Are adverts morally neutral?

Donald Miller thinks so or does he? In this post on commercialism and faith he says,

“Commercials are simply an exchange of information about the availability of products and services. The idea of a commercial is, in my opinion, morally neutral.”

But what he goes on to say undermines this morally neutral idea, so he says about adverts that,

“these images and messages are designed to cause to you think of your life as incomplete…Rather than being satisfied, a person begins to believe their life is lacking, whether it is actually lacking or not.”


The idea is to convince you that you aren’t going to be happy unless you purchase something. And make no mistake, this is a powerful manipulative tool.” (his emphasis)

So how can something be morally neutral if it is a manipulative tool, aimed at making you dissatisfied and discontented, and that your life is both lacking and incomplete? If that is what an advert is, it is more than just passing on information. If that is what an advert is, it’s hard to see how it can be morally neutral. So is that what an advert is?


I think that some adverts can be morally neutral according to the first definition. They don’t necessarily need to be manipulative. Consider the following three brief “adverts”:

1. Cakes for sale
2. Really tasty cakes for sale
3. Only by tasting these cakes can you experience true pleasure

Only the third could be said to be “manipulative” (possibly the second).

Of course, almost all the adverts we see on TV are of the third type.

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