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International Journal of Philosophy Study (IJPS) Volume 1 Issue 3, October 2013

Metaphysics of Advertising
Sharon Adetutu OMOTOSO
Department of Politics & International Relations
Lead City University, Ibadan, Nigeria
From the Kantian perspective, advertising operates in the
realm of phenomena (things as they appear) as against the
noumena (things as they are). Advertising aims at influencing
consumers purchase decisions, with an objective of
appealing to mans appetitive part so that sales of advertised
products or services can be achieved. This paper undertakes
a critical investigation on the implications of the metaphysics
of advertising on human existence. From a metaphysicians
perspective, the paper questions the place of idealism in the
materialistic world of advertising, the relationship between
determinism and freewill in consumers purchasing pattern
and the need for an existential turn in consumer behaviour.
Using the critical and analytic methods of research, this
paper argues that beyond psychological explanations, there
are metaphysical explanations to issues in advertising
practice. Seeing that consumers are usually left to bear the
consequences of their actions, the paper maintains that
consumers must begin to consider the existential effects of
their purchase decisions through critical thinking and media
Advertising; Metaphysics; Determinism; Freewill; Human Existence

Discussions in advertising have frequently revolved
disciplines like ethics, psychology, law and economics,
among others. One may therefore wonder what is to
discuss in metaphysics of advertising or better still,
what is metaphysical about advertising. There is also
an assumption that if a philosopher is to discuss any
profession, such discussion will either possibly be
ethical or epistemological. However, one must not
ignore the fact that there are inherent metaphysical
issues in any reasoning. While most philosophical
studies in advertising focus on the ethical perspective,
Fadahunsi (2004:17) asserted that metaphysics
permeates into the fabrics of ethics too, and stated
Behind every moral issue lies an element of metaphysics.
Moral concepts like good, evil, bad, right,
wrong, freedom, determination are all metaphysical
This paper is a modification of authors PhD Thesis.


in nature by the virtue of their being non-empirical

both by definitions and contents.
Also, Pears (1965:35-36) emphasised the relevance of
metaphysics to morality as follows:
Metaphysical systems have usually led to new moral
insights; for to show the nature of reality was to show
the place of man in nature, and therefore his duties
and purposes, it was to show the way to his salvation,
to the kind of knowledge that would set him free from
his ordinary interests and preoccupation.
Thus, if philosophical discussions in professional
spheres revolve primarily around ethics, it is the role
of philosophers to bring the underlying metaphysical
issues to the fore: by so doing, the philosopher
performs his/her responsibility of scrutinising issues
and highlighting its implications to human existence.
This paper is divided into five sections. Section one is
the introduction while section two is a critique of the
advertising enterprise where both the significances
and inadequacies of advertising are examined. Section
three discusses the metaphysics of advertising by first
presenting a metaphysical foundation of advertising
and then the cosmological and ontological issues in
advertising. In section four, which is an examination
of metaphysics of advertising and human existence,
the ideas of determinism, freewill and the place of
man as a rational being in advertising discourse will
be considered. Section five is the last and concluding
A Critique of Advertising
Advertising is described as a tool of marketing
communication; however, various definitions of
advertising have evolved over time. For instance, the
Institute of Practitioners in Advertising says:
advertising presets the most persuasive possible
selling message to the right prospect for the product or
service at the lowest possible cost. (Jefkins, 1994:5).
Similarly, Wells, Moriarty & Burnett (2006:5) defined
advertising as paid persuasive communication that
uses non personal mass media as well as other forms
of interactive communication to reach broad audiences

