Skepticism

AI: Advertising

It seems like advertising and marketing have been hot topics around here lately. The more TV on DVD, podcasts and torrent technology separate me from the traditional television/radio experience, the less relevant the ads seem to me. Which makes me wonder:

Does advertising have any influence over your spending habits? Has it become completely irrelevant? Which direction do you see the market shifting to adapt to changes in media consumption?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

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52 Comments

  1. I sometimes ask myself that. I rarely watch TV anymore, but I still come across ads here or there. I can remember some advertising songs, but I cannot come up with any instance where I have learned of a product from an advertisement and gone and bought it. I really do not know anyone who has.

  2. I am an extremist when it comes to being a critic of advertising. I feel it is truly one of the most pernicious, foul, and distasteful evils of contemporary society. Advertsing is little more than deceit, deception, distortion, mendacious manipulation, and all for the sake of stealing your money out of your pocket to buy something you don’t really need.

    Does advertising have any influence over your spending habits?

    No. Because of the continual assualt on my intelligence and my time I stopped watching TV about 15 years ago, and I rarely read commercial magazines or any other form of media that spends so much of its time, effort, and money lieing to me. And of course I use whatever ad blocking software I can to remove all the crap from the Internet.

    I also stopped going to movies for many years when they first started running ads. Sadly, there was no groundswell of complaint, and now all movies are introduced by some ten to fifteen minutes bombardment of lies, distortions, and social manipulations trying to get you to buy, buy, buy.

    In all seriousness, I feel it is simply disgusting how complacent the general public is in regards to the infringement upon our time that ads are.

    Has it become completely irrelevant?

    Advertising in general has been mostly irrelevant, yet deeply aggravating and offensive to me since the early 70s. I am an aging hippy-child of the 60s and a one-time devoted reader of The Whole Earth Catalogue. A brilliant document that is, I suspect, mostly forgotten by most people.

    Which direction do you see the market shifting to adapt to changes in media consumption?

    I predict a growing and ever expanding assault upon people’s privacy in myriad ways. I suspect that the gross advertising presented in such Sci-Fi films as Blade Runner is only the mild tip of a truly obscene iceberg.

    Sorry, but I get quite riled up about advertising. I honestly feel it is one the great obscenities of our times.

  3. @sporefrog:

    You probably have. I know I have, I just can’t think of a specific instance off the top of my head. But there have been plenty of times where I’ve seen an ad and thought, “I should try that” or “I should do that” or “I should go there”

    I don’t think the idea is to make you see an ad, then you grab your keys and run to the store because you HAVE TO buy the new Ford Focus RIGHT NOW, but rather to plant a seed, influence you in a more subtle way, help foster brand loyalty, give you incentive to switch brands, or even perhaps suggest a brand you’ve never before considered.

    An ad helps to bolster the thought, “I’m hungry. I could really go for some McDonald’s fries.” Or remind you to check with Priceline before booking a flight.

  4. I’d say advertising has no effect on me. I don’t watch TV and I only listen to non-commercial radio. I know NPR has underwriters, but it’s not like I can buy a railcar from CSX or a genius grant from the MacAurthur foundation. Even the stuff I buy at the grocery store is not the sort of over-processed crap that gets advertised. It’s not like there’s an ad trying to get me to switch from one variety of organic apple to another. I don’t buy cars. I do buy bicycles, but these don’t get advertised either.

    I can be influenced when I see new gadgets written up on sites like Gizmodo, but usually this just serves to stimulate research into that product area. I rarely buy the exact item that Giz is reviewing. For example their recent review of a 500G USB drive reminded me that I needed to automate my backups, although I wound up buying a 360G drive.

    I see less advertising in our future. Instead I see a greater emphasis on getting us to pay for what we consume. Many APR shows now ask you to offset the cost of their podcasts. Are they that far away from a subscription model? And oh, yes. I would subscribe. I’d like to kick my local NPR station right in the nads and never have to deal with them again. Humph.

  5. Absolutely. I’d been planning on buying a new AV reciever so I checked the ads for two major electronics chains, and found one I liked with a good price.

    I am completely grossed out by the medical ads, but I can’t erase from my mind exactly which product “may help” curing explosive diarrhea (or maybe it was cause it, I’m fuzzy there)

    Anyone who says advertising doesn’t work, just doesn’t like admitting that they are part of a larger culture, and that culture can be used to give them subtle behavioral pokes and prods.

  6. Let’s make the assumption that ads do indeed influence thought and behavior. And suppose this leads to negative consequences. What is the solution to this dilemma?

