Winston Fletcher:

Today few critics take issue with advertising as a phenomenon. Instead they focus on individual sectors – alcohol, fattening foods, financial credit or whatever – where the issues are specific, and rather different. Today almost everyone who has examined the issues accepts that advertising does indeed help keep the wheels of industry turning, and hence keeps people in jobs. Today almost everyone accepts that by subsidising the media, advertising helps keep them relatively inexpensive and relatively free from government control. (This, too, is not true in all countries).

The area where contention still rages is how advertising benefits consumers (if at all). But the great French essayist Montaigne hit the spot in his 1595 essay "Of a Defect in our Policies". How, he asked, can sellers and buyers successfully communicate with each other? And like many other early commentators he believed the principle loser from the lack of communication to be the buyer. Unless buyers know about all the goods on offer, they miss out. And nobody since Montaigne (since ancient Athens come to that) has devised a better way than advertising to bridge this knowledge gap. If consumers did not benefit from advertising, it would not work.

(Hat tip: 3QD)

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