By Graham Peterson
I’ve had an advertising epiphany: I like it. And that’s a big step for someone whose lion share of social thought came out of, wait for the name, Adbusters Magazine for years. But Google has started sending me ads to incredible furniture stores I didn’t know about. Should I be ashamed that I’m grateful?
Most of the cultural criticism of advertising, at least the part that’s not motivated by deep-roots Marxian theorizing like Herbert Marcuse and Antonio Gramsci, comes I think from the sheer fact that advertising often annoys people. And who wouldn’t be annoyed with a message constantly blaring in your face that you don’t want to hear? Imagine a guy follow you around and pestering you to buy something you have no interest in buying – print and digital and billboard and TV commercial ads aren’t much different.
These advertisers have made efforts to tailor their advertising. In rhetoric we call it consideration of audience. At the bar they call it having a clue. Nobody was wheat-pasting feminine hygiene product posters at Wrigley Field in the 1950s. Soap operas actually began as filler in between soap commercials aimed at upper middle class housewives who were home during the day. Toys get advertised during Saturday morning cartoons. Etc. So why the indignation and fear that companies are tracking our web browsing? Ok, it’s a problem if the government does it. Separate issue.
People’s attitudes towards advertising and sales-y-ness will begin to change as advertisers know more about who they’re talking to and when. Us academic libertarians tend to believe that anti-market sentiment comes from a history of a small cadre of activist intellectuals who enjoy disproportionate influence. That’s as likely as the right wing conspiracy to exploit the poor and destroy the environment is – not very.
At least half the reason the populist perception of markets has been negative is that markets seem like a disingenuous, inauthentic, and impersonal place when you’re being approached constantly with homogenous products, most of which you don’t even want. But as technology advances and products become cheaper, they become more tailored to taste. Working class toilet brushes now get designed by professionally trained artists.
A sense of intimacy and understanding will grow as markets become more personalized and people can more effectively forge relationships with companies. With increasingly cheap communications technology, market persuasion is increasing in quality. Ads are becoming less of a pain in the ass. Just like life in general in a progressive market economy.