    In a liberal democracy with a free market, words and images will run amok. Thus I’m sure a particular MacDonald’s ad will motivate an individual to go out and order a few big macs and clog his/her arteries. Is the individual making a free choice in this matter?

    Now let’s take the opposite scenerio of a totalitarian society such as North Korea. With a tightly controlled government media, even fashion magazines are forbidden. Is the citizenry better off in such as society free of fast food chain ads?

    In a free society, the only solution to the negative influence of ads is the production of ads with a positive message ie. fight free speech with free speech. For example, an ad that informs an individual to not smoke has to compete in an environment wherein cigarettes are freely sold. Ultimately it is the individual who has to make the decision whether good or bad.

    And despite the negativity of a free western media, countries such as Iran are shedding blood to attain such freedom. Folks aren’t exactly putting their lives on the line to rid the media of MacDonald’s ads.

  7. Well an interesting question is: how many internet websites could sustain themselves without the assumption held by many companies that advertising is worth paying for?

    To go along with what Ragdish was saying, if I know of the hazards of eating greasy fast food, it is not as though seeing an advertisement for fast food will change my worldview in any way. However, maybe it would push someone more in the middle into remembering.

    @Elyse:
    I don’t think I’ve ever tried anything new because of an advertisement. I mean, there are different types of advertisements of course, but when I try a new restaurant or a new computer part or something, it’s almost entirely from word of mouth of friends not something I saw on a sign somewhere.

  8. I think advertising has a big effect on me. I also think most people don’t realize that advertising doesn’t only mean 30 second spots on TV, pesky web pop-ups or flyers in the newspaper. As a result of advertising, I will be attending TAM7 this year. I’ve received “ads” (or notifications, if you will) all over this website and many more skeptical websites. I purchased and/or read dozens of books due to people “advertising” (recommending) them. Advertising also notifies people of our local Minneapolis Skeptic’s Meet-Ups and other local club events.

    Your Facebook, Meet-Ups, Blogs and Twitter accounts are all methods for advertising. You see an article you want to share, you “advertise” it on twitter. You want people to come to your birthday party, you create an advertisement (evite) and sent it to all your friends.

    I think advertising frequently gets a bad rap. It’s not always some sinister conspiracy to get you to buy what you don’t want.

    Full disclosure: I am a marketer. It’s my job to help my clients craft messaging that informs their ideal prospects of their products or services and then test and implement those marketing programs.

  9. @Northernskeptic: Damn. I want a coke now.

    I still see advertising all over the place. It’s in the mall, it’s in the dentist office, you can’t escape it. My kids sing songs (freecreditreport.com and the theme song for our local news station). I am influenced by it to the extent that I will research it or think, hmmm, I might like that. And I also know that I am brand loyal. Once I get sucked in, nothing will change my mind.

  10. When watching television shows, I mute the television when commercials are on. I don’t usually listen to radio (I have an MP3 player) but when I do, I change the channel during commercials. I don’t give most ads a second glance in the newspaper, or magazines. Despite all this, there is no doubt I am affected by commercials. “Why is this?” or “How is that?” you might be wondering.

    Well, lets say I purchase a piece of hardware for my computer, recommended by a friend. He might have heard about it from a friend, who heard it from a friend, who read about it in a newspaper, heard about it on the radio, or saw it on TV.

    It’s a crazy mixed up world, and I think the terribleness emerges (i.e. it’s not terrible for one company to advertise, but the whole lot? ugh.) from the existence of so many companies advertising. In order for all the companies to get their fair share of the time in front of your face, they are making them smaller and cheapening themselves. Imagine a job interview where you have 30 seconds to sell yourself. You’d look like a hooker too, I imagine.

  11. I don’t find myself affected by advertising much because I DVR or tape everything and so fast-forward through commercials, and I don’t listen to the radio. Every so often I will see an ad for something that I actually need (like a new cold medicine, or some get-rid-of-your-stretch-marks-woo-oil, or a whitening toothpaste), and I’ll give it a try.
    More often, it’s the restaurant ads that get us, though, even on fast-forward. We are suckers for the Red Lobster commercials.

    Every so often I will see a magazine ad for something and check it out on-line, but I rarely ever buy anything because I’m so stingy. I’m most likely to buy something lauded by my skeptical heroes (PZ, Phil Plait, George Hrab, Randi, etc.) than anything else. For instance, I give-some/get-some’ed a Galileoscope because they said I should. And who am I to say “no” to brains like those?!

  12. @Vengeful Harridan (Elexina): DVR is the next phase for advertising.