International Journal of Philosophy Study (IJPS) Volume 1 Issue 3, October 2013

and to connect an identified sponsor with a target

audience. In their own views, Aren & Schaefer
(2007:4) described advertising as the structured and
composed non-personal communication of information,
usually paid for and usually persuasive in nature,
about products (goods, services and ideas) by
identified sponsors through various media.
From the summation of these definitions, it may be
deduced that modern definitions of advertising
possess five basic components: firstly, it must be paid
for (although some forms of advertisements like Public
Service Announcements use donated space and time).
Secondly, there must be an identified sponsor. Thirdly,
the exercise must aim at influencing or persuading
consumers to do something (or perform an action).
Fourth, it must be targeted at a large audience of
potential consumers. Fifth, advertisements may be
done for tangible goods, products or intangible
services, and the message must be conveyed through
different kinds of mass media which are largely nonpersonal. Thus, for anything to qualify as an
advertisement, it must meet these criteria.
Since its emergence, advertising has played vital roles
in human endeavour. These include: marketing roles
whereby useful information about products and
services are made available to consumers. Marketing
provides information about what product, service or
idea is available, where and at what price. This helps
the advertisers to map out their pre-defined objectives.
From economic perspectives, advertising aids
economic growth on various grounds. First of all, it
helps to expand markets for new products, thereby
making room for increased demand, and ultimately,
stimulating increase in production. Mohan (2006:7)
explained that a company which invests in research
and development in order to develop new products
has to depend greatly on advertising for establishing
the market for these products. Secondly, by offering
choices to consumers, advertising helps promote
competition thereby making market operations more
efficient. Thirdly, advertising promotes an expanding
economy by contributing to the nations Gross
National Product (GNP), which is the market value of
the output of goods and services produced by a
nations economy. It provides revenue for government
and the media and also encourages investment and
technological improvements. Fourth, it creates job for
an expanding labour force, as people from different
disciplines are employed to carry out specific
functions in the advertising industry.
In its communication role, advertising serves the

functions of building awareness for brands, creating

brand image, providing information and brand
reminder, persuading people to make buying
decisions, providing incentives to take action and,
reinforcing past purchases and brand experiences. It
also has the ability to aid message retention and recall
by consumers at point of purchase. While discussing
advertising as information, Bergh & Katz (1999:86)
attributed the role of providing information to the
marketplace to advertising. They stated that;
Consumers are quite active, seeking new products and
brands; they look to advertising for information and
are more price sensitive, which forces advertisers to be
more careful about how much they charge for their
products. In doing so, advertising is really
reflecting the value of brands and allowing consumers
to make their own decisions.
Advertisings societal role allows it to set agenda for
peoples lifestyle in the society, and achieves this goal
through the use of stereotypes (oversimplified
standardized image of a person or group). This in a
way contributes to consumers modes of life. Such
contribution could be positive; endorsing the lifestyle
of certain individual or groups, or negative; by
creating feeling of inferiority and the need to conform
to certain standards by other individuals or groups.
Advertising can also be a motivating factor for people
within a society to seek a better lifestyle and increase
their purchasing power.
Contrary to the above, critics have accused advertising
of various inadequacies, among which are: advertising
has been criticised as dishonest because it sometime
aims at selling questionable products and services
through deceptive means. Advertising is said to be
deceptive when consumers are presented with certain
ideas which in reality cannot be attributed to the
advertised product or service. Lending credence to
this point, Omonzejele, Isiguso & Otakpor (1998:48)
maintained that;
No advert will tell in its message the side effects
(drugs) or deficiencies of a product. There is no
perfection in human affairs. To this extent, no one
expects an advert to be perfect, yet when an advert
deliberately and intentionally conceals something
negative about a product or service; it is guilty of the
fallacy of suppressing evidence.
However, Hastak & Mazis (2011) held that consumers
will go beyond the provided information and make
inferences based on the schema (Schema is that which
provide consumers with default values, not clearly
expressed but implied) Hastak & Mazis (2011:158)

International Journal of Philosophy Study (IJPS) Volume 1 Issue 3, October 2013

adds that
for instance, if there are no specific disclosures on the
label of a food product regarding safety, consumers
will rely on their food safety schema to infer that the
food is safe for consumption like all other foods.
Thus, the foregoing shows that a pattern of reasoning
is expected from consumers, which will help them fish
out hidden facts and interpret implied claims.
Furthermore, attempts to strip advertising of
untruthfulness have led to its regulation by different
bodies in most parts of the world.
For instance, advertising in Nigeria is regulated by the
Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria
(APCON), established by Decree Number 55 of 1988,
also, the Advertising Standards Panel (ASP) of
APCON vets and approves advertisements before
exposure. These regulations over the years have
greatly reduced cases of deceit and untruthfulness in
Nigerias advertising industry.
Advertising is also criticised for corrupting morals and
encouraging materialism by lauding false values.
Critics argue that it often debases its target market
whenever it passes messages intended for them to
other members of the society. For instance,
advertisements of contraceptives which consistently
get exposed to youths and children rather than to the
married and matured members of the society debase
its primary target. In the same vein, exposure to such
advertisement has a high tendency of promoting
promiscuity among youths, thereby degenerating
moral values. In their attempts at defending
advertising from this criticism, Toynbee & Bernbach
(1974:423) argued that advertising is neither moral
nor immoral and that it is the purpose for which
advertising is used that can be qualified as good or
bad. Toynbee & Bernbachs position is construed as
amoralism as it places the end above the means
thereby bringing advertising back to a consequentialist
From an economists viewpoint, advertising is
criticised for encouraging sheer waste of scarce
resources by promoting impulse buying; that is,
making people buy things they do not need. In
economics, it has been observed that advertising
boosts market monopoly and profit monopoly, since
only large organizations can maintain the cost of
consistent advertising. They argued further that
advertising increases the unit cost of products, since
the cost of advertising is added to production cost. By
this, consumers are made to pay higher than they

