McLuhan Studies : Issue 6

Home Page

Table of Contents

Author Index

Title Index



The Effect of Advertising Media

Effects of Electronic Media on Advertising

Kong Ying

English Department

Harbin Institute of Technology

Tel: 86-451-6414518 Email:

Today we live in a world full of advertisements. Wherever we go, whatever we do, advertising is with us. Suppose we live in a society without advertisements, what would our life be like? Of course , it must be blind, dull and even aimless. What makes advertising so indispensable to our life? The media: the Second God. It is everywhere and nowhere.

As far as the media is concerned, what does the word “advertisements” bring to mind? TV and radio commercials? Newspaper advertisements? Magazine advertisements? Outdoor signs? Supermarkets displays and packages? Certainly all of these are advertising of different media. In advertising, we use these media to achieve a straightforward result: to improve the sales of a product. We can measure this intended result of bringing the products to the customers. But the effects of these media are elusive and powerful to measure.

This paper aims to explore the dynamic roles that advertising media play in economic, social and cultural environments. First, we survey the developing history of media in terms of advertisements. Then we continue with an overview of the effects of the advertising media¾selling products, changing individual behavior, affecting the psychological ways of thinking, influencing the living patterns and bettering living conditions etc. Finally, we conclude with a discussion of the adverse effects of the advertising media.

Advertising is viewed as a communication tool of fairly recent origin. In fact, advertising is as old as civilization and commerce. It has always been necessary to bring buyer and sellers together. The only thing that has changed since its appearing is the degree of sophistication of medium revolution in advertising. They have undergone constant changes during the long history. With the different degrees of sophistication, advertising media have influenced, changed and strengthened people’s concept and behavior variably. Advertising media were created by man. They changed and developed accordingly with the development of society and economy. But the effect upon the society is too great to measure.

1. The developing history of advertising media

Pre-literate media

The urge to advertise seems to be a part of human nature evidenced since ancient times. Outdoor advertising has proved to be one of the most enduring, as well as one of the oldest forms of advertising. Outdoor advertising media at that time were shop-signs, wall-paintings, clay tablet, etc.

In China, beacon-fire was used to convey the location of the fair in certain places. In front of shops, shop-signs were used to indicate what were sold in the shops. And peddlers hawked their wares in the street to draw the attention of the audience.

Babylonian ointment dealers and shoe makers used clay tablet to inscribe the signs of what they produced. Egyptians wrote commercial messages on papyri. The Romans painted on the wall a row for butcher shop, a cow for dairy and a boot for a shoemaker. Greeks relied on town cries to chant the arrival of ships with cargoes of wines, spices and metals. Often a crier was accompanied by a musician.

Another early advertising media was the remark that the tradespeople placed on goods such as pottery. As people’s reputation spread by word of mouth, buyer began to look for his or her special mark just as consumers look for trade mark and brand names today.

All the media had its limitation in spreading information in space and speed. The awkward and cumbersome media had creative limitations, little audience selectivity and the problem of availability. Thus they hindered the development of commerce which resulted in small-scale of production. There were workshops of manual labor.

Literate media

The turning point in the history of ads came in the year 1450, when Joharn Gutenberg invented the press, which of course, changed the communication methods for the whole world. Advertisers no longer had to produce extra copies of a sign by hand.

In 1622, advertising was given a big boost with the launching of the first English newspaper, The Weekly News. The first ad in an English newspaper appeared in 1625.

Advertising had its greatest growth in the USA. Ben Franklin has been called the father of American ads because his Gazette, first published in 1729, had the largest circulation and ads volume of any paper in colonial America.

The invention of printing advertising media has large circulation of audience and resulted in mass production, which created surpluses. Thus the need to convince consumers to buy more is greater than before. With the development of industrial technology, a fine network of waterways, highways, and roads allowed the transportation of goods and advertising media to reach everywhere. At the same time, the growth of ads in newspaper and magazines increased literacy.

Electronic media for advertising

The invention of radio, and later television created two more amazing media for the spread of ads. They have the greatest effect on the consumers, society and even the individual, because we live in the society which is accompanied by the electronic media which are indispensable in our daily life.