    Coming from a company, which distributes advertising to TV, Radio, etc., the mindset is changing and the 2 new areas you will see advertising focusing on in the future is DVR and Internet.

    For example, there is a company working with TiVo right now to develop a special encoding which will cause an add to pop up as you fast forward.

    Also, Coca-Cola has decided to focus on both movie theatres and internet pop ups to get new products in the public.

    And an even new trend is digital billboards, which are proving most effective in research and focus groups.

    TV and Radio ads will always have their place, but new ventures are on the horizon. Don’t be surprised if pro sports teams start to follow in the footsteps of Euro sports and multi ad uniforms much like NASCAR flame suits.

    Don’t think they are going away. You may not have the urge to go get the new BK sandwich when you see the ad, but if you are hungry while driving home, you may stop and pick one up. That is the goal.

  13. @Mully410:
    That’s all of course true. However, I think you can distinguish between ‘recommendations’ by people you trust, and when a company pays money to thrust their product under your nose via commercials or billboards or posters or whatever, which are often buttered up with sex appeal and rife with fallacious suggestions (put on this deodorant and women will swoon over you!)

    The type of advertising you are talking about is, I think, Ragdish’s cure to the more propoganda-type advertising you get in a commercial.

  14. @SpiralArchitect:

    For example, there is a company working with TiVo right now to develop a special encoding which will cause an add to pop up as you fast forward.

    Also, Coca-Cola has decided to focus on both movie theatres and internet pop ups to get new products in the public.

    And an even new trend is digital billboards, which are proving most effective in research and focus groups.

    That particular reality is so sad, so obscene, so intrusive and cynical it makes both me and baby jeezles cry.

    Copiously.

    /points sniper rifle at ad execs everywhere and….

    Ka-fucking-pow Batman!

  15. @SicPreFix: Yeah, but in this economy, it gives people jobs.

    It provides for my family. That is more important than your cynicism and your valuable time.

    If you don’t like it, read books.

    Oh wait, how will you know about them if the publisher doesn’t advertise them?

  16. Maybe I am the only one who sees advertising as a sign of good things? Modern advertising (other than grassroots) shows that, as opposed to even a century ago, products are available for purchase in a truly crazy variety, such that they fight tooth and nail to have even a few seconds of my times during the Superbowl.

    As opposed to there being one or two brews at the local pub, from this town and the next one over, I can drink beer and liquors from Ireland, Germany, Japan, or Brazil all here in my home state of Missouri. This is simply incredible to me, and if occasionally intrusive and consistently annoying advertisements are the price I must pay to live in such an era, I am more than glad to do it.

    Which doesn’t mean I enjoy or even pay much attention to those ads, insofar as I can help it. The really good ones are hard to ignore, but I wouldn’t say that means I’m buying their products.

    Where reasonable, I try to support local businesses, but I can’t do that if I don’t know they exist. With the way things are increasingly complicating themselves around me, it is nice to have a road map, even if it is sponsored.

  17. I certainly limit my exposure to ads. I don’t own a TV and while I watch occasional downloads or streaming video they don’t have adverts in them. I don’t listen to spotify because of the adverts, or own a radio.

    I tried one astronomy podcast but unsubscribed after one listen, because it was 15 minutes out of an hour of adverts for the same shop 3000 miles away from me.

    I’ve been blocking adverts online ever since I learnt how to – one site I frequent has a section where it says if you pay to join their team you get to see the site without all the annoying adverts. I had no idea they had any adverts.

    I suppose the most advertising I see is roadside stuff when I used to walk to work but I don’t see how it has any relevance to me – for cheap things, well, I’m just not going to change my soap because a smiling woman is licking a bar on a huge public erection.
    For expensive things, who would buy a car based on how it looks in 2D? Nobody sane. You go try a couple out, see what your friends have got.

    I find it difficult to understand why people respond to the majority of adverts. The best I can come up with is that it’s just all brand awareness.

    Badly-targetted adverts are awful. Well-targetted adverts make you wonder what information they have about you. In all, company->advertiser->consumer advertising is a bad thing. Like Mully410 said, recommendations from your friends and peers have a big influence on a lot of people. That and news articles about the latest invention from baffled boffins. And promotional stands in supermarkets giving discounts on new brands which taste the same as the old ones. I’ll buy those because they’re cheaper and usually have a higher fat content. Mmm.

  18. @SpiralArchitect: Actually, I find myself LESS likely to purchase a product if their ads annoy me. I refuse to shop at Old Navy, for example, because of that awful set of commercials they ran several years ago. Normally, I don’t even notice what the pop-up ad is, I just close it and carry on.

