A necessary evil?


Look at the picture. Vogue. Hyundai. TDK. Samsung. Coke and McDonald’s of course.

Think about your journey through a typical day. Billboards. TV. Podcasts. Magazines. Basically all of the internet. Each laden with marketing messages. And because I’m cheap, even this blog is flashing ads at you. Sorry about that.

I’m starting to think that avoiding ads is the only reason we love sojourns into nature. Until…

Marketing is the oil in the engine of rampant consumerism. The mechanics of our economic setup means that organisations must grow, or die. They must sell more each year. They have to relentlessly reach new customers and take more from the pockets of existing ones. Each of them HAS to advertise, and advertise more and more.

Marketing aims to redefine what we think we need based on the wares that companies have to hawk rather than what we might actually need. This is the reason we eat cereal (effectively excess American corn and corn syrup) for breakfast everywhere around the world. It is the reason we consume medicines we do not need. It is the only reason that shit, pointless products like Deep Heat and multivitamins exist. It is the reason we have secretary’s day and Nutella day. It is… well, I could go on and on.

Marketing’s heart and soul is manipulation. Its purpose is to trick us into making decisions we otherwise would not make. That’s it. It takes advantage of our every weakness, our every bias. It messes with our minds and exploits our emotions. It’s peddlers understand us better than we know ourselves. As marketplaces get more and more crowded, it gets more and more outrageous.

A personal pet peeve is that marketers are often no longer interested in the product they are selling, but link their products to “lifestyles” and build “brands”. I wrote a while ago about Gilette and Accenture as culprits of this. Perhaps the most jaw-dropping recent example is when Kendall Jenner met Pepsi. Now, this one got called out because it was so incredibly horrendously offensive. But this type of thing happens all the time. For example, Coke and Mcdonald’s (plus tyre companies, FX trading houses and a whole bunch of other suppliers of random stuff not even remotely related to sporting in any way) sponsor sporting events and clubs, fragrance ads only feature traditionally beautiful and pretentious people and law firms/oil mega-giants/banks sponsor art exhibitions. It is everywhere, never called out, never questioned. Companies attempt to buy into the zeitgeist, co-opting movements that their core product(s) have not contributed to in any way shape or form but they think their customer feels something for. I hate this lack of authenticity.

If you can believe it, it gets worse.

The marketing men have no qualms about manipulating your children. It turns our little boys and girls into potential customers and target markets. So many children’s shows are just advertorials for merchandise. Peppa-bloody-Pig.

The marketing men also have no qualms about blatant falsehoods. I remember the Sunny D adverts from my childhood, and then drinking gallons of the stuff. Yes, I believed that sugar hit was healthy. It was not.

Most of the above is soon-to-be very old news. It is all getting altogether more sophisticated. Hyper-targeting on Facebook (and other social media platforms) based on your emotional state is already a reality. Advertising is now blurred into life. TV and movies are flooded with product placement. A proliferation of mega- and micro-influencers on Instagram post slickly edited images of contrived versions of their lifestyles (setting an artificially high bar of aspiration for young people, which they inevitably fall short of). Fake reviews and fake news are fast becoming cornerstones of internet life. Even “real” news can lack integrity, selectively sharing morsels of facts weaved into a narrative, a purposeful distortion of the truth, to sell more papers or more advertising. When is something content and when is it marketing? I have no idea, and this is just as the marketers and the editors want it to be.

Rant over. Phew.

Despite all of the above, I know that advertising is needed to make any sort of dent in the world. One needs to get a message out there, over and above the noise of all the other messages. I know this is needed, even for positive messages. Charities are also manipulative in their marketing, tugging our heartstrings with poverty porn.

As I reflect I think what scares me about this world is that people will do whatever and sell whatever using whatever tool, without paying heed to consequence. People focus on narrow, short-term aims based on who they are being paid by.

As I take some unknown steps into the world and if I want to build movements I know I have to get sucked into this world in some way, shape or form.

I feel dirty even thinking about it.

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