Thank you for the article, I really liked it.
I don’t know much about the effects of anxiety, but I disagree that information leads to manipulation. Moreover, I disagree that information (or overload information) is bad for the consumer or voter. I believe that advertising is both persuasive and informative. The persuasive component of advertising is, indeed, bad for the consumer. But I think that, in general, information is the most benefitial thing about advertising, and that it leads to lowering prices, etc.
There is an interesting paper by Robert Clark about the trade-off between persuasion and information in advertising. He studies the effects in the kids cereal market in Canada after an advertising ban in the region of Quebec. His results find that, after the ban, the bigger an older firms have a higher market share and higher prices in Quebec than in the rest of the country.
He concludes that, without regulation, advertising is beneficial for consumers because the information effect is bigger than the persuasive one. Having said that, I agree that firms are immoral when they offer their products in a persuasive way. This persuasion could often be using “Subconscious Influences” or by “Playing to Our Emotions”, just like the Time’s article says.
I believe that advertising should be regulated, like UK’s prohibition on subliminal messages, but I think that knowing more as a consumer is better. Thinking about the next presidential elections, I think that overload regulated information shouldn’t lead to manipulation, or at least, not in the same level as the manipulation political parties make when they give food and vouches in order to get your vote. Information can be misleading but it makes voters more conscious about their choice.
In conclussion, I think manipulation is immoral and harmful for the markets, but I don’t see how overload information leads to manipulation. I think that information enriches the consumer’s choice problem.
Here’s the abstract of the paper mentioned above:
"This paper takes advantage of the ban on advertising directed at children in the
Canadian province of Quebec to examine the nature of advertising in the market for
a particular children’s product, and to determine whether the advertising restriction
differentially impacts certain varieties. Using a unique data set from the Print Measurement
Bureau of Canada which surveys the purchasing behavior of some fifteen
thousand Canadian households annually, as well as advertising and price data from
AC Nielsen, I examine the children’s breakfast cereal market in Canada. If advertising
in this market is informative, it should help to overcome perceived product differentiation,
and so should lead to price competition and lower prices. If it is persuasive, it
should generate the perception that there are fewer substitutes for promoted brands,
and so should increase perceived differentiation and prices. I show that prices are
higher in Quebec than in other Canadian regions, suggesting that the role of advertising
in this market is to inform consumers about existence. If advertising is informative,
a ban on advertising should increase the market shares of older, better-known brands
and decrease the market shares newer and/or less well-known brands. This prediction
is confirmed in the data: established brands have higher market share in Quebec
than in Canadian regions where advertising is permitted, and the opposite is true for
Full paper: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.597.3984&rep=rep1&type=pdf