The Dance Between Darkness and Light: A Systematic Review of Advertising’s Role in Consumer Well-Being

Advertising is often described as the art of capitalism. This indispensable form of communication, in all its technicolor glory, has the power to shape culture, conscience and commerce. Therein lies the (potential) rub.

Advertising promotes consumption as the solution to all of life’s problems. Consumers appear to benefit when conveyed information reduces ignorance and lowers transaction costs for legitimate needs. However, consumers may also be adversely affected when the persuasive influence on consumer behavior extends to the production of previously undiscovered wants or desires. The resultant veil of consumerism enables individuals to overlook the inevitable hollowness that underlies the pursuit of wellbeing through material goods and services.

Academic research reinforcing the efficacy of advertising and highlighting its cautionary contours abounds across multiple disciplines. This begs the question, ‘Does advertising, in fact, help or hinder consumer well-being (CWB)?’

Authored by professor, Dr. Daniel Sheinin and Dr. Jonathan R Gilbert (U. of Tampa), and published in the International Journal of Advertising, this paper conducts a systematic review of the literature between the years 1980 (the emergence of CWB as a formal construct in the marketing literature) and 2020 to establish the extent to which this research has progressed in response to this broad question. Grounded theory supports a series of emergent themes, as well as inconspicuous gaps that require attention to move the field forward. A framework is developed, and research agenda proposed, to guide future study.

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