Why advertising needs to stop the shaming

Most advertising makes us unhappy: it’s designed to set unrealistic standards that make us feel ashamed of how we look and live, in order to sell products. But change is coming, says We Are Pi’s Mark Lester

People hate advertising today. They probably always have, but that hatred seems to be at all time high. It’s so bad that Forrester has called out an “existential need for change” and challenged agencies to “disassemble what remains of their outdated model”.

One of the big reasons people hate advertising is because it makes them feel unhappy. At a time when true self-esteem can be in short supply, they don’t need something else that makes them feel bad about who they are and how they live. But several recent studies show that’s exactly what it does.

This isn’t an accident. The advertising techniques we developed in the Mad Men era were all about making people feel like they needed things they didn’t have. It made setting unrealistic standards the norm, and got us all staring up at billboards depicting perfect models, athletes and families.

That model of advertising largely persists, but a new generation doesn’t want to tolerate it any longer. They formed the #positivity movement as a powerful way of fighting back. This movement has taken old ideas but given them a new energy and force, and it is successfully pressuring brands to have a big rethink about their advertising.