would have paid in the absence of advertising.

Another economic position which is contrary to these
is that advertising can create lower prices; once it
performs its function of stimulating desire and
increasing demands; sufficient demand can pave way
for lower prices to consumers.
Osunbiyi identified the depersonalising and
distasteful effect of advertising when he stated that it
encourages mass production, which in turn results in
the development of consumerist culture. This implies
that the individual is reduced into the crowd because
the aim is to supply large numbers of identical
products to large numbers of identical people. There is
no room for those individual desires and tastes
different from the norms Osunbiyi (1991:67). In
reaction, advocates of advertising argue that
depersonalisation is not supported by practical
experience because products usually are designed to
meet consumers needs and that these consumers
differ in intellect and cultural interests. This is one
major essence of market and product segmentation.
Distastefulness manifests when advertisements are
exposed to intrude into the personal interest of the
audience, viewer or reader. A counter argument to this
is that the consumer cannot be served only with that
which pleases him/her; rather, that which an
advertisement passes across is also information which
if not useful today, can be of utmost usefulness in
In the same vein, it has been argued that advertising
has diabolical tendencies because it uses sinister
techniques; suggesting possible harm that awaits a
non-conforming consumer, thereby immensely
persuading consumers to buy the advertised products.
In response, Nicosia (1974) maintained that consumers
are not sheep who loyally do as they are told. This
means that consumers are believed to be rational
humans who would critically consider the use of any
product or service before purchasing. Having
considered the critique of advertising, it may be
inferred that their effects on man and society are allencompassing as it touches the economic, social,
mental and psychological aspects of human life. This
perhaps is what informs scholars multi-disciplinary
contributions to advertising studies which has
benefited from fields like Economics, Philosophy,
Sociology, Theology and so on. Examples of such
scholarly contributions are: R.D. Irwin, (The Economic
effect of Advertising, 1942), F.P Bishop (The Ethics of
Advertising, 1949), Francis, X. Quin, (Ethics, Advertising
and Responsibility, 1963), Julian Simon(Issues in the

International Journal of Philosophy Study (IJPS) Volume 1 Issue 3, October 2013

Economics of Advertising, 1970), S. Nevett.(The Ethics of

Advertising; F.P. Bishop reconsidered, 1985) Edward
Spence & Brett Van Heekeren (Advertising Ethics, 2005),
Sam Van Eman (On Earth as it is in Advertising? 2005)
Edmund Igboanusi (Moral Schemata in Media Ethics,
2006) among others. However, the fact cannot be
neglected that most of the criticisms of advertising
highlighted above fail to capture fundamental but
metaphysical underlying concerns beyond the economics
of advertising. This paper offering a metaphysical
approach to advertising is an addition to its multidisciplinary scholarly contributions, having identified
a dearth of any such study in advertising.
Metaphysics of Advertising
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy which studies
reality beyond the physical. Beginning from Aristotle,
philosophers have agreed that metaphysics is a
science of causes, that is; it is a search for the ultimate
causes of things. For Whitehead (1929:55), metaphysics
is the endeavour to frame a coherent, logical,
necessary system of general ideas in terms of which
every element of our experience can be interpreted.
Fadahunsi (2004:10) described it as a systematic study
of the fundamental problems related to the ultimate
nature of reality and human knowledge. In Hulmes
(1999:3) translation of Henri Bergson, he described
metaphysics as follows:
If there exists any means of possessing a reality
absolutely instead of knowing it relatively, of placing
oneself within it instead of looking at it from outside
points of view, of having the intuition instead of
making the analysis: in short, of seizing it without
any expression, translation, or symbolic representation metaphysics is that means.

