It’s no secret we live in a society bombarded by sensory assault. The ‘secret’ is that one is not obligated to participate in this constant attack on the eyes, ears and mind any more than absolutely necessary.
It all stems from advertising, the great plague of this late stage capitalism. It reduced cable TV from an entertainment buffet to a mostly joyless timesink/moneypit, as roughly a third of the content is commercials (and most of the rest is garbage as it is). The internet, once the alternative to spending half our spare time on being sold trash we don’t want by total idiots, is now even worse than cable.
Once credible websites now feature degrees of pop-up and overlaid ads that, five years ago, would only be seen on porn and illegal streaming pages. Much of the time these overlays are blocking actual content on the websites, and in many cases take up more of the page than anything else. Worse yet, it’s often just the same ad or two, over and over.
The part that scares me the most is how quickly a lot of people defend it. As if seeing an ad six times in a minute online, or three times in a four minute TV break, is remotely appropriate (never mind necessary). I have discussed this with a lot of supposedly ‘woke’ folk online who are all too quick to attack political and religious propaganda, yet defend massive corporations of dubious intent bombarding us with bullshit to the point of trying to hold our time hostage.
Therein lies the key – time. The corpos don’t value yours, only your money. Money can we won, lost, earned and spent, but time gone is gone forever. It alarms me that so many wish to be passengers instead of driving the car, but I understand that sensory fatigue breeds passivity, and eventually compliance. It’s the format top 40 radio has been using for years, and where do you think they learned it from?
I know advertising needs to exist, to a very small point. New products and services come out, and ad revenue is a key source of funding for everything from YouTube creators to TV channels. But the ads are there to support the content, not the other way around. These mediums of media are all optional electives in a world loaded with options for spending (or wasting) time. Most streaming services seem to get by just fine without a million ads – cable TV has no excuse, especially with it’s ridiculously high subscription rates.
As for the internet – once an oasis, now an abyss of ephemeral garbage – things are less cut and dry. Websites depend on ad revenue more heavily, and change comes faster than in the often archaic realm of television. Even so, the greed is ridiculous. Websites should be loading content first, and ads only when everything else is up and running. No ad should EVER obscure content for any reason, and ads should be limited to one ad per page for each advertiser. Seeing four ads for Walmart at one time is no more effective than seeing one. The hard sell is a turnoff for many, dare I say most, and that level of saturation is enough to make many people hate just about anything.
Speaking of saturation, why are companies like Walmart even advertising anything other than sales or specials? Do we really need to see another Coca Cola ad when poor people in third world countries know what it is? Is 100% international market penetration not enough? I could understand if there was a new flavour to promote, but beyond that it’s a waste of time, space and money. That money, in the case of companies like Walmart, Starbucks and so on could be used to enrich their notoriously underpaid and overworked employees, many of whom often can’t afford the products they sell. Profit is fine, but greed beyond reasonable measure is inexcusable, and anyone who venerates it is likely scum.
On the subject of people with too much money, why are established AAA Hollywood actors and top level musicians shilling Pizza Hut, Uber Eats and the like? Patrick Stewart tarnishing an otherwise brilliant reputation in lowering himself to the level of corporate hack, telling us what he’s eating for dinner is embarrassing. Elton John doing the same, as if he’s not rich enough! These are people who may not even be alive long enough to spend the millions they were paid for selling out in the twilight of their careers. Jeff Goldblum utterly destroying a carefully cultivated, cool mystique by appearing in multiple different commercials in a single ad break is especially disappointing. He used to be a delight. Now I just want to punch him, and it’s such a shame.
I’m all for making a profit, but unless their earnings are going to charity it’s hard to justify selling out to that degree (and yes, selling out is still very much a thing, now more than ever). Acting jobs in commercials should be going to actors further down the food chain, who need the money, experience and exposure more than some insufferable branded cattle like Bernie Mac.
It’s one thing for an athlete to market a shoe they are sponsored by, or a musician pushing an instrument manufacturer – the context is already there. But when a musician sells anything else, their artistic credibility is permanently damaged, period. When a pro sports megastar with a finely tuned healthy diet and rigorous discipline hocks burgers for McDonald’s – food that such a specimen of human potential would never consume – it all reeks of hypocrisy. Companies like Snickers or KFC sponsoring professional athletic competition is just as bad as having tobacco companies do so, if not worse – at least tobacco only kills people needlessly.
None of this is new, but it gets worse all the time, and frankly a lot of advertising now is like having an uninvited guest at a party who behaves pathetically, and keeps returning after being kicked out. It becomes like a consent violation, and frankly the reasoning behind much of the advertising is so patronizing and infantile, it presumes the person watching is as stupid as the people making it – hello dairy industry! I take offense to that, and the notion that these pricks deserve my time, let alone my money, both of which are becoming increasingly limited resources for most of us.
If my stance sounds extreme (and it may well be), I counter that seeing the same ad (or hearing the same song) several to dozens of times a day is pretty extreme too. There is healthy repetition for positive conditioning, and what I see online or on TV is anything but healthy – especially when most of it is trash parading as treasure. A car is a fucking car, not a lifestyle. Your possessions do not define you, and if they do, you are probably expendable in the greater scheme of things.
Most of all McDonald’s, Walmart, Amazon and the like need to stop with the image management and Good Guy Badge ads – they are here to sell products, not ethics, and we all know these are evil corporations who treat people like shit. We have for years, and those of us who do business with them either can’t afford the alternatives, or choose to forsake their ethics (we’ve all had to at some point – I’m not attacking the consumer here). Going to these brands to feel good about yourself is like searching for depth in a Kanye West song – as much as you want to see it, it isn’t there.
Hard selling tactics are as repulsive to many as they are effective on others, and that kind of oversaturation by certain brands, artists and so on leads to monoculture, and a less competitive market for consumers. If we want to talk about choice and diversity, let’s make it universal, and stop acting like such bombardment techniques by advertisers are any more excusable than screaming the same thing over and over at someone who is actively trying to avoid you. The invasion of your time and headspace may have been paid for, but that doesn’t make it acceptable.
What many consumers and companies also don’t realize is that we aren’t hostages to linear consumption in a designated timeslot – we can mute or ignore ads, or walk away and do other things. I always do. I will never sit through an ad with the sound on unless it’s for an upcoming game/show/film I’ve already committed to. We are no more obligated to tolerate this nonsense than an uninvited party guest of dubious nature. Advertising needs to evolve to be less intrusive and frankly a lot more mature. We’re not all children who like trendy music, bright colours or flashy things, and most of us have better reasoning than “Happy tastes good” – seriously, how did someone actually get paid for that slogan?
Entertainment and news have evolved, as have the media, culture and means of consumption surrounding them. It’s time for advertising to shut up, smarten up and do the same. Stop patronizing us with from idiotic perspectives that are years out of date, yet are all too quick to act trendy and capitalize on current fads. Consumers are smarter and more critical than they used to be, in spite of how advertising portrays them. Exploiting and appealing to stupidity does not make one clever more than beating up an invalid makes one tough.