Advertising And Our World

TheyLiveAdvertising has became our dominant creative industry – what Stuart Ewen calls ‘the prevailing vernacular of public address’. It sucks up our talent for art, design, creativity and storytelling.

Via Our Kingdom, a look at the cumulative effects of advertising on our society and why it must be controlled:

Advertising is everywhere. Media that were once largely commercial free – from movies to the internet – now come replete with commercial messages. Not so long ago, most musicians were reluctant to see their work used to endorse shampoo or sneakers. Today, the music and advertising industries are locked in a lucrative embrace.

We now have commercials in our schools and on our clothes. They clog up – with increasing speed – nearly every form of communication we devise. Our dominant TV genre – in terms of sheer volume – is not comedy, drama or sport, but advertising. The average British viewer is now exposed to 48 TV commercials a day. Recent studies showed that around 40% of US TV time is now taken up by commercials.

Governments, regulators and media companies tend to regard advertising purely as a form of revenue. They have – under pressure from an industry looking to maximise its income – allowed it to proliferate. There are a few exceptions to this: governments are prepared to limit the promotion of harmful substances such as tobacco, and they police the boundaries of taste and decency.

But the prevailing orthodoxy is to treat each advertisement on its individual merits. The larger question – the cumulative impact of this deluge of commercials – is rarely asked. Regulatory bodies assume that most advertising is entirely apolitical, reserving their scrutiny for campaign groups. In an age where economists, social scientists, climate scientists and environmentalists are seriously questioning the value of consumerism, this idea is no longer tenable.

For all their diversity, advertisements share one basic value system. Advertisements may be individually innocent, collectively they are the propaganda wing of a consumerist ideology. The moral of the thousands of different stories they tell is that the only way to secure pleasure, popularity, security, happiness or fulfilment is through buying more; more consumption – regardless of how much we already have.

There are three problems with this set of values – and they are all profound. First, the promise of advertising is entirely empty. We now have a voluminous body of work showing that past a certain point, there is no connection between the volume of consumer goods a society accumulates and the well-being of its people. The research shows that a walk in the park, social interaction or volunteering – which cost nothing – will do more for our well-being than any amount of ‘retail therapy’.

Reviewing the evidence on consumerism and quality of life, Richard Layard argues that legislation banning advertising is a far more plausible policy for increasing quality of life than extending consumer choice. This may be unimaginable in policy terms, but we might begin to ask why we always seem to move in the opposite direction, forever increasing – rather than limiting – the volume of advertising.

The second problem with advertising’s value system is environmental. In a finite world, where the scale of human activity now matches the scale of the planet, our current growth in consumption is unsustainable. The global economy has expanded five-fold in the last fifty years. By the end of the century, if we continue consuming at the current rate, it will be eighty times larger.

The third problem follows from this. If we are to prosper and develop as a species, we must begin to imagine economic models that appreciate the finite, and that do not rely on endless economic growth. We must pursue a way of working that values longevity over built-in obsolescence, on repairing and reusing rather than dumping and replacing. If we want to avoid high unemployment, we need to pass on productivity gains by giving people more free time rather than more money.

Advertising runs counter to all these ideas and thereby stifles our imagination. It keeps us hooked on a cycle of borrow and spend, with fiscal policies dependent on mountains of debt. And it sustains the idea that human progress is measured purely by our ability to acquire as many consumer goods as possible.

Occasionally, advertising can provide us with useful –albeit very partial – information. But in the world of branding, imparting useful information has become increasingly old-fashioned. What we have instead is a vast global industry that elevates one activity above all others, and, in so doing, promotes a very particular set of economic and cultural values.

In an age where these values are coming under increasing challenge, this makes advertising, en mass, intensely political. It is time we recognised it as such.

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  • Rex Vestri
  • Rex Vestri
    • Anarchy Pony

      “Please kill yourselves, no really!”

  • Wanooski

    “Please kill yourselves, no really!”

