Advertising and Sponsorship Everywhere

Posted: August 20, 2006 in Advertising, Culture, Tacky

Maturation of marketing and branding practices over the past 25 years or so has led to increasingly intrusive demands for our attention in order to make a brand impression. As the Communications Revolution of the 90s expanded the media available for advertising, advertising expenditures grew and a media event without advertising and/or sponsorship became unthinkable. This table shows data for the years 2002-2003 indicating the greatest increases in media that existed only modestly 25 years ago. Further, stunts such as tattoos on foreheads (here and here), printing on eggs , and ads on stairs are indications that there is no space beyond the reach of advertisers in their desperation to raise their messages above the din that the deluge of advertising has created.

It is problematical, to say the least, that we can’t escape advertising. Anyone with a whit of understanding knows that TV networks aren’t selling shows to advertisers. Instead, shows attract viewers, and it’s viewers who are being sold to advertisers. While we make modest attempts to protect children from cigarette and alcohol advertising on TV (which isn’t working), the ads themselves and the ubiquity of product placement in programming guarantee, according to this website, that children as young as two — before they can even read — recognize two-thirds of popular brand logos. Parents who plunk their kids down in front of the TV are effectively selling out their kids to advertisers.

One new practice that functions as a harbinger of doom is the placement of advertising in textbooks. Apologists offer that the upside of this practice is that students will soon be able to get textbooks for free when advertising and sponsorship replaces the revenue normally derived from sales. That rationalization is, of course, a sign that the battle is already lost. Economic utility (grooming pliant young consumers right in the schools) won out long ago (see here and here) over the broad educational ideal of instilling in young minds a love of learning. Another example of children’s education being sold out to commercial interests is the sponsored field trip — to stores. The pretense may be instruction in health, hygiene, safety, or history, but the underlying motivation of sponsors is selling.

One might hope adults are less vulnerable to advertising than the young. However, when our reality from birth is informed by the influence of advertisers, what hope is there really that we can form our ideas objectively and without the undue influence of those with a commercial agenda? Once coopted as a child, do adults really break free and operate independently? If the example of the SUV, marketed and sold to us as a desirable vehicle to own and operate, despite significant drawbacks, that answer has to be “no.”

  1. grasshopper says:

    My experience may be unsual but I have found that given a chance, let alone encouraged, children and adolescents both can discover that thinking for themselves is immeasurably more satisfying than following every contagious hook wrapping up no-thinkers in the newest, ubiquitous theme song.
    With a few pointed questons, you can often show kids just how brand names manipulate them. Movies and books like “Fast Food Nation” make a much bigger impression on youth, who really did not know before, than adults who have known all along on one level or another how ersatz “Big Meals” counteract nutrition. Again, it may just be my personal experience but I suspect it is much easier to show a little girl why Barbie is a shoddy, and even demeaning doll, especially compared to the no-brand doll her grandmother bought her. It was as simple as showing her how miserably Barbie’s clothes fit (always too tight for three-year-old fingers), and what a stupid cartoon she how was compared to more better made, no-brand dolls.
    But to convince an adult, whose identity and often even his private fantasies, depend upon driving a monstrous SUV? Describe how much more sensible, given the world’s wars and leaders’ greed; how critical to living free, it will soon become to hop a bus or subway? In my own case, when I’ve posed these questions to people who consider themselves my betters, they ask me out right just what cave I’ve been living in these last 20 years.
    I have met with frightening outrage by bringing up the issue at dinners with friends and/or family. Hence, I often eat alone. Those who were not-so-long ago close to me feel a lasting fury towards me, since I fail to recognize their inalienable right to imperil pedestrians as well any smaller cars.

  2. Prashant says:

    “Parents who plunk their kids down in front of the TV are effectively selling out their kids to advertisers”
    so true.. Most of the ads these days are targetted towards kids as they can easily influnce their parents to buy certain products. Not just kinds, teens are becoming big spenders now, no wonder so many advertisers want so desperatly to capture that segmant and to influnce them so that they remain loyal to their brand when they grow up.

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