An Explanation of Counter-Advertising

Ant-smoking counter ad on a NYC taxi

James Leynse / Getty Images 

Those funny ads you see each year during the Super Bowl are no laughing matter. Advertising is a big business and the United States is by far, the largest advertising market in the world. In 2016, more than $190 billion U.S. dollars were spent on advertising. This figure is more than double the amount spent on advertising in China, the second-largest ad market in the world.

In a nutshell, Advertising is used to make someone (or something) well-known and highly-regarded in a particular section of the country, or nationwide. Despite the widespread use of advertisements (from the Goodyear blimp to skywriting to ads in taxi cabs) few people know the term "counter-advertising." 

Counter-Advertising Explained

Counter-advertising is when an advertisement poses an argument against a preceding argument in regard to a certain issue, person, or product. In other words, advertisements are not only used to tout a product or an individual, but advertisements can also take a stand against other advertisements in regard to controversial topics.  

Basically, counter-advertising is exposing a previous ad and its product or products. For example, take the fast-food industry. There are countless advertisements for inexpensive hamburger dinners at national chains.

A counter advertisement would be an ad that exposes the health risks associated with that restaurant's burger dinner. The ad may be sponsored by a heart-healthy organization or a competing vegetarian restaurant chain. 

Counter-advertising is often disguised and difficult to identify. These are usually ads that target large corporations that produce products such as alcohol, cigarettes, and fast food. However, one thing to consider when developing counter-advertising is that in actuality, counter-advertising is not that intricate. The difficult part is the research aspect of creating the advertisement. Once you finish your research, generating your ad is quite easy.  

Two Main Kinds of Counter-Advertising

Technically, there are different types of counter-advertising. The most common (and longest-running ads) are ads that "counter" people's desire to smoke cigarettes. Many anti-smoking ads provide viewers with statistical information regarding the dangers of smoking. Examples include the number of deaths caused by smoking each year, the number of poisons (i.e., carcinogens) cigarettes contain, and the health risks involved. 

The fast-food industry is the other major target of counter-advertising because so many low-income families depend on these restaurants to feed their families. The three biggest targets are three of the biggest chains, McDonald's, Taco Bell, and Wendy's.  

Counter-advertising is not limited to a mere 30 or 60 seconds. The film industry has some skin in the game. Take Super Size Me, for example. The Super Size Me documentary is one long counter advertisement because the documentary film opposed not only McDonald's but essentially the entire fast-food industry.

The film provided detailed information supporting the negatives of McDonald's food as well as statistics about obesity and heart disease, outcomes of a high-fat diet. Films and documentaries that target large corporations (whether they're produced by Al Gore or Michael Moore) are basically one big counter advertisement.