    You make a good point about sports advertising. My husband and I ARE more likely to frequent a store or purchase a product if it supports NASCAR in general or one of our favorite drivers specifically, all other things being equal. Duracell over Energizer, for example. Office Depot over Office Max. Games Stop over EB Games. Taco Bell over Del Taco. Viagara over Cialis. ;-)
    Of course, this isn’t 100%. When there is a local option, we’ll choose that. Also, we don’t use Shell/Pennzoil even though they sponsor my husband’s favorite driver.

    I guess it depends on how the product/store/whatever is presented, how annoying they are, and who they choose to represent them.

  19. I stopped actively watching TV years ago and do not own a TV. It is impossible to complete avoid advertising. I get it from the internet, in the mail, waiting at the doctor’s office, at the food court in the mall, grocery shopping, etc. Advertising is everywhere.

    Advertising can be good in that it informs about needed services. It’s bad when it tries to create a need in order to sell a product.

    When I learn of a new product, the necessity of that product is the first thing I question. I’m always the last to the party on anything because it has to be something that will satisfy a real need.

  20. @SicPreFix: Spot on, man. I’m happy to pay for whatever video programming I bring into my home sans commercial advertising.

    We (my fiver year old son and I) do make it a routine habit to identify the hook for the advertising we run across. I have let him buy crap toys to see that the graphic in the pulp ads have nothing to do with how that toy really works. He’s also learned through that lesson that your typical retailer isn’t interested in selling a 5 year old boy a toy that will last as well as do what it should. Just so long as they sell toys. He’s become much more selective.

    @SpiralArchitect: Sorry man, not buying it. The state of the economy (or your family) is no justification for the existence of the advertising industry. What other offensive activity could possibly be justified in this way?

    I agree with SicPreFix. Advertising is a pox on humanity we could well live without.

    Who want’s to check out my skepdick blog now?

  21. @The Skepdick: Well, then call me an inhuman monster. As the father of a 22-month-old son and a wife who is finding it easier to cross the Grand Canyon on a tight rope than find paid employment, I need to afford them the opportunity to change the world.

    I think in the pantheon on evil, advertising is not even in the top 100. Focus your efforts elsewhere. I think disease, hunger, famine, racism, Joel Osteen, and Jenny McCarthy deserve far more attention than whether or not Popeye’s is offering dirty rice for $.99.

    Anyway, you have the ability to stop it as seen in The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror epidsode Attack of the 50-Ft Eyesores. Just don’t look (as sung by Lisa Simpson and Paul Anka).

    Besides, I am just a guy who loves sports. Send me a check and I’ll give up advertising distribution immediately.

  22. Of course I’m affected by advertising, but I do try to limit it. I don’t watch TV–only DVDs. I only listen to public radio, and I am more likely to patronize places that support NPR. Yeah, advertising works.

    I read several magazines regularly, and in some of them I read/scan every single ad. For example, companies that advertise in Bitch or The Progressive are likely companies/products that I want to support, assuming I have a need/use for them. And in some magazines, like Spin-Off and Wild Fibers, the ads are as interesting as the articles.

    I regularly get e-mail invites to fill out surveys, and I always do. I’m such an outlier. Sometimes the surveys ask about print or TV ads, none of which I’ve ever seen. (For some reason, Oil of Olay doesn’t advertise in Mother Jones. :) )

    Advertising is pretty much everywhere, which is damned annoying. It’s in public toilet stalls–talk about a captive audience. If some specific ad annoys or insults me, I will remember that product and will not purchase it. But, like I wrote before, if an ad supports a cause that I feel is important, I will keep that in mind when making future purchases.

  23. @SpiralArchitect,

    Of course, I agree with your placement of advertising on the spectrum of “evil”. In fact, I do spend my time and efforts on more important issues.

    While it is very good you are employed (and I would happily work at an advertising firm if that’s what it took), I simply make the point that citing the current economy (or your employment status) is NOT valid logic to justify advertising.

    In the last couple hours, I’ve been trying to imagine the world without advertising. There’d be a LOT fewer choices for consumers. On the other hand, those choices that existed would more than likely DO what they are supposed to. In a no-ad world, there would be no alternative to survive.

    I wonder what other follow on effects we could imagine.

  24. @The Skepdick: Fewer choices does NOT necessarily lead to higher quality. If you only have one kind of beer available, you can’t turn it down for something better, because there is nothing better available to you. This applies basically across the board.

