advertising and mental illness

Advertisers relish at the thought of their work washing over mentally ill minds. This is because mental illness is fertile ground for their messages to take root.

Depression: Studies have shown that people who value material things highly are more depressed than those who don’t. What we don’t know is if the depression is fueling the consumerism or vice versa. What is clear that people who have poor self-image (which advertising itself tends to exacerbate) are more likely to try to compensate for it by consuming things. Advertisers are in a win-win situation today because most people crave relationships and need them to not be depressed but most places you have to buy things that the advertisers are advertising to fit in and be accepted.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: A mind with OCD is like a washing machine that turns the same things over, over and over again. A mind like this is fertile ground for advertiser’s messages. In a normal mind an advertiser’s message will come in, be analyzed a little, and brought up when necessary (for example a fabric softener ad will be recalled when one is in the laundry aisle of the supermarket). In a mind with OCD the advertiser’s messages get stuck in the tumble cycle. For example the new Gilette shaver that supposedly “glides” and has “less tug and pull” gets stuck in my mind because shaving wiry hair is a pain in the ass. I think the campaign is full of crap but that doesn’t stop it from entering my mind. The key here is things proven to be patently false (like most advertiser’s claims) will cycle in people with OCD’s minds. This is good news for advertisers.

Anorexia/Body Image: When was the last time you saw a fat person or an individual with a disability on a TV commercial (besides diet or wheelchair ads)? You don’t see these people because they don’t fit the ideal. We are a very looks-based culture–you live or die by what you look like. Prescient people internalize this and some starve themselves. It’s a disorder but it’s also a real rational response to cultural forces albeit a sad one. Advertisers love this demographic because they are particularly absorbent of the consumeristic culture around them and have poor self image, both things that make for an easy target market.

Anxiety: If you can create fear and offer some product or service that supposedly “cures” said fear you are in business. If someone is already anxiety-prone they are more susceptible to these pitches. Think how advertisers sell home security systems and even how the government sells war.  In both cases it’s about some “they” that is going to attack us and destroy our way of life.  Another example is how people afraid of impending economic collapse will buy more gold so you advertise gold places where anxiety-prone people are (Glen Beck, religious programming, etc..).

Many people who are mentally ill put a premium on how something makes them feel.  It’s more about the sizzle than the steak.  Interacting with a comfortable brand can be therapeutic.  For example Tylenol may work better than the same medication with an off-brand label because there is something comforting about interacting with a strong brand.

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