements, making it imperative to counteract their influence with education. Education surrounding the realities of substance use can help effectively combat negative influences and allow people to make informed decisions. While education or advertisements alone are not solely responsible for a person’s choices, they can influence a person’s actions. Addiction is more complicated and requires a deeper level of exploration to understand and treat effectively.