13 Untruths That Marketing Has Us Believing About Societal Norms

Recycling Bins

We are constantly bombarded with advertisements and marketing in this digital world. Whether through social media, television, billboards, or other forms of advertising, these campaigns shape our beliefs and practices in various ways.

Believe it or not, some beliefs and practices are rooted in sensationalism, and people believe many myths due to clever advertising and subliminal messages. Here are some practices we've fallen into due to marketing campaigns and ads that depict certain stereotypes about society and its norms.

1. You Must Go Out To Have Fun

Shot of young men and women enjoying a party. Group of friends having drinks at nightclub.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

How many commercials have you seen that show people out and about having a great time? Maybe they’re hitting the club or catching a movie together. Whatever the activity, they’re having a good time doing it and you should feel bad that you’re not with them.

Except it’s absolutely fine to be a homebody. Marketing and practically every form of media may suggest that you’re not living your life to the fullest, but the primary goal is to be happy. Are you happiest at home? Then that’s all that matters.

2. You Have To Be a Certain Weight To Be Healthy

weight loss, woman crying in front of a scale
Image Credit: mojo cp/Shutterstock.

While, yes, there can be a direct correlation between one’s health and their weight, it’s not as cut and dry as we’ve been led to believe. In old-school medicine, it was believed if you were above a certain BMI (body mass index), you were deemed unhealthy. New policies suggest that BMI isn’t as helpful as a measurement of one’s health, and a broader picture is needed to accurately treat an individual.

The short of it is that you can be overweight and still have a relatively healthy body. Your scale may read 25 pounds overweight, but your bloodwork will tell the complete story.

3. We're Supposed To Be Happy All the Time 

Stylish happy young woman wearing boyfriend jeans, white sneakers bright yellow sweatshirt.She holds coffee to go. portrait of smiling girl in sunglasses and bag
Image Credit: Natalia_Grabovskaya/Shutterstock.

Advertisements and sponsored posts, especially those targeting us via influencers on Instagram, lead us to believe we should always be happy. Every product or service out there promises to make us smile more and feel more fulfilled to change our negative self-perceptions. Even the brightest personalities have a bad day, though.

The reality is that happiness doesn't come from the next new thing to buy on Amazon—it comes from within, and it's okay to have days where you don't feel happy at all. Constant happiness is unrealistic, and chances are if you see someone always happy, they're putting on a brave face to mask some complex emotions. 

4. The Eight Hour Workday Has Always Been Standard 

UAW Strike, picketers
Image Credit: Ringo Chiu / Shutterstock.com.

Most of us work an eight-hour workday and have never experienced anything different. However, this wasn't always the case. In 1869, President Grant issued the National Eight-Hour Law Proclamation to make it the standard after labor unions worked hard to improve working conditions during the Industrial Revolution. Depending on your industry, though, this schedule may not be the best way to structure your time.

Having flexible and work-from-home opportunities can boost productivity and help establish a work-life balance, but that's not quite what those overseeing consumerism in America would lead you to believe. The ‘ole 9 to 5 shift is so deeply embedded in American culture that it's difficult to break away from.

5. Women Have To Wear Makeup and Shave To Be Attractive

Woman applying eye shadow
Image Credit: AlikeYou/Shutterstock.

Women have been the primary targets of beauty, health, and grooming product ads that promote the notion that you have to wear makeup and shave to please the male gaze. Beauty standards are subjective, and you don't need to be clean-shaven or glammed out in glittery eyeshadow to be beautiful. 

Fortunately, as more and more people speak out against the double standards in beauty marketing, we're seeing more ads showing women with body hair and without makeup. The all-natural look is very slowly inching toward becoming the mainstream.

6. Plastic Recycling Is Effective 

plastic bottle garbage for recycling concept reuse
Image Credit: ITTIGallery/Shutterstock.

I grew up in the early 2000s and was in third grade when Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth hit screens. My elementary school “went green” and encouraged us all to do the same by recycling and conserving water, though I'm sure my parents weren't too thrilled when I told them to stop running the water when they brushed their teeth or took showers longer than five minutes.

I was surprised when I first learned how complex recycling is. Only a small amount of plastics are recycled, and the recycling process is not very energy efficient. Make no mistake, dropping your empty Starbucks cup into the recycling bin is still infinitely better than destining it for the landfill, but the real solution needs to start with the manufacturers and not the consumers. 

