A debate has been going on for years about the effectiveness about advertising and how the exposure to ads makes us feel. We now have an answer. Advertising is effective and makes us wants things we otherwise wouldn’t and that makes us unhappy. This is good because it provides us with a simple solution: get rid of ads as much as possible.
To help reduce ads in your life you can use a tracker blocker while you’re on the internet, ProPublica has a good list of options.
So ads make us want what we don’t or can’t have?
The idea here is a very old one: Before I can decide how happy I am, I have to look over my shoulder, consciously or subconsciously, and see how other people are doing. Many of my feelings about my income, my car, and my house are molded by my next-door neighbor’s income, car, and house. That’s just part of being human: worrying about relative status. But we know from lots of research that making social comparisons can be harmful to us emotionally, and advertising prompts us to measure ourselves against others. If I see an ad for a fancy new car, it makes me think about my ordinary one, which might make me feel bad. If I see this $10,000 watch and then look at my watch, which I probably paid about $150 for, I might think, “Maybe there’s something wrong with me.” And of course nations are just agglomerations of individuals. Now, in this paper we don’t prove that the dissatisfaction is coming from relative comparisons, but we suspect that’s what happening.