It is possible that we exaggerate the influence of various media, which we like or don't like.
We know, for instance, that children do not readily acquire language from television. A talking box is no substitute for a voice box, especially that of one's caregiver. Children don't pick up accents from television, either. If they did, some children would have British accents (too much PBS and Masterpiece Theater) or they would talk with standard California or northern Midlands accents. They don't. They sound like their peers and parents. If media were so influential, wouldn't we see more influence in language usage from television?
There is no overwhelming evidence that media strongly
influences behavior. Various people have been looking for solid proof that it does influence behavior, and there isn't as much strong evidence out there. I am speaking here of imitative
behavior. People watching programs with violence, sex, crime, and so on, don't become sexually violent criminals committing all sorts of violent crimes.
There is evidence that watching a violent program has subtle, short-lived effects on choice-making. So, after watching a brutal scene from a film, people tend to answer various unrelated questions differently than people who had seen a boring film about highway maintenance.
Similarly, people who watch a lot of porn generally do not lead sex lives even remotely like the sex lives of the people in the videos. Again, watching a sex scene very well might change the way people respond to questionnaires for a short period of time.
So, we can say porn, sex, violence, etc. do affect people, but it is short term, and it doesn't change people's patterns of life.
Can we say the same thing for television advertising? People watch it, they are affected for a short period of time, but they do not change their basic behavioral patterns. It might. For one thing, advertising is constructed with more care than the average television program is. The imagery is punchier, and the repetition of specific scenes is, over time, quite high.
There are ads for a product, and then there is the product itself. The experience of watching an ad for the #1 selling Ford F-Series pickup is one thing; seeing F-Series vehicles on the road is another thing, and contemplating the F-Series on the sales lot is something else again. My guess is that without on the road sightings, talking with owners, looking at the pickup in parking lots, and so on, the advertisements wouldn't drive the sales as high as they are.
One thing about people: Getting messages through our thick skulls and getting us to carry out our instructions correctly turns out to be quite difficult. People don't just do what they are told. They just won't rush out and buy whatever junk food they are instructed to buy. And they buy junk food they probably never see advertised. There is also sensual experience. There is junk food I like because it has high sensory appeal--a particular local store brand of potato chip. Why do I like Kix better than Shredded Wheat (which I actually eat a lot of)? I haven't seen an ad for breakfast food for many years. I like the crunch of the large-pea-sized pellets, taste, color, and mouthfeel of Kix. I like the big bright yellow box it is packed in. The manipulation may be inside box rather than on the television, but it does work. Kix is a Friday night party compared to Shredded Wheat's Monday morning back to work scene.