  • Mr Willow

    You know, I truly would have no problem with advertisements if they weren’t so damn long. Some take nearly two minutes, and despite any vague entertainment value, there is nothing that can be said in an advert to make me—or anyone else I imagine—purchase anything that can’t be done in ten seconds, especially with cultural staples. 

    “Buy Coke. Tastes great.” 

    There. Straightforward, to the point, and without the sense that Coca-Cola spent a half-million dollars on an ad featuring a half-dozen actors and production values that could rival a Hollywood blockbuster. 

    The only adverts that should be outright banned are political ads and pharmaceutical commercials. 

    • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

      I hate to admit it…but after years of despising and avoiding ads at all costs…you know what captured me?

      The Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man In The World” series. Short…and hilarious. They crack me up. I may never drink Dos Equis…my tongue decides what beers I buy…not my eyes…but goddamn…seeing an advertisement I don’t hate is a rare pleasure.

  • Mr Willow

    You know, I truly would have no problem with advertisements if they weren’t so damn long. Some take nearly two minutes, and despite any vague entertainment value, there is nothing that can be said in an advert to make me—or anyone else I imagine—purchase anything that can’t be done in ten seconds, especially with cultural staples. 

    “Buy Coke. Tastes great.” 

    There. Straightforward, to the point, and without the sense that Coca-Cola spent a half-million dollars on an ad featuring a half-dozen actors and production values that could rival a Hollywood blockbuster. 

    The only adverts that should be outright banned are political ads and pharmaceutical commercials. 

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    “governments are prepared to limit the promotion of harmful substances such as tobacco…”(except for pharmeceudicals)

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    “governments are prepared to limit the promotion of harmful substances such as tobacco…”(except for pharmeceudicals)

  • Wanooski

    “Advertising has became our dominant creative industry” This may be the most depressing thing I have read in quite some time.

  • Anarchy Pony

    “Advertising has became our dominant creative industry” This may be the most depressing thing I have read in quite some time.

    • Adam

      Depressing but definitely true.  I think this is also tied in to why “selling out” used to be considered such a taboo for “serious” artists, as it was basically seen as the easy way out: “Look, if I can make good money off of my talents simply selling basic consumer goods, or creating art specifically designed to appeal to other people, why should I even attempt to create something substantial with soul and integrity?  I get the same social accolades and better pay creating something useful but ultimately superficial.” 
      I’m not trying to be prescriptive here, just descriptive; the whole concept of “selling out” and advertising as art brings up very profound issues of what constitutes art, what its value is, and its ultimate purpose.  Personally, I very much identify with Bill Hicks’ take on the marketing/advertising industry, but still find it fascinating.    

      • padraig

        watching Kerrang!! segue seamlessly into a Nat West ad or any other (search engine optimized) conglomerate, then back in, via some knobheads from a band with no principles welcoming you back to an audio experience you didn’t realise you had left and on to the next adverpunk anthem, shame on those (middle class) kids, like bill said ‘suck that corporate cock’

  • Adam

    Depressing but definitely true.  I think this is also tied in to why “selling out” used to be considered such a taboo for “serious” artists, as it was basically seen as the easy way out: “Look, if I can make good money off of my talents simply selling basic consumer goods, or creating art specifically designed to appeal to other people, why should I even attempt to create something substantial with soul and integrity?  I get the same social accolades and better pay creating something useful but ultimately superficial.” 
    I’m not trying to be prescriptive here, just descriptive; the whole concept of “selling out” and advertising as art brings up very profound issues of what constitutes art, what its value is, and its ultimate purpose.  Personally, I very much identify with Bill Hicks’ take on the marketing/advertising industry, but still find it fascinating.    

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    I hate to admit it…but after years of despising and avoiding ads at all costs…you know what captured me?