7. Cars Are Needed for Survival 

Traffic Congestion
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

The United States is built around cars. Our highways stretch from coast to coast, linking bustling cities to small villages. Our reliance on cars has changed the way developers look at land and the way we look at our time. Other countries, such as Japan, have revolutionized sustainable and inclusive transportation options. While some U.S. cities are more public transport friendly than others (such as Boston and Chicago), the rest have a long way to go. 

As roadways become more and more congested, we start to realize the lie behind the insistence that everyone has to own a car. Even cities like Las Vegas are pushing back against more cars on the road, though, with the development of a train connecting Sin City to the City of Angels.

8. Pink Is for Girls, Blue Is for Boys 

gender party. boy or girl. two cupcakes with blue and pink cream, celebration concept when the gender of the child becomes known
Image Credit: Mikhaylovskiy/Shutterstock.

Look in their party aisle the next time you're at your local dollar or grocery store. I'm willing to bet that their baby shower decorations are coded into pink and blue: the former for baby girls, the latter for baby boys. Babies don't care about the colors they're wearing, and we shouldn't either. If a child is happy and healthy, who cares what color represents their gender? While yellow has been considered the go-to neutral color, which seemed perfect for when the gender is kept secret, the color doesn't really matter.  

9. Streaming Services Are Essential 

Child watching Disney+ Streaming Service
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

I'm waiting for someone to have the brilliant idea to bundle all of the streaming services together for one low price. Or, as we used to call it, cable television. As streaming services become more popular, we're being led to believe we need a subscription to every single one to access all the content we enjoy, to the point many consumers are forgoing DVD and Blu-ray purchases to own their favorite films. I'm sick of paying nearly $15 for every streaming service (except for you, Peacock, never change), and I'm not alone.  

10. Women Clean, Men Relax

woman cleaning
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Vintage advertisements always show women cleaning and caring for the house, while men are seen sitting at the table or aren't even home to help. While this should have been left in the 1950s, many marketing campaigns still show women doing household chores. If you're sharing a house with someone, you should contribute equally to the overall upkeep. 

11. Diamond Rings Are The Best of the Best 

Engagement ring
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

While millennials may or may not have destroyed the diamond industry, it's kind of ridiculous that people measure love in the size of diamonds on an engagement ring. In fact, diamonds aren't even the most expensive stone you can get to symbolize your love. If you pay attention to jewelry commercials, you'll see diamonds being pushed more than anything else. Companies like Swarovski offer fantastic diamond alternatives that really have us asking, “Are diamonds really a girl's best friend?”

12. Women Wear Makeup for Men

Eye Makeup
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Some marketing campaigns insinuate that women only wear makeup to attract men. This stereotype is harmful and untrue. Women wear makeup for a myriad of reasons, with self-expression and creativity topping the list. If a woman wants to wear strawberry-colored lipstick and black eyeliner, she will do it whether there's a man involved or not. What's funny about this notion, too, is that it's believed some women actually wear makeup to outdo their rivals.

13. Having Dessert for Breakfast Is Okay 

Romantic couple drinking coffee and enjoying in fruit desserts, having fun in the cafe. Dating, love, relationships
Image Credit: Bobex-73/Shutterstock.

Look at your cereal box the next time you sit down for breakfast. I'm willing to bet that your bowl of morning goodness is high in added sugar and significantly lacking in nutrients. Cereals like Lucky Charms and Cocoa Puffs are straight-up desserts marketed as a great morning meal. Even Pop-Tarts are a breakfast anomaly, as they're essentially a flavored cookie with a sugary filling. Don't even get us started on things like chocolate pancakes, either. 

Author: Julia Fisher

Title: Editor

Expertise: Mental Health, Books, and Video Games


Julia Fisher is a writer and editor who has loved reading and writing since childhood. She has a bachelor’s degree in Clinical Counseling Psychology from Houghton University and is pursuing a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy from Northcentral University. She is fascinated with the psychology behind fandom and how people are influenced and shaped by the media they consume. Julia is a Tolkien aficionado who also has Dungeons and Dragons, Pokemon card collecting, and all things RPG in her geek repertoire. When she’s not working, Julia can be in the kitchen, watching Bills football and working on her unpublished novel series. She resides in Buffalo, New York, with her two chocolate labs and hundreds of books.