Journal of Marketing Behavior > Vol 1 > Issue 3-4

I’d Like to Teach the World to Think: Commercial Advertising and Manipulation

Anne Barnhill, University of Pennsylvania, USA,
Suggested Citation
Anne Barnhill (2016), "I’d Like to Teach the World to Think: Commercial Advertising and Manipulation", Journal of Marketing Behavior: Vol. 1: No. 3-4, pp 307-328.

Publication Date: 24 Feb 2016
© 2015 A. Barnhill
Behavioral Decision Making,  Branding and Brand Equity,  Individual Decision Making,  Law and Economics


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In this article:
1. Introduction 
2. Defining Manipulation 
3. Manipulating Properly Nondeliberative Responses 
4. Drawing Spurious Associations 
5. Making Happiness out of Whole Cloth 
6. Undermining Agency and Deforming Agents 
7. Conclusion 


This commentary on Cass Sunstein’s “Fifty Shades of Manipulation” queries Sunstein’s account of manipulation as influence that does not sufficiently engage or appeal to someone’s capacity for reflection and deliberation. Manipulation sometimes undermines the target’s reflection and deliberation; but it is also possible to manipulate someone by providing “bad inputs” to a properly nondeliberative response. This kind of manipulation does not consist of a failure to sufficiently engage reflection and deliberation. While good practical reasoning and good practical engagement with the world requires some reflection and deliberation, it does not require reflection and deliberation at every turn. Sometimes we just like something without reflecting on its virtues. For example, we just like a beverage because it tastes good and feels good, and it comes in a pretty bottle. Building on Sunstein’s discussion of commercial advertising, I consider some ways in which commercial advertising might manipulate these “likings,” as well as other ways in which commercial advertising and marketing potentially manipulate consumers, focusing in particular of food advertising and marketing.