why Kant (1996:15) averred that man has a natural

tendency towards metaphysics.
From a metaphysical standpoint, advertising is
contingent and not necessary. To necessarily exist is to
owe ones existence to no one, that is, to exist
independently of any other cause or being. To
contingently exist is to owe ones existence to another
already existing being. In both conceptual and
professional senses, advertising is contingent because
it is not responsible for its own existence; and its
existence is premised on the need to communicate
persuasive information about products, services or
ideas, without whose existence, advertising would
become extraneous. What then is the metaphysical
foundation of advertising? The metaphysical
foundation of advertising is discernible using some of
the problems addressed in metaphysics, such as the
problems of substance, accidents, universals, unity
and diversity among others.

Schain (2003:3) asserted that the unique phenomenon

of metaphysics is the development of an individual
consciousness. The problem of human existence is to
make this development occur.

Substance holds a central place in the study of

metaphysics. Substance is the most important because
embedded within it are the basic features of anything
(quality, quantity, colour, shape etc). Relating this to
product development, a brand is the substance while
its various attributes are the accidents. Advertising
uses these attributes/accidents (quality, colour, shape
and quantity, among others) to boost the image of the
brand/substance. These attributes are termed Unique
Selling Point; (a marketing concept introduced by
Rosser Reeves in the 1940s). A products unique
selling point or proposition is that which differentiates
a particular product from another or other similar
products, and they are usually emphasised in
advertisements. By implication, substance in
advertising is understood only by the qualification of
the other categories, that is, the accidents. This means
that it is the features of a brand, when highlighted
through advertising that makes it either accepted or
rejected by consumers.

If metaphysics is described as a search for the ultimate

causes of things, then metaphysics of advertising is a
critical adventure into the causes of advertising
(causes in this context transcends enquiries into the
origin of advertising). What makes metaphysics of
advertising important is its investigative role into
reality beyond appearances. Recognizing that things
as they appear often deceive or mislead points to the
fact that, to depend on appearance is never to
understand reality. Thus, it becomes important to
consciously embark on the search for reality. This is

In the same vein, metaphysics discusses the problem

of universals which is quite connected with
advertising. Concepts like beauty, goodness, justice,
truth are universals, that is, they exist in every
conceivable world. However, such concepts are ideas
in the mind and they only become material when a
person succeeds in fitting them into physical objects.
For example, beauty is conceived from the world of
ideas (imagination) and it becomes applicable only
when it is used to qualify certain physical objects. The
process of applying such concepts as beauty, goodness


International Journal of Philosophy Study (IJPS) Volume 1 Issue 3, October 2013

and so on in advertising requires creativity, which is

an important tool in the preparation of any
advertisement. Creativity is captured within humans
efforts to situate universal concepts (like beauty,
justice, truth among others) for meaningful application
in human endeavour. Creativity involves critical and
clear thinking; and presents underlying principles that
will help make sense of humans environment.
Advertising, as it rightfully is, thrives on creativity;
being creative involves abstraction which is a vital tool
in metaphysics. It is then no understatement that
advertising has metaphysical constituents.
The problem of unity and diversity as discussed in
metaphysics is significant to advertising. This is best
explained as follows: members of the society need
functional vehicles to enable and enhance easy
movement across places; to need a vehicle, in its
general sense is unifying, however, the kind of vehicle
and the purposes they are intended for are the
diversities that gives birth to brand and market
segmentation. Cognizing unity and diversity in
advertising practice is vital: advertisers and
advertising practitioners must keep in view the fact
that consumers are not static; rather, they are dynamic
in taste and class among other factors which
constitutes the variables for purchase and use of any
good or service. On the issue of change and
permanence, advertisers and advertising practitioners
vividly recognise that times, tastes, consumers, prices,
values among others, change. They also appreciate the
fact that brands, although should permanently retain
certain features, like; visibility and good quality, it
must be flexible enough to meet the changing needs of
consumers. Causality, a metaphysical problem, is
another vital issue in advertising and consumer
behavioural studies. Causality seeks connections
between events, data and market trends so as to make
viable speculations for the future.
Discussions in metaphysics could either be
cosmological or ontological and these could be linked
with advertising practice. Ontology concerns the
ultimate nature of being or reality. The consumer is a
human being; a complex being who renders the
content of the black box in consumer behavioural
studies difficult to predict. Okoro (2011:119) described
man as a metaphysical being; a being of transcendence,
one that must be studied hyper physically or beyond
the physical. The task of understanding the consumer
is not only psychological but also ontological.
Cosmology may be interpreted from various
perspectives and its discussion here will be based on