  25. it seems sad of me to admit but yes, i allow advertising to influence some of my buyiug habits. if there is a clever ad about a product thats already been on my mind to try than the ad alone is usually enough to tip the scales and get me to try the product. the most recent example of this is old spice cologne, watching Bruce Campbell play hungry like the wolf in a 1960’s style bachelor pad with unfurled bow tie and smoking jacket hung gracefully off the gaudy piano bench had me at “I’m lost and I’m found”

  26. @The Skepdick:

    In a no ad world, how do new companies get off the ground? Open your business and hope people just know you’re there?

    How does a company keep buzz going? How do they compete? People just KNOWING about them and their products isn’t usually enough.

  27. I actually find myself remembering clever/ funny/ sweet/ poignant ads, but never remembering what the ad is for. I guess that makes them ineffective, at least to me. I do remember the hot chick drinking the beer, but I don’t remember what the beer was. I remember the birds talking about window cleaning, but I don’t remember what the window cleaner was.

  28. Advertising is becoming less of an influence in my life, mainly because I’ve been slowly eliminating its opportunities for entry into my brain.

    DVRs, podcasts, web ad-blockers and the like are a major paradigm shift, especially for people who were around prior to their existence. I now have little time for mainstream media where I lack control of its presentation. Surfing the web on someone else’s computer often makes me squirm in my seat as all of the flash ads and pop-ups take an electronic dump on the screen. As people become aware that there are options, the patience for advertising as it currently exists will decrease dramatically (as evidenced by the crash in newspaper ad revenue fueled by the shift to the web).

    One of my personal pet peeves is paid product placement in movies. It seems that many movies are nothing more than expensive, dramatic infomercials, with all product labels facing front and company names woven carefully into the characters’ dialog. The trend is especially notable in modern comedies.

    Marketing and advertising definitely has it’s place in the world, but requires a sense of tact and balance. I can appreciate a subtle ad, but am disgusted by blatant insults to my intelligence.

    It may sound elitist, but I really pity some of the people who unknowingly fall under the power of popular culture. Go back to sleep America! Nothing to see here. Go back to your American Idol pablum. (Perhaps I’ve listened to a little too much Bill Hicks lately)

  29. Under Shop Skepchick, are you hot and bothered over the ads for the the skepchick thong? The thought of a sexy skepchick wearing one of these while she contemplates over string theory makes my loins explode with delight.

    The ad’s effect is too powerful. I…..can’t…….resist!!!! Must……buy……..NOW!!!!!!!!

  30. @Elyse: I hate to admit it, but you have a point about creating buzz around new products and companies. The extreme pervasiveness of ads invoke such strong emotions, both positive and negative. The art of advertising is to strike the right balance for your target marked.

    Did I just defend marketing and advertising? Excuse me for a moment while my brain explodes in cognitive dissonance…

  31. @SpiralArchitect said:

    If you don’t like it, read books. Oh wait, how will you know about them if the publisher doesn’t advertise them?

    Are you kidding me?

    Gee, by going to the bookstore and browsing? You know, using hands, feet, and eyes? As a matter of simple fact, I have a personal “library” of approximately 2000 or so titles. less than 5% of those were purchased due to or in reaction to advertising. All the rest were either purchased on the browse, or via word of mouth from friends and family who had recommended a title. Your comment seems to presume a staggering degree of helplessness and perhaps idiocy on behalf of the proposed reader.

    In regards your financial and career challenges, you have my empathy. After all, I know well what unemployment, even homelessness is like. I have been there. Nonetheless, that is not a valid defence of an industry who’s principle role and activity is deceit.

    @Elyse:

    There is a difference between purely informational advertising, which is a rare beast indeed, and the kind of deceit and disinformation that @The Skepdick: and I are going on about.

    Consumer advertising has become a social virus. You simply cannot go outside and smell the roses without some pitchperson hacking into your personal space and yelling at you to buy something, buy anything, gimme your money, gimme your soul.

    Consumer advertising is a contentious issue. There are many people, particularily the under-25 crowd (who know no better, bless their consumptive little heads), who have been so effectively brainwashed and suborned by advertising and so overcome by its deceitfully seductive sway, that for them advertising has become a form of entertainment and a kind of passive life truth. Almost a religion. Yikes! The gospel according to Saint Burson-Marsteller. A scary state of affairs indeed.

    And of course, like born again theists, advertising converts, supporters, and workers are generally incapable of perceiving any potential problem with such vapid credulity.

    All is good; all is bliss; all is consumption.

    And we want it don’t we?

    We want it so bad we can taste it.

    We want it all.

