Advertising expenditures worldwide fell 2 percent in 2008 to $643 billion, according to Worldwatch’s newest Vital Signs Online trend, which expands significantly on the discussion of advertising found in chapter 1 of State of the World 2010. While that’s bad news for the advertising industry it’s good news for the world. Even better news for the world: ad expenditures are projected to decline another 11 percent in 2009. Yes, I’m sure some won’t be happy that I’m celebrating the decline of an industry and the resulting loss of jobs, but let’s be honest: advertising stimulates consumption (or 1 percent of the Gross World Product wouldn’t be spent on it), consumption at current levels is undermining Earth’s systems, and we depend on Earth’s systems for our ability to thrive as a species. Translation: the reduction of total advertising expenditures selling consumerist dreams will improve human security. You won’t see that in Advertising Age!
But what you will see is more good news. In the January 25th issue, Emma Hall writes about Spain’s probable new ban on “advertising certain beauty products and services ‘that encourage the cult of the body’ on TV before 10 p.m.” Super! No more primetime ads for diet products, plastic surgery or other products that play off and fuel insecurities of the body. And Ms. Hall points to other exciting possibilities as well: France is trying to add warning labels to airbrushed images to make it clear that models don’t really look that good.
Of course, as Jonah Sachs and Susan Finkelpearl discuss in their article Social Marketing: From Selling Soap to Selling Sustainability, advertising can be used to promote sustainable living as readily as excessive consumption, but they also note that less than a fraction of a percent of the industry goes to these types of advertising, so restrictions on the most pernicious forms of advertising is exciting. One day, maybe $643 billion will be spent promoting how cool it is to walk to work (and only work half time), live in very small homes, go to community theater instead of zoning out in front of televisions, repair your old appliances, vacation in one’s own region instead of in far off places, and so on. But until then, a decline of the industry is a welcome development, as hopefully it’ll lead to a strategic redirection along these lines.