the nature of the universe and our immediate

environment as perceived by both advertisers and
practitioners. The advertiser, being the owner,
originator or custodian of the product or service to be
sold believes that his/her product is just suitable for
the market. Having conducted product research,
market research, marketing and advertising research
among others, the advertiser believes that consumers
are very conscious of their cultural, social and
economic environment. Advertisers therefore create a
materialistic environment, which make consumers feel
inadequate with their present status and increases
consumers desires to acquire more.
On their own part, advertising practitioners develop
creative messages by playing on issues and facilities
within consumers environment. In their collaborative
efforts, manufacturers and advertisers capitalise on the
need to fill certain gaps in consumers lives, and
advertising practitioners help generate desires that
will favour their clients products and services above
competing brands. Thus, essence precedes existence in
the advertising industry. The purpose and nature of
brands are the defining characteristics of such brand,
which signifies its essence. Brand essences are in most
cases preconceived by manufacturers even before they
were created or ever brought to existence; by
implication, essence precedes existence in advertising.
The industry believes that the profits generated from
goods and services are more important than the
economic, social or emotional wellbeing of the
consumer: this is the egoistic part of the industry; and
it is a recurrent problem in their daily activities.
Perhaps the advertising practitioner may argue
against the above as a pessimistic stance held by critics
of their profession: advertising practitioners may also
contend that it is existence that precedes essence since
they hold consumers dear and would not be in
business if consumers do not exist, more so that they
believe in the utilitarian principle that gives greater
advantage to the greatest number. The reality is that
not all products and services are meant to maintain the
existence and subsistence of consumers: for instance,
nuclear weapons are not in any way meant to improve
the wellbeing of the greatest number, although it
enriches both manufacturers and advertising
practitioners. For the practitioner and his clients, the
universe is a likened to a football field where the major
objective is to score goals. This advertiser-practitioner
alliance reduces the consumer to a ball, or a mere
pawn in the chess game and put consumers at a
dilemma in their daily purchasing decisions.

International Journal of Philosophy Study (IJPS) Volume 1 Issue 3, October 2013

Suffice to say that for consideration in this paper,

cosmology and ontology of advertising can be closely
linked. The whole purpose of any advertisement is to
inform and ultimately influence purchasing decisions
of consumers to favour the advertiser; this may not
necessarily be aimed at consumer satisfaction and
explains why consumers fall prey either to brand
addiction, (in which case, consumers derive a level of
satisfaction sufficient for them to continue purchasing
the product without considering alternatives) or
negative cognitive dissonance brought about by
dissatisfaction in the product after making purchase
Metaphysics of Advertising and Human
The most fundamental metaphysical question which is
essential to advertising is: do humans possess the
freewill to make choices that will improve their wellbeing?
As regards purchase and consumption of goods or
services, need and want are two economic terms
which present themselves to man. Want is seen as a
natural phenomenon to humans and it is attributed
with human cravings. According to Anyanwuocha
Want refer to goods and services which are desired for
consumption. Goods include things such as cars, radio,
food, houses, books, etc (that is tangible commodities),
while services include hairdressing, the services of an
actor, legal or medical services, etc, (that is intangible
commodities). Wants are also called ends. They are
those things which one would like to have. The
economist is not concerned with the morality or
otherwise of human desires. That is the concern of
An inference that can be drawn from the above is that
as long as the world exists, human wants will continue
to increase. What then is need? It is that required to
solve a problem or to achieve an objective. The above
clearly distinguishes need from want. While want
will always satisfy a desire (which may be either
worthless or less urgent), need is expected to achieve
certain concrete, timely and worthwhile objectives. As
against want, need is not only desired, it is also
required; thus the role of reason is to aid consumers
ability to distinguish between their need and want.
Since human wants are insatiable and needs are
expected to be prioritized above wants, the necessity
of choice is engendered. Choice, in economic parlance,