    The Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man In The World” series. Short…and hilarious. They crack me up. I may never drink Dos Equis…my tongue decides what beers I buy…not my eyes…but goddamn…seeing an advertisement I don’t hate is a rare pleasure.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    Time for another confessional/bio:

    A long time ago, before there was a Bill Hicks I could admire and desire to emulate, before I became the radically anti-advertising hater who literally avoids TV, cable and actually manually silences internet ads (which…as I predicted years ago…have now evolved controls that will not let you lower their volume or avoid them if you want to see the content they precede) while railing against their perfidy daily…

    …broadcasting and advertising were what I went to college and studied. I was good at it. I had a good feel for observing emotional appeals and using language in ways that grabbed attention quickly. I learned the basic principles easily and didn’t have trouble applying them…

    …but I also became aware and conscious of the motivations and contemptible manipulation behind all advertising, political or otherwise. Like with LSD or Neo and the red pill, or even They Live and the sunglasses…once you go down the rabbit hole…you can’t ever turn that knowledge, that awakening, off. This is a fast track to one of two things…loving it and being in on the joke and making good money while manipulating the herds of stupid kine…

    …or realizing that advertising has become the black plague of our times and is an ineffable evil so foul that we can never hope to beat it…we can only better prepare people for their exposure to it and make them ready to ignore its blandishments.

    I fell into the latter category…dropped out of college with no desire to ever sell anything for a living…went counterculture with a fucking vengeance, did a considerable number of illicit substances and heavy reading and meditation…and spent the last couple decades plus a few years constantly advocating for people to turn off the idiot box as much as possible, back away from the screen and live a little more, and above all…never ever trust the garbage that people pay money to fling at you. There is always a reason for someone to spend a hundred million dollars to send you and everyone else a message…and its never a reason in your best interest…its in theirs. And in all my years of experience, as a freak and wildman, I’ve learned one thing that is inevitably true…

    …anybody who invests a lot of time and effort into kissing your ass like there’s no tomorrow…means to fuck you very shortly afterwards. 

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    Time for another confessional/bio:

    A long time ago, before there was a Bill Hicks I could admire and desire to emulate, before I became the radically anti-advertising hater who literally avoids TV, cable and actually manually silences internet ads (which…as I predicted years ago…have now evolved controls that will not let you lower their volume or avoid them if you want to see the content they precede) while railing against their perfidy daily…

    …broadcasting and advertising were what I went to college and studied. I was good at it. I had a good feel for observing emotional appeals and using language in ways that grabbed attention quickly. I learned the basic principles easily and didn’t have trouble applying them…

    …but I also became aware and conscious of the motivations and contemptible manipulation behind all advertising, political or otherwise. Like with LSD or Neo and the red pill, or even They Live and the sunglasses…once you go down the rabbit hole…you can’t ever turn that knowledge, that awakening, off. This is a fast track to one of two things…loving it and being in on the joke and making good money while manipulating the herds of stupid kine…

    …or realizing that advertising has become the black plague of our times and is an ineffable evil so foul that we can never hope to beat it…we can only better prepare people for their exposure to it and make them ready to ignore its blandishments.

    I fell into the latter category…dropped out of college with no desire to ever sell anything for a living…went counterculture with a fucking vengeance, did a considerable number of illicit substances and heavy reading and meditation…and spent the last couple decades plus a few years constantly advocating for people to turn off the idiot box as much as possible, back away from the screen and live a little more, and above all…never ever trust the garbage that people pay money to fling at you. There is always a reason for someone to spend a hundred million dollars to send you and everyone else a message…and its never a reason in your best interest…its in theirs. And in all my years of experience, as a freak and wildman, I’ve learned one thing that is inevitably true…

    …anybody who invests a lot of time and effort into kissing your ass like there’s no tomorrow…means to fuck you very shortly afterwards. 

    • Anarchy Pony

      If I didn’t suspect that you were male, and quite a bit older than me, I’d ask you to marry me.

      • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

        You’re probably dead on regarding both…at newly 42 yrs old and still an uncompromising prick (who is blessed to have his spouse in his life despite his constant anti-consumerist grumbling)…its still very kind of you. Mahalo! 

    • Hadrian999

      why not use your ability for something constructive, push your one agenda. advertising works because the majority of people are lemmings, waiting for the lemming horde to arrive at a golden future on their own is fruitless, you have to leave them instructions or sometimes drag them along the path.

      • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

        and risk becoming what I despise?

