Advertising in a Free Society

 
Ralph Harris and Arthur Seldon, September 2014
 
In practice it is impossible to distinguish between advertising that is intended to be persuasive and advertising that is intended to be informative. Persuasive advertising normally has information content and even basic information provided by a company about its products will normally be intended to make consumers more interested in the product. The evidence suggests that advertising is not manipulative in any meaningful sense. It is not an important determinant of consumer behaviour, though it can help build brand loyalty. All serious studies of the advertising of alcohol and tobacco suggest that it has the same impact on the overall consumption of these products as on the consumption of any other product: none. An attack on advertising is, in effect, an attack on free speech. While commercial free speech may not be valued as highly by some as other forms of free speech, it should, nevertheless, be defended as an important principle.
 
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