These catchphrases from late-20th-century advertising still stick in my head. But I couldn’t cite any counterparts from present-day advertising, because now I do my best to avoid it.
The average American was exposed to an estimated 362 commercial messages a day in 2014, with 153 of these attracting full attention for a few seconds. Buses have become moving ads, and movies are now preceded by commercial messages. An estimated $15 billion a year is spent to pitch products to children.
The Super Bowl has become a commercial spectacle as well as a football game, and a 30-second spot on the Feb. 7 TV extravaganza will cost up to $5 million.
I spent more than half my work life as the editor of free newspapers, which relied on advertising for 100 percent of their revenue. Daily newspapers used to get about 75 percent of their revenue from advertising; the New York Times is now under 50 percent.
I rarely looked at the ads that bracketed the articles I produced for newspapers, and since I retired I’ve minimized my exposure. That means a media diet of PBS, NPR, the digital New York Times (all of which I send money to) and what my friends post on Facebook. It means using the mute button when I watch commercial TV. It means avoiding billboards by staying home.
“What you don’t do determines what you can do,” wrote author Tim Ferriss. I’m an anti-consumer because I want to focus my attention on higher goals during the final third of my life. I don’t like listening to people trying to manipulate me into buying something.
Advertising subtly gets consumers to cede their sovereignty to voices that tell them to acquire things to meet their manufactured needs. Instead of creating products that people want, corporations create consumers’ desire for their products. They equate buying things with being happy, but people become unhappy because there is no way they can satisfy all those wants.
Advertising creates an imaginary world that offers people the chance to escape their dreary lives, rather than reflecting the way normal people live. We’ve allowed it to take root in our public and psychological spaces, rather than defining our personal identities for ourselves.
More people are standing up to the ad juggernaut. A group called Ad Busters has sponsored Buy Nothing days (I wrote about a local effort here) and TV Turnoff Week, and was active in Occupy Wall Street. Software that blocks ads on desktops and now on mobile devices has become more common.
Most people don’t allow door-to-door salesmen to come into their houses, and few people listen to phone pitches. So why do we let advertising infiltrate our consciousness?
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