involves the selection of the most pressing wants out

of a range of alternatives. As a concept in philosophy
considered within the purview of metaphysics, choice
entails the ability to select a course of action from
among a range of possibilities, whose knowledge is
open and known. Notably, choice cannot be discussed
outside the prevalent metaphysical debates on
determinism and freewill.
Determinism is a metaphysical doctrine which holds
that every event, mental as well as physical, has a
cause, and that, given the cause, the effect follows
customarily. This theory denies the element of chance
or contingency. On various grounds (physical,
psychological, moral, soft or hard) determinism denies
that man is free. From arguments on nature, physical
determinism holds that as far as man is a part of
physical nature, he remains under the influence of
physical laws of nature. Holbach (1961:55) posited that
freewill does not exist in man; when man thinks that
his actions have no external causes, it is because he
does not know what those external causes are.
Man believes he acts as a free agent anytime he does
not see anything that places obstacles to his actions.
He does not perceive that the motive which causes him
to act is always necessary and independent of himself.
Man may therefore cease to be restrained without, for
that reason, becoming a free agent; in whatever way
he acts he will act necessarily, according to the
motives by which he shall be determined.
Physical determinism is based on the materialistic
conception of man; for its proponents, appetites and
aversions are the forms that matter and propel man to
action; these are viable tools that encourage
materialism and all its tendencies. If man remains
under the influence of physical laws of nature, and
advertisements are prepared using issues connected
with natural laws (like appealing to a brands
commitments to environmental safety), realities will
be pursued at the detriment of ideals and there will be
little or no room for reason in human decision making.
In psychological determinism, human beings are not
free because their actions are determined by certain
internal psychological factors like instinct. Before an
action is taken, it is believed that there is usually an
internal conflict of motives and that the stronger
motive or instinct which prevails determines the
action. Psychological determinists argue that the will
is not free at all. For them, all of reality including
human nature functions as machine. Thinkers like
Hospers (2004:30-33) contended that what appears to
be a free choice of behaviour has been from an early

International Journal of Philosophy Study (IJPS) Volume 1 Issue 3, October 2013

age set in motion and that the individual can in no

way avoid that behaviour. This position reduces the
consumer to a mere device which has been
programmed to follow certain precepts: (such as
getting exposed to an advertising message and
reacting immediately by purchasing the advertised
product or service without prior evaluation of its
usefulness or otherwise to him/herself) and any
attempt to perform otherwise will be a misnomer.
In moral determinism, the human will is made for the
good and attracted by the good. Thus, human actions
are determined by what they see as good. For moral
determinists, like Socrates and Plato, it is only
ignorance that will make a person choose the bad
alternative above the good. Therefore, no one is free to
choose evil while neglecting the good he/she can
identify. This position by moral determinists evidently
gives room to freewill by showing that there is room
for choice thereby leading us to the ideas of
indeterminists like Baruch Spinoza and Immanuel
Kant, who argued that human experience is
incomprehensible without the assumption that the will
is free. Freewill can be defined as the power or ability
of the human mind to choose a course of action or
make a decision without being controlled by
antecedent causes or necessity.
Stumpf (1993:410) asserted that to face a choice
implies that the will is free to move us in different
directions. If choice is attributed to the will, reason
demands that an individual should satisfy his most
pressing needs first, and then others (wants) can
follow. Sadly, not all individuals succeed in making
such rational choice of distinguishing between their
wants and needs.
Going by the Platonic tripartite dynamics of the
human person which identifies the human person as a
composite of sprit, soul and body, rationality is
connected with the soul, while higher emotions like
courage and bravery are attributed to the spirited part
and the appetitive part embraces passion and bodily
pleasure. In all, the rational part should control the
other parts in order to lead a good life. Seeing that
advertising appeals to the appetitive part of the
human person so that purchase of advertised products
or services can be achieved, and its persuasive power
is so pervasive that consumers often end up
succumbing to the materialistic impulse toward
wants, thereby purchasing what they do not initially
or ultimately need. The case is not different for early
adopters and laggards. Early adopters display some
sort of irrational curiosity which leads them into

