I don’t like advertising.
I resent the exorbitant amounts of money that are spent to convince people to buy things that, in all likelihood, they probably don’t need. I resent the pathetically transparent appeals to human pride and vanity that accompany most commercials, and I resent the level of intelligence that most advertisements implicitly assume of their audiences—as if I am really expected to believe, for example, that shaving with four blades (or is it five now? I can never keep track of how close a shave I ought to be demanding from the manufacturer of my grooming products…) will transform me into a ravishingly handsome fighter pilot, barely able to fend off the hordes of gorgeous women who will inevitably be lured my way by the extra micro-millimeter of hair that I have managed, with the benefit of “fusion” technology, to harvest from my face.
From an ethical perspective, I find a good deal of advertising troubling because its explicit goal is to convince people who quite likely already possess too much stuff, to buy even more. The economy must keep growing, and if people don’t continually buy more than we need, our “whole way of life” might be in jeopardy. Perhaps even more troubling is the apparent belief by those in charge of selling us things, is that we ought to expect or even embrace this proliferation of advertising as a normal, healthy sign of progress in a high-tech society such as ours. This is the perspective I came away with after reading this disturbing article (in my view) from Monday’s New York Times.
The article discusses, in a very matter-of-fact almost affirmative manner, what we can expect in the not-too-distant future from the world of advertising given the latest corporate amalgamation:
The plan is to build a global digital ad network that uses offshore labor to create thousands of versions of ads. Then, using data about consumers and computer algorithms, the network will decide which advertising message to show at which moment to every person who turns on a computer, cellphone or—eventually—a television.
More simply put, the goal is to transform advertising from mass messages and 30-second commercials that people chat about around the water cooler into personalized messages for each potential customer.
Personally, I’m a little disconcerted by the knowledge that right now, as I write these words, there are legions of advertising consultants poring over the details of my online activity, spending habits, and who knows what else with the expressed purpose of selling me more stuff. I realize that this kind of thing goes on already, and I know that I am already far from a gloriously unfettered consumer, and that I probably contribute to the efficiency of this whole absurd system in more ways than I can even imagine…
But still, when you actually stop to think about it, doesn’t it all seem just a little bit stupid? Even immoral? All around the world, people struggle without some of the most basic things that we (I) take for granted, and our society still finds it perfectly acceptable—even obligatory—to spend disgusting amounts of money devising ever-more impressive and efficient techniques to sell more things to people who already, in all likelihood, have more than they need. And this is held up as a sign of progress—something we ought to expect as our technological expertise grows. Far from being presented as a regrettable but necessary evil that we should just grit our teeth and put up with, this future personalized advertising is actually claimed to be a service—and one for which we ought, apparently, to be grateful:
Digitas executives say that consumers end up with a better experience—even a service—if the ads they are shown are relevant and new.
Well that’s good. As long as my “personalized” advertising, designed to appear in my face the “moment I turn on a computer, cell-phone, or television,” is “relevant and new.” As long as I have a “better experience.”
You know, I was just thinking…. Five blades really isn’t going to cut it for me anymore. I’m going to need at least six or seven (What would one call that? If four blades = “quattro,” maybe a “hexo” or a “hepta?” But the one with five blades is called “fusion” which has no obvious numerical designation…. Hmm, well not to worry—someone is undoubtedly hard at work on this vexing matter right now). I look forward to the (personalized!) delights that the advertising gurus are currently labouring to bring to a screen near me.