What accounts for the power and influence of electronic media for advertising?

To understand how electronic media commercial works, it is necessary to turn to the advantages of these media. Radio and television commercials can work in various ways. No matter in what way they work, the purpose is clear: try to tell the listener and viewer about a product and then sell it.

Radio, a personal medium supplies a close rapport with consumers, for when you listen to a voice speaking directly to you on the radio, you listen faithfully. Radios also use wide range of sound effects to involve the listeners’ imagination in the script: You can hear a plane leave the airfield as vividly as if you saw it off. What’s more, transistor sets for personal use are available for a majority of population with different educational levels---men, women and teenagers, so the spread of commercial information is fast and wide.

Today, advertising in TV is the most powerful medium. It combines video and audio imaginations into a vivid communication. The TV screen pours energy to draw everyone to it. People have to accept the concept of the products that appear on the screen. So that has the most powerful effect upon the society.

One of the mysteries of cybernation, the computer has allowed people to shop at home at anytime for all kinds of products readily available at their finger tips. On 11th June, 1996, IBM provided the invented electronic shops in Internet. This has completely changed the purchasing way of consumers and also the production of the manufacturers.

Electronic media commercials are the most powerful and extraordinary sales tools in that:

(1) They are perceived media. They require no skill and learning for people to understand. Consumers, no matter old or young, literate or illiterate, male and female, can be aroused to have the desire to buy. Thus they have a wider coverage of listeners and viewers. They can make a product known to every household and obtain the goals to create the most desired effects.

(2) They are combined technique of audio and video features, which are voice, vision, caption and color etc. They can vividly and clearly display the appearance, coloure and luster, method of operation and the dynamic state of products. It is impossible to determine what is true and what is false for the same product of different advertisement in print. For they are static without sound and look of sincerity. But credibility in electronic media can be displayed clearly by the real sound and scene. Car commercials on TV presents not only the shiny casing, beautiful appearance and fashionable mode but also the working operation state with the engine sound and high speed. The excellent performances can be tested by all kinds of created scenes. In order to show the stability and safety of the car “ Masques” made by American Classier Auto Company, one of the testing scenes is that of a barber shaving a famous athlete. It is a thorough and clean shave without any cuts. This credibility and permissibility is so great that no other media can match it.

(3) they are available in most of the households. Millions of people depend on radio and television for news rather than newspapers and televisions. In China, most of us turn to radio for morning news and weather broadcast. And most families watch TV in the evening. Electronic media commercials just serve as salesmen visiting families. Usually, when family members enjoying good TV programs, commercials merge before and in between the programs from time to time to attract the appeals. Then it is the best time for families to make the decision of buying, reducing the discrepancies between family members.

(4) They could reach large numbers of people quickly for quick results.

(5) They are easily combined with other media to reach a greater effect on the consumers.

The effect of famous stars

Recently, film stars, TV stars and sport stars have frequently appeared on TV commercials. The combinations of media have achieved great effects. First because they can attract the audience’s attention when they are tired of the TV commercials. People are more interested in stars rather than the products. In this case, information of goods somewhat unconsciously come to the minds of the viewer. In Japan, the actor who played the part of Helujinger was invited to make advertisement for medicine. Because of the the role he played in that program, he was considered a proper advocate for the need to take medicine. Secondly, many young people are star followers. If products are recommended by the stars, they would become popular soon. One of the famous brands of suits, PAI, is worn by TV star Wang Zhiwen. It has created a good impression upon the viewers. Thirdly, famous stars reduce the distance between products and consumers. People have favorable, intimate and credible impressions on the products. Famous actresses, Pan Hong and Chen Chong have been the models for XIAFEI cosmetic products. Finally, the product reputation is usually raised by the stars. The commercials spread far and wide. Li Ning was invited by Jianlibao group company to advertise for the soft drink of sports type.

Commercial songs

Both domestic and foreign companies have used short songs to affect consumers such as Cocoa Cola. Citizen Watch, Nestle Coffee, Wanbolour cigarettes, Wahaha fruit milk and Yanwu tape recorder etc. Commercial songs are easy to remember and pleasant to the ears. They soon become popular. Sometimes when singing the songs, we associate the products with the songs.


