The Harvard Business Review released a study that was headed up by researcher Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick. According to Oswald, “if you double advertising spending, it would result in a 3% drop in life satisfaction.”
3% doesn’t sound like much, but Oswald argues it’s a lesser version of what you’d feel if you were going through a divorce. If this low-grade unhappiness sounds worrying, brace yourself, because not only has the United States been steadily increasing advertising spending, but it’s also the biggest spender on ads globally. Oof.
Part of the problem is that ads are often designed to make us feel like we’re missing out on something, and no one likes to feel FOMO. In theory, ads should just point out areas where we might need help and then suggest products to fix the problem. For instance, if you have stains that are hard to clean, consider purchasing a specific cleaning product designed to remove those stains!
Except in most cases, advertisements are trying to fill a void we’ve already filled – which means making you feel bad about what you have. Sure, your car works, but it’s not “Bill Murray cruising through a snowdrift” levels of fun. Oswald argues that constantly being bombarded with advertisements like this can leave people constantly comparing themselves to impossible standards. And try as you might, you’ll never live up.
In a way, Oswald concedes, this phenomenon is not unlike the trends we’ve seen with social media. Dr. Jennifer Lewallen explains that while there can be moments of positive feedback from comparison on social media, it’s also easy to fall into the trap of becoming overwhelmed by the unending stream of unrealistic body and beauty standards.
Now, Oswald’s study is one of the first of its kind, so while it might hold some truth, it might not be entirely accurate. That said, the study was done meticulously and Oswald worked to account for other happiness factors in nations while studying the effects of advertising. In the meantime, it might be worth keeping an eye on your own happiness levels…and shutting off the ads if necessary.