Advertising is the devil (Ignore these messages)

This column is brought to you by Coca Cola. I wasn’t sure whether I should admit that I had sold advertising space within this column, but then I thought: ‘Just do it. Because, you’re worth it.’ And now I’m loving it.

Last week we heard the finger-lickin’ good news that Culture Secretary Andy Burnham had rejected calls to allow product placement in British drama. Product placement, in case you’re unfamiliar with the term, is the practice of advertising by stealth by inserting your product into a television programme or film for money. It is, as supporters of allowing it on UK tv pointed out last week, rife in American television. But, then, so are canned laughter and Paris Hilton.

Mr Burnham was, however, unmoved. There were angry howls from ITV and their supporters, who say it would bring in a great deal of money. And it would. But so would smuggling drugs in Michael Palin’s suitcases when he gallivants round the world, or selling children from the CBeebies studio to traffickers (though not for ITV, I admit). The fact is that there are many methods of making money, and some are just not right.

Advertising is one of those. I know, I know. Not every job ad for a youth pastor or notice advertising a useful service is damaging to society. I know also that some of the most brilliant and creative minds on the planet work in advertising. Some of them are some of my dearest friends and relatives.

But if I had a friend or relative who sold hard drugs, I’d have to tell him that what he did for a living was wrong and refuse to have him at my parties. We need to acknowledge that what advertising does may be, to a limited extent, necessary, but that it has gotten out of hand and we need to halt, wherever we can, its rampant growth in power and influence.

Advertising long ago stopped being about making people aware of available products and services. Since the invention of Public Relations by Edward Bernays in the early 1950s, advertising’s purpose has been to create demand and to create consumers. Our overconsumption is destroying this world and advertising is not helping.

Advertising is what fuels our desire for the things we throw into landfill; the resources denied to the people of the developing world, the production of which fills our air with carbon dioxide and our waterways with chemicals.

Advertising drives our demand for so much ‘stuff’ that we cannot afford its real cost, and so advertising fuels sweatshops and unfair trade. Advertising, like a prostitute, will sell anything. But only the most callous prostitute, would sell you something likely to kill you. The true horror of cigarette advertising aimed at children is partly what is advertised, but mainly the attempt to colonise the mind of a young person, and I see little moral difference between it and the latest children’s toy advert, masquerading as a family film.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the average American is exposed to 3,000 advertising messages a day. Britain may not be at that level yet, but if we are not, it is because of actions like Mr Burnham’s. Start boycotting advertised products today, starting with the ones referenced in this column. If we all do it, the future’s bright.

Here’s some games you may want to play:



And here’s an excellent documentary about the origins of modern advertising and consumerism:


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