Cartoons are often used in TV commercials. They have special attraction to children. The images of Mice and Donald, the monk YI Xiu, The magic brush Ma Liang and the White Snow Princess etc. are the favorites of children.

2. The effects of electronic media advertising

In advertising, we typically use media to achieve a straightforward result to improve the sales of a product. But the side effects of this intended results are often more powerful and more elusive.

“Media commercials sell products, change behavior, elect politicians, influence your choice of college, determine the entertainment you see, the sports events you attend, the shoes you wear, and the gun you chew.” (P.50 1983 Media: The Second God. Tony Schwarts) Looking back on our life, we feel we are directly or indirectly influenced by advertising around us in the following ways:

(1)Electronic advertising media replaced the salespeople, making them redundant

Electronic media have practically eliminated door-to-door salespeople from our lives. They ended their hard life described by Arthur Miller in the story The Death of a Salesman. Another American writer, Eudora Welty also described the hard life of salesmen in her story, The Death of a Travelling Salesmen. During the 1920s and 30s, salesmen served as a kind of media for selling products. Had there been no invention of electronic media for advertising, more salesmen would have died of hard work. In their place nowadays, we have commercials on radio and television. Advertising media is available in almost every home in our country and sell a more varied lines of goods than any salesmen could ever handle.

Radio and television convey to all people the emotion, style and quality that produce the best results. They standardize the technique of selling and affect people more deeply than most salesmen. They have changed life patterns of both salesman and consumers. In the essay The tragedy of Old Age in America, Robert N. Bulter wrote that old people were prime victims of dishonest door-to-door salesmen and fraudulent advertising. “With radio, advertising openly went over to everyone and television introduced the “do-it-yourself” pattern of living that has shattered the image of the individualist hard-sell salesman and the docile consumers.” (P.206 !964 Marshall Macluhan) Today many shops hire more sales personal to write orders rather than salesmen to sell.

(2) The fast speed and far reaching area of electronic media lead to international trade

Before the advent of electronic media, the speed of commercial communication depend on two factors: time and distance. How can we know there is cocoa-cola in the USA? How many people can have this kind of popular drink? Without electronic advertising media, commercials could not reach to household at so fast a speed, in so wide range. The development of international trade would have been so prosperous. Now people at home can enjoy various products both from home and abroad. Before the electronic media, a customer’s farthest range of vision was from the shop and the product they have experienced. For instance, people in Harbin have no idea of the local products in Guangdong, to say nothing of the native products in other countries if they haven’t been there. But today our vision range is limitless. Television is the telescope or window through which we can be informed of any kind of products at every corner of the earth. As result of international trade, we can have anything sold through the media by means of another media---telephone order.

(3) Electronic media created the supermarket

“As technology advance, it reverses the characteristics of every situation again and again. The age of automation is going to be the age of “do it yourself’ ”--- (1957, Essential. Macluhan)

TV has introduced the “do-it-yourself” pattern of living that changed our way of purchasing. A generation ago, grocery stores and shops were different from what we have today. The shopkeeper stood behind a counter with his back to shelves which displayed a selection of goods, while many other items were kept in the rear storeroom. You had to be served by the shop assistant. If he happened to be busy, you had to wait for your turn. You chose the goods according your previous using experience. New products found it hard to catch your attention. “But today the supermarket has replaced the corner grocery. The counter, the old shelves and the grocer are gone. The store itself is a large public stockroom in which enormous variety of products are displayed.” Commercials on TV and radio have made us aware of the nature and names of these products. Especially TV, which presents us the color, size and package of the products. Before we go to the supermarket, we have the goods in mind. And it is quite easy for us to pick up what you need among various goods, for TV has already familiarized you with the name, package and nature of the goods. Another advantage of the supermarket is that the open-shelf displaying itself is the advertising medium. At the supermarket, most of us function with evoked memory rather than learned memory. The sight of the goods is the reminder to create the desire to buy what may not appear on your shopping list. This process ends the reliance on lists or simple rote memory and this results in a tremendous increase in “impulse” buying. In fact, somehow we always leave the supermarket with far more than we planned to buy. The last advantage of the supermarket is that it has brought the clients in direct contact with the goods. It changed the traditional purchasing form. This “do-it-yourself” pattern has saved shop assistants’ work and trouble, improve working efficiency, and finally it has made more shop assistants redundant.