        Advertising for a cause is like The ONE RING. We all see that it could be used to bring order, if the right person held it, if it was used responsibly, if our heart was pure enough…

        …but are deceptive and manipulative practices capable of ever being used for good? Can a force whose very existence is dependent on peoples ignorance and gullibility ever be a good thing?

        If I have a cause i care enough to write about and speak of and push outward toward others…it would reflect only what was written above:

        Advertising and propaganda, the arts of manipulation, are inherently evil and destructive…and people must be educated not ‘via’ those things…but educated ‘against’ those things. To think for themselves, to discern falsehood and conjecture, to recognize appeals to insecurity and emotion for what they are and reject them so vindictively that the use of such appeals someday falls by the wayside.

      • Anarchy Pony

        How? Advertising is expensive to produce, and the outlets through which they can be displayed to a mass audience are controlled by the very people you would generally be speaking out against.

        • Hadrian999

          there are other ways to use the theory and methodology behind advertising. podcast, public radio, student radio, websites ezines, newsletters, you have to start small but if su.ccessful you can grow. people like Alex Jones are prime example of how quickly you can create a market

          • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

            To be fair, while I largely agree about the mechanics, I don’t want to give Jones any real credit. Fear, abject terror and paranoid delusion weren’t created per se…they just get tapped into on a regular basis by almost everyone who really wants to make some quick cash and has even an elementary grasp of human nature. 

  • padraig

    watching Kerrang!! segue seamlessly into a Nat West ad or any other (search engine optimized) conglomerate, then back in, via some knobheads from a band with no principles welcoming you back to an audio experience you didn’t realise you had left and on to the next adverpunk anthem, shame on those (middle class) kids, like bill said ‘suck that corporate cock’

  • Wanooski

    If I didn’t suspect that you were male, and quite a bit older than me, I’d ask you to marry me.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    You’re probably dead on regarding both…at newly 42 yrs old and still an uncompromising prick (who is blessed to have his spouse in his life despite his constant anti-consumerist grumbling)…its still very kind of you. Mahalo! 

  • Hadrian999

    why not use your ability for something constructive, push your one agenda. advertising works because the majority of people are lemmings, waiting for the lemming horde to arrive at a golden future on their own is fruitless, you have to leave them instructions or sometimes drag them along the path.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    and risk becoming what I despise?

    Advertising for a cause is like The ONE RING. We all see that it could be used to bring order, if the right person held it, if it was used responsibly, if our heart was pure enough…

    …but are deceptive and manipulative practices capable of ever being used for good? Can a force whose very existence is dependent on peoples ignorance and gullibility ever be a good thing?

    If I have a cause i care enough to write about and speak of and push outward toward others…it would reflect only what was written above:

    Advertising and propaganda, the arts of manipulation, are inherently evil and destructive…and people must be educated not ‘via’ those things…but educated ‘against’ those things. To think for themselves, to discern falsehood and conjecture, to recognize appeals to insecurity and emotion for what they are and reject them so vindictively that the use of such appeals someday falls by the wayside.

  • Wanooski

    How? Advertising is expensive to produce, and the outlets through which they can be displayed to a mass audience are controlled by the very people you would generally be speaking out against.

  • Wanooski

    How? Advertising is expensive to produce, and the outlets through which they can be displayed to a mass audience are controlled by the very people you would generally be speaking out against.

  • Hadrian999

    there are other ways to use the theory and methodology behind advertising. podcast, public radio, student radio, websites ezines, newsletters, you have to start small but if su.ccessful you can grow. people like Alex Jones are prime example of how quickly you can create a market

  • Hadrian999

    there are other ways to use the theory and methodology behind advertising. podcast, public radio, student radio, websites ezines, newsletters, you have to start small but if su.ccessful you can grow. people like Alex Jones are prime example of how quickly you can create a market

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    To be fair, while I largely agree about the mechanics, I don’t want to give Jones any real credit. Fear, abject terror and paranoid delusion weren’t created per se…they just get tapped into on a regular basis by almost everyone who really wants to make some quick cash and has even an elementary grasp of human nature. 

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