purchase of products without proper consideration of

its various implications. In the same vein, laggards
often purchase products with the notion of not
wanting to be left out of the rave, which is obviously
not a sufficiently rational ground. Thus, persuasion,
which is a vital tool in advertising, undermines the
power of reason.
For Hospers (1956:356), rationality is mans foremost
virtue and the source of all his other virtues, and
accordingly, evasion, the refusal to think, the
suspension of his/her consciousness will constitute a
basic problem. Fadahunsi (2004:10) adds that:
If man is to live, he must choose to think; he must
choose to hold life as his standard of value; he must
discover the special values that his life requires.
Reason is mans basic means of survival, so the life
appropriate to him is the life appropriate to man as a
rational being. Reason is the faculty that identifies
and integrates the material provided by mans senses.
In the same vein, Shugan (2006:3-4) averred that
rational consumers do what is best for them in a
context where all players (consumers, manufacturers,
retailers e.t.c.) have different incentives, and added
that consumer irrationality is a default assumption
either because their behaviour is inherently
unpredictable or because we have not yet discovered
how to predict it
While scholars like Kirmani & Rao (2000) have
identified a high sense of rationality in consumers,
others like Taylor, Kevin & Stephen (2004) described
the consumer as irrational. Consumer rationality has
strong implications for human existence, just as it has
for advertisers and manufacturers. If this is the case,
are there certain factors that empower advertising and
give consumers less control over their will? Does it
mean that man is not a free being? If man is a
determined being, is he not sentenced to a life void of
rational choices?
What is the place of freewill in advertisements that use
testimonial and endorsement appeal; in which case,
consumers are urged to purchase and use certain
goods or services because a public figure endorses it.
This is an obvious control of consumers decision
based on antecedent causes. If the determinists thesis
is true, then man is made a victim of circumstance,
and can be influenced by all factors to which he is
exposed, including the influence of advertising and its
additional promotional mix. However, the reverse is
expected when freewill takes its rightful place.
Perhaps, we can give some deterministic explanations

International Journal of Philosophy Study (IJPS) Volume 1 Issue 3, October 2013

to certain aspects of the consumer behaviour. If every

event has a cause and an effect must always follow the
cause, it implies that a consumer is not likely to repeat
purchase if his previous experience of a certain brand
was bad. This explanation can be traced to the inability
of the brand to deliver on promise. The cause, in this
case, is the bad experience while the effect is the nonrepetition of purchase. However, a consumer is also
likely to repeat purchase if his previous experience of
a certain brand was good. But we must not fail to find
out the cause of his initial trial of such product; while
determinists will maintain that consumers initial trial
of a new product can be traced to further causes like
exposure to advertisements and peer pressure among
others, an indeterminist can argue that initial factors
do not necessarily have effect on consumers choice
because freedom promotes rationality and rationality
propels consumer to prioritise his/her needs above
wants. Since in the determinists view, every event is
reducible to certain causes, and man cannot act
otherwise, the thesis cannot hold in explaining
consumer behavioural patterns, basically because a
large number of people are on daily basis exposed to
the same cause or causes (like advertisement), yet the
same results do not always follow. More so, while Mr.
A will be interested in brand X, Mr B may pick
interest in brand Y. By this analogy, freewill takes
precedence over determinism in the explanation of
consumer behavioural patterns. For Stumpf (1993:411)
The act of taking your time to think out your course of
action, the act of deliberation, implies that you are
situated not only in a physical sense in a particular
place with physical forces at work in your being or
personality, but you are also situated in a special
condition of freedom, as if there were a limit to the
power of, or an insulation from, the various forces
upon you, giving you a chance to choose your
direction of behaviour.
The general assumption that determinism is true of all
events except the will (the power of choice) gives the
doctrine prominence in its application to ethics. In
addition, a completely freewill act is itself a cause and
not an effect; which is beyond causal sequence or the
law of causality. By implication, if the consumer is free,
he is also responsible for the consequences of his
choice. While advertising remains a persuasive tool, it
has no power to restrict consumers choice, except
consumers choose by their own volition to be
subservient to the influences of advertising. This
perhaps informs Schains (2003:3) assertion that;
The creation of values is the special sign of a
metaphysical consciousness. Every person is guided

