But Are You Happy?

New research exposes the relationship between advertising and life satisfaction

Key Takeaways:

  • When advertising provides valuable information to consumers, it can be a force for good.
  • An overemphasis in some locations can contribute to a decrease in life satisfaction within certain cultures and communities.


BALTIMORE, MD, June 18, 2024 – Advertising has long been known to depict a virtual reality of life leading some people to expect more out of life than is practical. This is driven by idyllic imagery and storytelling, among other techniques such as an emphasis on materialism. 

As a result, critics of advertising say it creates unrealistic expectations among consumers, which contributes to disappointment when it comes to general life satisfaction. Meanwhile, others say that advertising actually enhances life satisfaction by providing consumers with valuable information that they can use to make their lives better.

These issues informed some of the questions behind groundbreaking research that is a rare comprehensive examination of the relationship between consumer life satisfaction and advertising.

The research article, “A Longitudinal Examination of the Relationship Between National-Level Per Capita Advertising Expenditure and National-Level Life Satisfaction Across 76 Countries,” is published in the peer-reviewed INFORMS journal Marketing Science. The authors of the study are Michael Wiles of Arizona State University, Saeed Janani of the University of Denver, Darima Fotheringham of Texas Tech University and Chadwick Miller of Washington State University. 

“Given advertising’s ubiquity and ability to sway consumption decisions, there is good reason to believe that advertising may also be related to life satisfaction,” says Wiles. “Advertising can be an effective information dissemination mechanism that individuals rely upon to gain knowledge about consumption options, ultimately improving life satisfaction.” 

Wiles adds, “Another view of advertising is grounded in the perspective that it exists to distort individuals’ preferences for consumption options that they may not actually need or want. As a result, advertising sets unrealistic or unhealthy consumption norms. This can lead to reduced life satisfaction.”

The researchers explored these issues by studying certain patterns in 76 countries from 2006-2019. They looked at how per capita advertising expenditure in individual countries was associated with national-level life satisfaction. To do this, they created empirical research models that broke down perception data. They used secondary data and conducted a series of experiments.

“We found that per capita advertising expenditure is positively related to national average life satisfaction,” says Wiles. “But we also found that to a certain degree, too much advertising can be a negative, particularly when you consider cultural, income and other inequality factors. Advertising can, in some situations, contribute to reduced life satisfaction.”

“The lessons from our research are that when advertising is used to reduce marketplace uncertainty it can be a powerful force for good,” adds Wiles. “But we always have to be cognizant that this force can over-emphasize materialism and, as a life satisfaction tool, it can be mitigated in certain places.”


Link to Study.


About INFORMS and Marketing Science 

Marketing Science is a premier peer-reviewed scholarly marketing journal focused on research using quantitative approaches to study all aspects of the interface between consumers and firms. It is published by INFORMS, the leading international association for operations research and analytics professionals. More information is available at www.informs.org or @informs.

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But Are You Happy?

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