(4) Electronic media for advertising develop extra needs, thus promoting production.

Before telephone, radio and automobile were invented, people did not feel a specific need for those devices. But working together, technology and advertising created the desires for them and promote the production and industry. However, facing TV and listening to radio, listeners or viewers were presented with the modern equipment, they did feel need for improved communication, more-accessible entertainment and swift transportation and they often expressed their need in emotional terms. For example, when watching the commercials for cars, we could not helping to think: “ Oh, how I wish I could have one someday.”

(5)They changed our behavior

A. Commercials serve as guidance for us to select products.

Today, our society is one with rich array of products. When we go shopping, our eyes meet different products or the same products with variety. It would not be easy for you to pick up the product you hope for without the commercials familiarizing you with them.

B. Even children are more informed about goods

When we were young, we could only name a few snacks. We were passive to receive what we were offered by our parents. But nowadays, every child can name dozens of snacks. They are no longer passive to receive , instead they ask for the goods they know from the TV actively.

C. Presents tend to be various

A few years ago, foods, wines and canned foods were the main presents we would like to send to our relatives and friends. Recently electronic media commercials recommend various things as gifts. It is very common to send flowers, health foods and nutriments.

D. More labor-saving equipment have come into household.

Our life is bettered by commercials on radio and TV. We are not only presented with the equipment also the ways to operate. In order to attract audience, they provide attractive scenes such as Aiqihao Washing Machine, Haire Refrigerators, Chunhua Air Cleaner and etc.

E. The life quality has been improved.

All kinds of body-building equipment, keep-fit massagers, sports goods and medical instruments are the contents of electronic media commercials. Physical training become indoor exercise rather than outdoors.

F. More festivals and holidays

Manufacturers try to find every chance for their products. In recent years, we have festivals traditionally and western one additionally. Restaurants and hotels canvas clients on TV and radio for Christmas. Baker’s presents beautiful and delicious cakes for Mother’s Day and flower shops promote fresh flowers together with pieces of chocolate for Valentine.

Adverse effect of electronic media for advertising

(1) Audience are too passive facing electronic media.

Many people object to commercials on radio and TV when they enjoy good programs. However they have no fast forward button like tape recorders to speed us past commercials. Even though we may mentally tune the commercials out, we know it’s there and it gets in the way of program material. Unless we go to the trouble of turning off the set of lowering the sound, we cannot skip the commercials.

(2) More fake and imitating products

The power of electronic media for advertising is so powerful that everyone has deep impression on the products recommend to them. They create the market for fake and imitating products. P&G has invited Hong Kong famous star, Zhou Runfa, to advertise for Shampoo. The homophonic name happens to mean making your hair smooth. Shampoo made by P&G is quite welcome and popular because of the electronic media. But soon after the commercials spread over the country, many fake shampoos swamped the market. When consumers realize they were cheated by the fake shampoos, not the commercials, it was too late for the manufacturers to inform consumers to distinguish the true brand from the false ones. Because usually the fake products look more genuine than the real ones.

(3) Manufacturers compete for media rather than the product.

Manufacturers shift their emphasis to media because strong and powerful media may help them occupy the market. Actually, the commercial fight is the fight for media commercials. It is the business of spending money for more money. For small enterprises, even if they have high-quality goods, they cannot afford the high expensive fees for advertising their products. TV is the most expensive medium. It is said the famous actress, Gong Li advertised for air-conditioners with only a smile, her reward was a million yuan. Some manufacturers emphasizes the effect of media rather than the quality of their products. That is the reason we often get the products which are far from our expectations.