    Our teeth shake, our sextoy gets all quivery and tingley, our breath gets short, and Need, all consuming Need raises its ugly, syphilitic head: Buy the toy! it cries. Buy the toy now! Buy it right now!

    And we want it so bad we cry ourselves to sleep at night never knowing why we’ve become so unhappy.

    Well, we’re unhappy and in such desperate need because advertising has planted its small and poisonous seed.

    Advertising firms, and marketing and public relations departments in big corporations have been using psychologists and sociologists for decades to determine soft-target pressure points in consumers’ emotional need centres, manipulating self-image and mood, and guiding desire.

    Find the pressure point, push it, massage it, and render the consumer an uncritical, wholly credulous (cretinous?), purchase-friendly robotic consumer-junky ready to do almost anything to purchase the latest wholly unnecssary doodad, gewgaw, gizmo, thing.

    That is what advertising does. That is what advertising is. Create a need, build a toy, fix the junky — rinse and repeat ad infinitum. Bleed the consumer dry. Sell air.

    Consumer advertising is not informational, it is emotional.

    Consumer advertising is a sucking wound in the belly of life that, somewhat metaphorically speaking, drives everyone into crying fits of despair convinced they don’t quite measure up to the Jones’s; they don’t quite cut it in the lotto of life; they aren’t worthy; they might just as well all lie down and die.

    But wait a minute folks! There’s a cure for the pain! Really, there is. Just go out and buy something. Ya. That’s it.

    Can’t afford it? That’s okay, take out a loan! Can’t make the payments? That’s okay, get a credit card and run it up to the max before declaring bankruptcy and joining a credit counselling outfit! And you saw it all right here brought to you hourly by Gizmonought Corp.

    And anyway, for the first seven or so minutes after you buy that wholly unnecessary gewgaw you’ll feel so good you won’t remember you owe the bank a fortune you don’t possess, you won’t remember you haven’t fed doggie in two days; you won’t remember you haven’t fed your kids for a week.

    It’s tiny toy time in the land of tiny minds.

    Seriously though, we are drowning in a society intolerant of free ideas, awash in reducing everything to a singularity of conformity and standardization and the regulation of the smallest aspect of everyone’s lives, public and private, that wriggling mass of near-illiterates hypnotized and all agog in front of the viral television set or Internet (hoisted by own petard, damn me!), bathed in the deceptive warmth of all the lies politicians and corporations can muster through the never-ending list of needless junk presented as essential and sold, sold, sold through the inescapable king kong of nonstop, all-intrusive, all-invasive consumer advertising that defaces the landscape of the mind whereever you look and listen.

    The planet is melting into a mindless mass of rabid consumers shaking in the delerium tremens of the lost fix, desperately searching for the perfect next thing to buy just to feed the gaping greed of a some vile corporate executive.

    We can live better without the terminal disease of marketing and public relations that has so wholly infected our world.

    We can live without advertising.

    We need to breathe.

  32. I do like advertising because I was once searching for the philosophical stone of “unequivocal communication”.

    Ads are stories, and although I don’t believe them, I understand they influence people and are a source of creativity in story-telling as well as a way to catch your attention and reach our feelings.

    As a photographer obsessed with “trying” to tell stories in one shot, I particularly like print ads.

    I think the skeptical community in general would greatly benefit from the knowledge of how a good ad is made if we could use those techniques to promote critical thinking. Not only attention-grabbing techniques, but charisma and call-to-action. I think Tracy made a lecture about this for the past TAM and, no pun intended, I wonder if this lecture is available for the world to see.

  33. Sorry. Got carried away.

    @Chupacabras:

    There is so much unintended (I presume) irony in your post.

    I mean, the whole concept of advertising, or perhaps I mean the way it works, is counter to what critical thinking and skepticality are all about.

    Advertising is deception. A variable Santa’s sack full of woo.

    Critical thinking and skepticism are all about the exact opposite: digging deep into that bag of woo and rooting out reality.

  34. @SicPreFix: Sales, marketing and advertising are essential in the structure of capitalism. Regarding your bookstore comment, do you think Barnes & Noble, Borders or Walden would have made it without advertising? I know I distribute ads for all 3.

    In the end, we agree to disagree.

    Maybe you can start an advertising free Utopia on the moon someday. You can call it Shangri-La 2 or New Shangri-La.

  35. @Elyse,

    In the no-ad world, natural selection among consumer products would be at it’s most vicious, no?

    Our new startup company would be absolutely forced to be making a widget that truly is the better mousetrap. I’m pretty sure we see the opposite effect in our real world, where substandard products not only exist, but are profitable, largely due to advertising.

