Sunday, May 10, 2015

Advertising Evils

I've been a skeptic of mainstream media and marketing tactics for a very long time. In fact, I remember the first moment when I realized that marketing wasn't honest and I might be a patsy: I was 9, and my grade-four teacher had gone off on a tangent about how advertisers added glue to milk to make it seem thicker in cereal commercials. Now, as an impressionable fat kid who also happened to be a full-time food commercial lover, this knowledge was sacrilege. As I delved deeper into the topic of food photography marketing, I became fascinated by the evil tactics used on the innocent public and flexed my newfound knowledge like a beginner bodybuilder flexing a bicep whenever the opportunity arose. 

As I grew older, I couldn't rid myself of my addiction to the scent of the uncooked hamburger split (a notorious fast-food marketing tactic); I searched for lies in commercials, falsehoods in stories, and eventually, ended up studying marketing and later, brand strategy and development. 

What has struck me the most about the advertising industry and the powers that be selecting the campaigns is the general supposition of ignorance. Hold on, we'll come back to that. What hits home even harder than this assumption of idiocy, however, is the number of stupid advertising campaigns that are successful. Let me explain.

On the one side, we have a handful of criminally genius advertisers crowded around a table with fingertips templed and maniacally sinister grins spread wide, dreaming up the next GOTCHA! commercial that will rob the innocents of their hard-earned money. On the other side, we have the naive, softly-cowering masses huddled in a dark corner of the earth, shaking as they hand over their last pennies, helpless in the face of these modern, dangerously coercive marketing shills... 

But let's be honest. We talk about companies who use sexually targeted marketing as the devil incarnate (or rather, I have) and SRAM as snake-oil peddlers for pushing their new Boost 148, yet what do we say of the consumers who literally buy into these tactics? 

I'm not smart, guys. In fact, I would say that I'm pretty middle-of-the-pack when it comes to general intelligence and dead last when we start with anything mechanical (I digress), but even at the tender age of 9, I began easily spotting media manipulation in every advertisement. I turned it into a game, so it fired a few of those reward centers in my tiny squirrel brain, but who's to say that the rest of the world can't do the same? 

We like to position ourselves as hapless buyers forced into the upgrade, viewers threatened and demeaned into objectifying our fellow riders, and humans completely devoid of any culpability when it comes to the persuasive power of advertising, but come on already. We are not. 

These companies cater to the lowest common denominator because it works. Really, it does. They only spend as much as they have to on advertising (they're a business, remember?), and clearly, they don't have to spend all that much to have us drooling over their latest goodies and frothing at the mouth to visit, buy, spend, and consume. They're able to capitalize on our FOMO (fear of missing out) because we project that fear through every action: we spend hours glued to Instagram and Facebook, stalking the enviable lifestyles of those paid to portray a false livelihood, and we emulate celebrity styles of people who really haven't achieved anything outside of being famous. Look at the numbers! How many millions of us tune into the super bowl instead of going out and playing football? How many of us will watch the academy awards instead of filming our own movies? How many of us tune into the travel channel, the food network, even Paula Deen, because we'd rather watch it than try doing it? 

Advertising works because we're too scared to take our own risks, but don't want to miss living life. We tune in and shut down and instead, fill those holes in our souls that echo with a yearning for adventure with... Stuff. They tell us we're not sexy/fast/rich/smart enough, and we believe them. So we buy something else that will make us feel that way, and we wonder why advertising works. We wonder why companies keep releasing such stupid 'standards' and useless 'innovations', but refuse to look in the mirror. We are the why, my friends. Our greed and fear and vanity creates the why, and we feed that beast instead of quieting it with actual substance. 

So the next time you see a commercial from Monster Energy Drinks with sexy women, badass dudes, rotating helicopters, a tropical location and bombs exploding in the background and you find yourself wondering 'Does this really work?', you can answer with a resounding 'yes'. 

Because, after all... You're watching it instead of doing it.