3. The future for elecronic media for advertising

Advertising media changed the function of shops as well as the purchasing form. Years ago, products were piled on the shelves and displayed in the shop windows to make customers aware of what products were available in the shop. The shop assistants played an important part in selling. Today TV is the primary display window for most consumer goods. It replaces the salesmen to some extent. Some day in the future, with the introduction of shopping center on the Internet, there may be some new stores built with no display windows or well-decorated shops in highstreet.

TV advertising created supermarkets, which provide the clients with direct contact with goods. This reforms the tradition of purchasing. The computer advertising produces shopping by computer, which offers the customer direct opportunities to purchase in the invented shops all over the world. And this would be a thorough revolution of purchasing.

(1) Courteous electronic ads will become the mainstream in the future. In traditional ads, the recipients are passive to receive commercial information. In many cases, most people have to receive the disturbing ads, which is a very impolite way to advertise. But ads on the Internet are quite different. The recipients are in an active position to receive the information. All the commercial information is kept in the computer. Users may navigate when they have the desire. And electronic ads would never appear before those who would not like to have the ads. The advertisemen may also carefully choose the effective way to inform the potential buyers. This kind of courteous way to advise may become the mainstream in the future.

(2) Microcomputers are a versatile advertising medium, which combines video and audio advantages. Television and radio, in sharp contrast to the computer, are totally passive medium. Commercials are mental junk food which in most cases provide the recipients with unwanted information. The customers are passive and uninteractive, for when they really want to have the information they need, they cannot turn to TV and radio. The computer, on the other hand, can be used as the interactive medium in advertising, delivering more commercials to customers in an easily acceptable way. They have the advantages TV and radio cannot have.

A. They are an ideal medium for delivering and promoting products and services to individuals. People may operate the computer easily to find the information according to their own needs. The computer has the potential to promote customers’ passive attitudes towards products. Besides, the cost of advertising is much lower compared with TV.

B. Customers can go shopping on their computers, for there are electronic shopping centers or invented shops on the Internet. The shops on the Internet are open at anytime no matter whether it is day or night. Customers can find any kind of products with different colors , designs, sizes and prices. Customers can place an order and pay for the things they buy by means of computer. Computers provide advertisements and various consulting services at the same time. The ways of advertising is quite active, for the computers have your personal files and can provides services according to your actual needs. Of course, the sellers will obtain larger profit than before.

(3) The advanced technology of medium has changed people’s way of living. The life pace will become faster, for people spend less time shopping. There would be less traffic and thus less pollution caused by cars. People would consume less energy in choosing the right product among rich varieties of goods, for the computer can help pick up what you really need. Actually they completely replace salesmen and advertising people, which consequently reduces the cost of selling and delivering goods. There is no extra cost for renting shops in highstreet. The prices of goods are duly lowered.

(4) It is much easier to create fake products in computer.


Everything has its good sides as well as its bad sides. I have no idea what would be the result of the electronic media for advertising. But one thing I am sure, there must be a great revolution in advertising in the future.

The Effects of Electronic Media for Advertising


In advertising, we use media to achieve a straightforward result¾to improve the sales of a product. The result of bringing products to customers can be measured while the effects of the media for advertising are too elusive and powerful to measure. This paper aims to explore the dynamic roles that the electronic media play in economic, social and cultural environments.

1. History of media for advertising


drum-beating printing film computer

beacon fire newspaper radio internet

town cry magazine television

wall painting

shop sign

2. Characteristics of electronic media for advertising

¨ received media

¨ combination of audio and video

¨ available in most households

¨ fast speed of information

¨ easily combined with other media for ads such as famous stars, commercial songs and cartoons

3. Favorable effects of electronic media for ads

¨ replacing salesmen, making them redundant

¨ leading to large scale of production and trades

¨ creating supermarkets

¨ developing extra needs, pushing technology

¨ changing individual behavior

*purchasing with guidance

*more informed about goods

*improving life

4. Adverse effects of electronic media

¨ passive to receive information

¨ competition for media rather than products

¨ more fake products

5. The future of electronic media

¨ active and selective to receive the information

¨ delivering and promoting to individuals

¨ shopping everywhere without leaving one’s house

¨ much easier to promote fake products

Return to top of page