    @ZachTP, you’d be right in a monopoly situation. I am discriminating between a monopoly and consumer advertising.

    I am more than sure that producers would be forced to spend their efforts in product innovation if they were not permitted to “hawk” their goods. I honestly believe that a product that needs “selling” is probably not worth buying.

  36. @SpiralArchitect:

    … do you think Barnes & Noble, Borders or Walden would have made it without advertising?

    I suspect not, but on the other hand I am not and certainly have never been a fan or supporter of such mega-stores as that, or any of the other quantity over quality monsters like that.

    In Canada we have Chapters-Indigo, which is more or less our Barnes and Noble I guess. And it is simply terrible. Most small Canadian bookstores went out of business when Heather Reisman started up Chapters. And that’s a serious loss. The whole myth of choice drives me gaga. When I go to Chpaters I can guarantee that 8 out of 10 books I look for will not be there. And that has been so ever since her first store opened up and shut down the good bookshops.

    Maybe you can start an advertising free Utopia on the moon someday. You can call it Shangri-La 2 or New Shangri-La.

    I know it is tempting and fun to call idealist folks like myself naive and utopianist; however, I think it is important to remember that the world is what we make it: It is not some kind of absolute must-be state of social construction designed and decreed by some kind of leviathen force of determination.

    The concept of the absolute essentiality of advertising is, in my opinion, little more than a myth.

    I’d like to restate (regurgitate perhaps) my specification. I am not talking about informational advertising. I think purely informational advertising is a good and almost certainly necessary thing. And it tells the truth. It does not invent, fabricate, deceive. What I am specifically condemning is the bombast, blather, anbd bullshit of the vast majority of consumer advertising.

    I think that is a very important distinction. Critical perhaps.

    No-deceit, informational advertising versus the current state of commercial affairs.

    Honesty versus mendacity.

    Information versus manipulation.

    Fact versus fiction.

  37. @SicPreFix: Advertising was never entirely informational. Heaven knows that it certainly wasn’t when Thomas Edison was inventing, or during the Great War; we have ads from that era, and most of them are appeals to emotion over reason. Many encourage people to spend via loans. Some are outright lies.

    From the expansionist era of American history, we have ads for quack miracle cures. What could be less honest than that?

    At least, today, in the States, out-and-out lies are legally actionable. This wasn’t always the case. There was a time when, if you were suckered, you were screwed and that was that. Your refusal to admit that there has been some improvement is Good-Old-Days thinking at its worst.

    So, to reiterate, when and where was “No-deceit, informational advertising” ever the way that things were? Examples welcome.

  38. @ZachTP:

    Um, I don’t think I have made any claims of “once upon a time” anywhere in my various anti-ad rants.

    I am actually looking to the future and proposing that such a state of affairs would be, to my mind, a very desirable one.

    So, to reiterate, when and where was “No-deceit, informational advertising” ever the way that things were? Examples welcome.

    Indeed, had I said any such thing then yes I should offer up some samples. But I am not in any way whatsoever doing the “once upon a time” thing. Not at all. Where did you get that idea from? Maybe I mis-stated something that gave you that opinion? Could you perhaps point it out to me?

  39. All this reminded me of http://www.adbusters.org

    I propose we agree to a topic and an objective and make an ad for critical thinking. ie: antivax – make people go out and vaccinate their sons.

    Lets see if we can grab attention or “touch” people and move them to do something without us being deceptive while still being good at advertising.

    The prize I thought of is too pervert to admit out loud.

  40. @SicPreFix: I suppose I misinterpreted, then. My mistake, and I’ll apologize for it. If I had to specify, then some of the bits that led me to assume that were the phrases “No-deceit, informational advertising versus the current state of commercial affairs.” and “Consumer advertising has become a social virus. You simply cannot go outside and smell the roses without some pitchperson hacking into your personal space and yelling at you to buy something, buy anything, gimme your money, gimme your soul.”

    I assumed you meant some alternative (rather than different degree of same) had been common previously. Apparently incorrectly.

    I do think it is unreasonable to expect the very nature of the advertising beast to change drastically, particularly in the way you’re hoping for. It would require legislative oversight of such magnitude as to rival universal health care for the US, or that the entirety of the corporate world suddenly see the light together, which seems unlikely if only because of its size.

  41. @Elyse,

    I build wicked mousetraps.

    I’ve never been called idealistic before. But, it’s just a thought experiment I was making. Here in our real world I see no end to commercial advertising regardless of what I do or think about it. No one is worrying too much about losing my accounts, I’m sure.

