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Propaganda in the Classroom

How Effective is Advertising? (answers)

Click on the number of the question for which you want to see my answer.

question 1 question 2 question 3
question 4 question 5 question 6

1. The following is the ingredient list for what product?

Sugar, partially hydrogenated vegetable and/or animal shortening (may contain one or more of: soybean oil, cottonseed oil, palm oil, beef fat, lard), enriched flour (niacin, iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin), water, cocoa, skim milk, corn syrup, eggs, mono- and diglycerides, starch, whey, leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, monocalcium phosphate), salt, sodium caseinate, lecithin, cellulose gum, polysorbate 60, artificial color, artificial and natural flavors, sorbic acid.

This is the list found on a package of Hostess Ding Dongs, manufactured by Ralston Purina.

For more lists like this one, look at What's That?!

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2. What type of beverage do you think is the most heavily consumed in the U.S.? How many gallons of it did the average American consume in the most recent year for which statistics are available?

Soft drinks

Per Capita Beverage Consumption in the U.S., 1960 thru 1999 (in gallons per year)
  1960 1970 1980 1990 1995 1999
Milk 37.9 31.2 27.6 25.7 24.3 23.6
Tea 5.6 6.8 7.3 6.9 8.0 8.4
Coffee 35.7 33.4 26.7 26.9 20.5 25.7
Bottled Water n/a n/a 2.4 8.0 11.6 18.1
Soft Drinks 12.3 20.8 35.1 46.2 48.0 50.8
Selected Fruit Juices 2.7 3.6 7.2 7.9 8.7 9.6
Fruit Drinks, Cocktails, and Ades n/a n/a n/a 6.3 7.8 7.9
Canned Iced Tea n/a n/a n/a 0.1 0.7 0.7
Vegetable Juices n/a n/a n/a 0.3 0.3 0.3
Beer 15.1 30.6 36.6 34.4 31.6 31.9
Wine 0.9 2.2 3.2 2.9 2.6 2.7
Distilled Spirits 1.3 3.0 3.0 2.2 1.8 1.8


111.5 131.6 149.1 157.8 165.9 181.5
source: Statistical Abstract of the United States 2001, table 204, page 130

In case you failed to notice, Americans, on average, drank 70 gallons per year more per person in 1999 than they did in 1960; much of that in high caloric beverages (soft drinks and beer).  Undoubtedly, this had a lot to do with the fact that the per capita daily number of calories available for consumption jumped too.  (Although here, the statistics are available only from 1970.)

The most recent beverage consumption statistics are available from the US Government at

Per Capita Calories available for Civilian Consumption per day
1970-79 1980-89 1990-99 2000 2005
3,200 3,400 3,600 3,900 4,000

source: Statistical Abstract of the United States 2009, table 208, page 134

Beverage marketing has drawn the attention of enterprising reporters.  Here are links to 2 articles that take us behind the curtain.

This New York Times Magazine article requires a free subscription for access.  Its author describes one effort made by the Coca Cola Company to capture a new generation of consumers.

This article looks at the effort to sell high-caffeine "energy" drinks to kids.

% of the adult U.S. population (ages 20+) classified as overweight (a body mass index (BMI) equal to or greater than 25 and less than 30) or obese (a body mass index (BMI) equal to greater than 30)
1976-80 1988-94 1998 2003-2006
25.4% 38.4% 55.3% 65.6%

Source: Statistical Abstract of the United States

 1998 (table 242) 1998 (table 242) 2001 (table 197) 2009 (table 203)

These numbers should help us answer the question, "Why are Americans so overweight?". 

It is probably not coincidental that the leading restaurant, food and beverage companies spent just over $19 billion in 2006 to convince us to eat and drink their products.  That amounted to about $12 billion more than they spent in 1996 (source: Advertising Age, Leading National Advertisers issues).  While I don't have the numbers for the years leading up to 1996 in front of me, I feel confident in saying that they have increased steadily; probably matching the increase in our weights, and the changes in our beverage consumption patterns.

For more information about soft drinks and sugar consumption, see How Much Sugar Does the Average American Consume?

The cover story in the June 2006 issue of CSPI's Nutrition Action is about beverage consumption in the United States.  Titled Pour Better or Pour Worse: How Beverages Stack Up, it is a worthwhile read.

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3. What is the most popular drug in the U.S.? Which is the most dangerous?

The most popular drug is caffeine.  It is widely consumed in candies and beverages, and even in cold remedies and analgesics.  It is probably safe to assert that nearly 100% of Americans consume caffeine in one form or another nearly every day.  The next most popular drug is alcohol.  In 1998, 81.3% of Americans had used alcohol at one time or another during their lives, while 51.7% used it currently.  To put this in perspective, the most popular illegal drug is marijuana.  In 1998, 33% of Americans had used it at some point during their lives; while 5% were current users.  In 1998, 27.7% of Americans smoked cigarettes; while 69.7% had used them at some point in their lives.  (source: Statistical Abstract of the United States 2000, table 225, page 141)

The most dangerous, measured in terms of death, disease and economic loss to society, is alcohol; and I could put together a strong case for nicotine as number two.

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4. How much did an advertiser pay for a 30 second spot on the last Super Bowl broadcast?

According to Advertising Age, February 1, 2013, $3,750,000 ($3.75 million).

To put that $3.75 million into some perspective, think about this.  In 2011, the average high school teacher in the U.S. earned $52,780.  At that rate, if one advertiser decided to forego one 30 second ad on the Super Bowl, s/he could pay the salaries of 71 additional teachers for one school year.  On January 24, CBS announced that it anticipated taking in more than $225 million in ads for its entire Super Bowl broadcast (pre-game and post-game included).  That means if we took the money that advertisers spent during that one roughly 6 hour block of afternoon and evening programming, we could pay the average yearly salaries of an additional 4,263 high school teachers in the U.S.  That raises the question of what is more important to the nation, one partial day's ads on one broadcast, or yearly salaries for 4,263 teachers.  Looking at the advertisers' side, we need to remember that the money we spend on the products and services advertised goes to support people who might be out of work if we didn't spend that money.  How many they are, and how much they earn, I can't say.  Maybe we should know that too.

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5. How many ads do you think you are exposed to on an average day?

3,000 according to Eli Noam ("Visions of the Media Age: Taming the Information Monster", in Multimedia: A Revolutionary Challenge) quoted in Data Smog by David Shenk.  This is up from 560 per day in 1971.  Click here to read the chapter from Shenk's book where this statistic is presented.

The paper in which Noam published the statistic quoted by Shenk is available online at

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6. True or false: My behavior is different because of advertising than it would be if there were no ads. If true, give an example. If false, explain why you believe advertising does not effect your behavior.


Without ads, what I eat, drink, and wear; and the things I do for entertainment would all be different.  So too would be the people who represent me in public office, the means I use to move from place to place, even the quality of the air I breathe.  In fact, it is hard to imagine much that would be he same in a world without ads.  To get some idea of what life might be like, we'd need to look at societies where it does not exist.  There are still some, and they are radically different.

To give a specific example, every morning I get up and brush my teeth with a toothbrush covered with a blob of Crest toothpaste.  Even though I know that it is the act of brushing that keeps my teeth and gums clean and disease free, I still use toothpaste (and indeed Crest).  Why?  I know that water alone on that brush would be as effective.  All I can say is that it is the power of the Crest ads that I've seen throughout my life (and probably that my parents saw before I was born and as I was growing up).  It just feels right to me, and I miss it when I don't use it.  That is the power of effective propaganda, even on one who purports to understand what it does, and how it does it.

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original web posting: Thursday, November 8, 2001
last modified: Sunday, February 03, 2013