by values, the question is whether they are created or

obtained second hand. The best way of judging an
individual is to ascertain the nature of his values.
There is no reason to shrink from this judgement, it is
far better than judgements based on race, ethnicity,
religion or even behavior. It is impossible to live
without values, but to live fully one must create his
own. Otherwise he is a puppet of society or an animal
left to his primitive instincts.
This line of thought can be linked with soft
determinism of thinkers like David Hume and J.S Mill,
who give room for moral responsibility despite
determining factors affecting man. Following soft
determinism, the will is seen to possess certain level
of freedom. We may then inquire into what
determines the will. For Kant, only rational beings
have a will, and as such they possess the capacity to
act in accordance with the representation of laws.
Everything in nature works according to laws and the
representation of laws are in accordance with
principles; because only rational beings have a will,
they possess the capacity to act in accordance with the
representation of laws. As a result, Kant states that
since reason is required for the derivation of actions
from law, the will is nothing other than practical
reason. Kant (1964:413) states further that;
If reason infallibly determines the will, the actions of
such a being that are cognized as objectively necessary
are also subjectively necessary, that is, the will is a
capacity to choose only that which reason,
independently of inclination cognizes as practically
necessary, that is, as good. However, if reason solely
by itself does not adequately determine the will; if the
will is exposed also to subjective conditions (certain
incentives) that are not always in accord with the
objective ones; in a word, if the will is not in itself
completely in conformity with reason (as is actually
the case with human beings), then actions that are
cognized as objectively necessary becomes subjectively
Objectively necessary actions include decisions that
one will make without bias or prejudice (in essence
generating an effect without necessary recourse to a
previous cause). The ultimate argument here is that in
reality, consumers will is constantly exposed to
advertising; a subjective condition (in most cases with
incentives) that is not always in consonance with
objective conditions thereby giving room for the
possibility of subjective contingency. Exposing the will
to subjective contingencies pose a high threat to
consumers; since it renders reason irrelevant and thus

International Journal of Philosophy Study (IJPS) Volume 1 Issue 3, October 2013

makes consumers irrational in their purchasing

powers and market preferences.
In this globalised world where knowledge is
increasing on daily basis, the world is fast embracing
materialism as against idealism and in response, and
all sorts of products spring up in the name of easing or
combating the challenges in human existence. Just as
irrationality, (backed by deterministic arguments) is a
threat to human existence, freedom or freewill could
also be as dangerous as determinism (particularly as a
result of the prevalence of materialism). It is appalling
to note that in the name of freedom, a good number of
consumers (especially youths) still make irrational
choices. If the will do not comply with reason, actions
cognized as objectively necessary become subjectively
contingent. Thus, reason becomes an imperative if we
must salvage human existence from imminent risk of
materialism. Reason in this context involves adequate
media literacy; a situation whereby consumers have
adequate understanding that not every advertised
product is good for them and that advertisements do
not always mean what it says (there are hidden facts,
terms and conditions, caveats not explicitly stated
among others). This situation calls for more attention
from the regulatory bodies.
If it is true, as earlier stated in this paper that
consumers are usually left to bear responsibility for
their decisions (whether rational or irrational), an
existential turn is unavoidable. Existentialism is a
philosophical movement which considers the nature
of humans as a key problem which is best addressed
through ontology. Existentialists (particularly Heidegger)
describe human as the only being in the world that has
relations to him/herself as well as to other beings.
Burhan & Papanreodopoulos (2011:2-4) identified
anxiety and authenticity, freedom, situatedness and
existence as some of the key themes of existentialism.
For Heidegger (2000), an authentic life is a life lived in
a way one has freely chosen to live; while to live under
the control of other people is to live an inauthentic life.
characterized by concerns; thus, everything in the
world reveals itself as a tool that could be used to take
care of human concerns. In the same vein, human
existence cannot be dissociated from the world; that is,
it must be socially situated.
Consequently, choice is central to human existence,
and it is inescapable; even the refusal to choose is a

choice. Freedom of choice

commitment and responsibility.



An existential turn for the consumer implies that

existence must precede essence. Existence here means
acting independently and being responsible while
essence implies the labels, roles, stereotypes,
definitions, or other preconceived categories the
individual fits. To say that existence precedes essence
is to maintain a position that brands and their
advertisements are made for humans and not the
other way round. It is because there are people whose
needs must be met that brands are made. Following
the existential path and being media literate thus it is
maintained that the consumer ignores any universal
objective standard (in any advertisement) to find what
is true for him/her, and make choices which he/she can
bear its inherent consequence and responsibilities.

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