Something I’ve been noticing a lot recently is the absurdity of the ad break in TV.
More specifically, the contrast in “entertainment”.
I go abruptly from watching something I have enjoy, to watching a series of seconds-long clips selling everything under the sun.
Both will try to grab my attention and entertain me, but only one is explicitly also trying to sell me a product outside of itself.
It’s a bizarre power dynamic.
The advertising company needs me to be entertained because they need to stick in my head. When they stick in people’s heads, it becomes a brand, an icon, part of our culture. Can you imagine a world without Coke? You would if they didn’t advertise.
The flattery insists that the products are working in our service and trying to win our approval, yet the insistence of the advertising feels distinctively aggressive.
I need to buy things, because we live in a consumerist society, made up of brands. If I go to a shop, it will have a range of products, all of which are branded.
When adverts work, they make our decisions easier. We know what values that brand claims to represent, and what their product claims to be. We can decide to align ourselves accordingly.
Did you know that we are wired to see brands as socially, as friends?
Of course, the ugly side of this dynamic is that this is not purely informational.
Brands need to exist in public consciousness because they need our money.
Unlike most friends, they don’t mind being manipulative, flattering or calculating to win our attention.
Unlike almost all friends, they need us desperately. If you can imagine a world without Coke, Coke disappears. People stop recognising it, they may lose the positive association, and drink something else.
(It could even be tap water, a cheap and often plentiful resource. Apart from in places where mega-corporations like Coke damage and divert the water supply to create their more expensive and privately owned product.)
The impact of advertising is real. Even when we claim not to be affected, our brains will let the positive associations stick and inform our decision-making using our emotional or “gut” feelings. For better or worse, we aren’t escaping this.
Although we can’t avoid advertising, we can realise its desperation, and allow ourselves to step back from it.
I’m still going to make decisions partly based on how brands communicate with me, if I cannot avoid brands altogether, because to ignore information completely would be foolish.
However, this deluge of ugly, distracting, flashy bombardment by brands can be exhausting. We need ways to take the sting out.
The flashier and more urgent an advert, the more desperate and powerful the brand. They have money to spare on advertising at you relentlessly, and they chose to do that because their power will vanish if they don’t maintain their presence in YOUR head.
The more heart rending, the more gorgeous, the more insistent and clever, or annoying…the more the brand needs you.
Remember that, next time you are sitting through another frustrating 5 minute ad break for perfumes, baby products and energy drinks.
Ultimately, the power dynamic is more in your favour than the ads would have you believe.
(And I’m sorry if there are terrible ads on this page. It is ironic, but it is how the internet works. More on that another time I guess!).