Writers' pet peeves: asinine advertising
Advertising is a blight upon society. What’s so infuriating about advertising? Fundamentally, there’s nothing wrong with it; in a capitalist economy, it is a vital element of competition. My frustration is the result of the ever more invasive ads we all experience on a daily basis. Advertising dominates practically every medium of communication: television, magazines, the Internet, even my school mailbox. The only way to escape promotional material is to cut oneself off from as many forms of communication as possible. There are a lot of fun things you can do in solitude, but loneliness does tend to set in eventually.
Companies have turned to innovative means of getting their message to consumers in response to TiVo Syndrome: the consumer has evolved unprecedented discretion in what content actually reaches him or her. Are you a Jon Stewart fan with an early bedtime or an aversion to the mindless beer ads on Comedy Central? Good news: you can find clips of The Daily Show on the Internet at any time of day and circumvent the traditional ad spots between each segment to boot. In a scurrilous attempt to continue turning a profit, companies have decided to utilize guerilla advertising and product placement to replace obsolescent methods. Some companies have even turned to a particularly disgusting method: “body billboardz,” as the practice is described by BodyBillboardz.com. Some people have so little self respect that they are literally willing to sell their bodies to the highest bidder. The above Web site lists several clients who are willing to permanently tattoo corporate logos onto their bodies. If I want to opt out of this vulgar commercialism, I have to avoid contact with other people. As advertising and the concomitant consumerism insinuate their way into every aspect of life, they devaluate everything with which they come into contact.
Modern advertising techniques are insulting on several levels. Ploys such as the “body billboardz” and extensive merchandizing show that these companies don’t think of us human beings with value beyond the profits we represent. McDonald’s merchandise Web site uses the tagline “Clothes and accessories that let you…be yourself!” Apparently its target audience defines their identity based on paying to advertise for a multinational corporation. Advertisers have come to acknowledge in recent years that the public hates advertising, and they have shown with their new ads that they don’t care so long as we are exposed to their message and think about their product. There are entire campaigns of ads, especially on television, parodying other ads and trying to subvert the growing frustration with advertising.
“Sure, this ad is dumb,” the ad says to the consumer, “and you’re smart enough to understand how dumb it is. You’re also smart enough to buy our product.” They play into the post-modern disillusionment with commercialism and allow the audience to participate in that sentiment. Viewers and listeners feel good about themselves and their values, and they feel good about the product. Post-modern ads manipulate consumers just as effectively as traditional ads, but advertisers are dishonest about their intentions by pretending that they are somehow different from other attempts to attract our money.
As aggravating as the relentless barrage of advertisements is, it has done me an important service: it led me to reject consumerism. After years of wasting copious amounts of my parents’ money on Pokèmon, Star Wars and other merchandise, I finally realized that the desire advertising stirred in me wasn’t being filled by the things I bought. I came to hate shopping and to avoid anything based on a franchise. I stopped watching television and going to movies, and discovered that I enjoy doing things myself, with other human beings, rather than living vicariously through mass media. After putting up with advertising for so long, I finally saw that it was part of a greater culture that I didn’t enjoy. Having withdrawn from that culture, I found a lifestyle which is much more real, more life-affirming and more meaningful.
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