Thursday, April 22, 2010

Piece of advice #24: Avoid Advertising

Advertising is manipulative and effective.  We are surrounded by it; it pays for much of the content we receive free online.  But it is not benign.  Some advertising merely offers the knowledge of something available for purchase, but most advertising has one goal: to make you unsatisfied enough with your life, or an aspect of your life that you will buy whatever they are promoting to fix it.

So, do you want to feel (more) unsatisfied with your life?  I don't.  I'm pretty happy with mine even though it isn't fashionable, it isn't fast lane, and not everything in it is color coordinated.

Advertising tells you that you should splurge on that new lipstick, that new outfit, that new car - because you "deserve it."  Really?  We all deserve it?  Why are we so deserving?  Why should we be entitled to a spa day when people in other places of the world won't have enough rice not to go to bed hungry?  The constant repetition of "Buy it, get it, you deserve it, why shouldn't you?" creates a huge sense of entitlement in the average consumer so that it's common for people to go out for some retail therapy when they have an off  day.  It used to be people had lousy days and they soldiered on.  Maybe they went home and vented to their spouse or focused on working the aggression out through a hobby.  Now they head to the mall and buy crap made far away under terrible conditions - crap that won't make an iota of difference in their overall happiness and will take up room in their closets or basements or garages.  Meanwhile their lives become laden with debt - debt that will make them unhappy and limit their ability to control their lives.

Feminism has been a force for evil over the last half century, but consumerism, driven by advertising has done its part too.  We are slaves to retail.  Mall shopping is an American pastime.  We even vacation at malls.

I will repeat that: we vacation at malls.  Is there anything more sterile than a fake outdoors created so that people don't realize they are spending leisure time in a huge warehouse with fake lighting?  This is "getting away?"

Unplug from advertising: stop watching TV, listen to your own music, toss your magazines, read your newspapers online.  Ads you can't avoid such as online ads or billboards, examine with a critical eye.  Ask yourself what the ad is trying to make you feel and trying to make you do.  Read books on advertising and how it works.  Don't think you are too smart to be affected by advertising.  It's a serious business and is fueled by an understanding of human psychology and behavior.  If you are human, you are vulnerable.  Avoid, avoid, avoid.

Unplug enough and you will find that it doesn't actually matter if your clothes are so last season or your kitchen towels don't match.  You won't have to be angry that fashion models are unrepresentative of real women in looks or weight because they will be out of your sight and mind.  And you will find it so much easier to differentiate between a need and a want.


  1. If you want a good documentary on the subject of how manipulative advertisers are I just found one the BBC did one a while back. "Century of the Self," it is all about how they took Freud's views of the unconscious self to manipulate the masses. It is kind of long but worth it if you have the time. It can be found online a few places.

    The trick is we are no longer operating on a needs based economy. Business have to create desires with in us to sell products. We define ourselves by what we own rather than who we are.

    I'm glad you decided to keep going on the blog. I really enjoy reading it.

  2. incurablesanity - thanks for your comment (and praise). I will have to see if I can get my hands on Century of the Self. I like to watch documentaries, and it sounds interesting.

    Defining yourself by what you own - what a sad end destination for capitalism.

  3. Have you read "Packaging Boyhood"? (I think there's also "Packaging Girlhood" which would be more pertinent for the blog. I've only read boyhood because, well, I have a boy!). Fascinating stuff about how advertising, tv shows, movies, etc influence boys and how they grow up. I think you'd be interested in it.

    This post was so spot-on. Love it.

  4. If advertising weren't effective, BILLIONS of dollars wouldn't be spent on it...

  5. I second the recommendation of "The century of the Self". It reveals a lot about the father of advertising, Edward Bernays (I didn't know about him until I watched the documentary).
    Eye opening!