  42. @ZachTP:

    Apple oagies well accepted.

    I do think it is unreasonable to expect the very nature of the advertising beast to change drastically, particularly in the way you’re hoping for.

    Yes, I think you are quite right. I do tend toward being the naive idealist.

  43. Good advertising has an effect on people without them knowing it.

    There is TONS of research in social psychology backing up the idea that people can be manipulated ever so slightly without them being at all aware of it.

    For example: did you know that people have been shown (with +++ statistical significance) to prefer objects on the right over objects on the left? Keep an eye on ads that compare two or more products – I guarantee that the one being advertised for will be on the right side of the screen (I’m thinking of those paper towel ads that show how much one brand can soak up vs. brand x).

    This is only one finding among many. Marketing and psychology have much in common, and there’s a lot of good research done in the name of figuring out how to manipulate people.

    I don’t think anyone can claim not to be effected by modern advertising. Actually, let me rephrase: no one can make the claim that they are not effected by modern marketing (which I think encompasses more than just what we think of as “advertising.”) It’s everywhere – even in places where you don’t know where it is.

  44. Advertising affects everyone. People who think they are immune to it are especially vulnerable. As much as we try to be rational, no human is perfectly rational and we’re all influenced by many things. Of course, we can try to minimize the effect advertising has on us, but first we have to admit that it does have an influence. There is a wealth of social psychological evidence that simply seeing something multiple times will effect our feelings of it. I’ll have to dig through my social psychology textbooks when I get home. Even people who don’t watch TV are exposed to advertising. Sometimes it’s even on those little stickers on bananas.

  45. Advertising and marketing are a necessary evil in our society. I cannot imagine a day in my life without being exposed to some sort of marketing. Without marketing and brands competing for their share of the market what would our society look like?

    Advertising is the way that new products are built. Why would anyone buy anything new if a want for them doesn’t exist. If we break it down into our basic human needs (i.e. food, shelter, water, love) is anything advertised really a need? No it is not; yet we yearn for things that we do not need but want.

    In the case of basic needs a computer is not necessary but clearly all of us use and/or own one. How did you decide on the brand? Did you choose the one that was least expensive, the one that had the most accessories, did you buy a dell because some stoner guy said “Dude you’re getting a dell” Well of course you didn’t, but I bet when you looked at buying that new computer you checked out Dell’s website and all the other consumer reviews of Dell and its competitiors before you completed your purchase. Thus the advertising worked, the brand was embedded in your brain.

    I am very pro advertising and marketing. I think without it we would live in a very bland society. Advertising creates not only the need for the unneccessary but it also helps to fill that need for the necessary you never knew was out there.

    There are countless ads out there that set out to make everyday life just a little bit easier. Isn’t it nice to know they exist? I am certainly happy to know they do. Even if I am not the target market for them.

    I am the person who gets excited when a new product is advertised and I love watching informercials. Have I ever once bought one of those products from the TV? Nope sure haven’t but I will miss my Billy Mayes oxi-clean commercials. Was he being dishonest when he was showing the “magic” of oxi-clean or was he just making the average persons laundry a lot easier to do?

    Without advertising how would a person know where to get the best deal on a product? I work retail and I know that ads work. It creates a relationship between the company and its consumers.

    I will continue to heart the advertising and marketing community as well as the new venues that are invented to get that message across. As annoying as I find tv commercials I will take solace in the fact that items like the comfort wipe have been invented to make everyones life just a little bit easier.

  46. It is difficult for me to understand why so many people seem to have so many trouble with advertising. Anybody who works for a living knows that the sign on his/her business’s door is an ad. And whether you get money for it or not, for the company whose products you buy, word of mouth translates into free advertising (so, it is you who’s losing money because of not being paid for delivering the info; the company is still making a profit and increasing its market share thanks to you).

    Also, there are very different types of advertising (ranging from Axe ads to Nike ads to Amnesty International ads to iPod ads) and people exhibit different degrees of sensitiveness to each, so generalizations are misleading (not all ads are about bleach). Personally, I care little about Nike ads, but I am certainly susceptible to gadget ads and movie trailers. In fact, since these are intended for people with my background, I usually like everything in them. And some ads are really clever and much more interesting than most music videos and even than whole newspaper articles. Advertising as a language is a complex field (no matter how much of a disservice bad advertisers do to it -the same as homeopaths to “science”-) and results from a universal need to communicate, which in a capitalistic economic model translates into paying for privileged spaces in communication media. Is that bad? Only if the current economic model is bad, which is a far more costly assumption.

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