Advertising Makes Us All Poor

David Sheppard, the recently deceased England cricket captain come radical Bishop, once said that ‘advertising is tantalising the poor.’

I’m wondering if we need to go further than that.

For those who can remember far enough back to ‘3 Feet High and Rising’, you’ll remember that "We’ll be back, right after these messages." Not any more. Advertising is rarely a communication of the facts about a product. It is the weaving of a story, some tantalising tale of a wonderful, content, exciting, peaceful, action-packed, fast, slow life full of beautiful people, sex, drinking, hangovers that disappear in the shower, and light-filled loft apartments that need little or no work to be afforded.

It is no longer a case of ‘you might find this product useful or better than the one you currently use.’ It’s more about ‘You’re life is currently shit. Buy this, and you’ll be buying into a better life. People will like you.’ We are no longer buying functionality. We are buying into the stories that manufacturers drape over the same functionality, with a higher price tag.

I’d agree with Sheppard. Advertising does tantalise the poor in particular. I’ve taught in schools where kids can’t afford school trips, but see no other way than to spend hundreds a year on new Nikes, Nokias and Nintendos. They have to. They don’t feel they’ll be accepted without them. But more than that, in an age where more and more of our field of vision is being chopped up and sold off to space for sale – hoardings, petrol pumps, escalator steps, TV shows, urinals – this constant message of aspiration and tantalisation is making us all poorer.

[Kester Brewin blogs with TypePad © and Apple Computers
His life apparently won’t be complete until he has a G5. Then a G6.]


10 responses to “Advertising Makes Us All Poor”

  1. The Poor Get Poorer

    Are the disadvantaged taken advantage of? Yes, those least prepared to make sound decisions are targeted by marketeers as well as politicians. They are more likely to buy what they don’t need and to vote for unreasonable campaign promises.

  2. I’m inclined to agree that advertising does indeed make us all poor. But is it just poor, or is it in fact oppressing us (in that it hinders us from becoming fully human).
    If this is the case how do we go about seeking liberation from this oppression?
    I don’t have any answers, but its something I’m thinking about, and have been thinking about for some time now…

  3. Perhaps oppression, hinderance from becoming fully human, is a better definition of poverty anyway…
    Personally, I’d like to just see less ads. They really are beginning to piss me off big style. They are everywhere. And they are getting dumber. Thank God no one has thought of cutting the cost of book publishing with ‘ad breaks’ every couple of pages. I’m scared even typing that, lest someone does.

  4. I have four young kids and I remember how shocking it was to me when I realized that one of the skills we need to teach our children nowadays is how to see through and resist advertising. Because children have trusting hearts, and will generally believe what people tell them, including the people on TV. So I’ve learned to start asking questions of my kids when they see ads: “Do you think that’s true, that driving that kind of car will make you happy?” It’s kind of sad that people have to become “street-smart” at such a young age.
    I remember watching the film Minority Report, with all the personalized advertising that follows you around (because they scan retinas and know where you are) and thinking “What an exhausting life for a soul, constantly having to analyze, interpret, and resist advertising.” But then I realized that we’re not too far away from that now – advertising is becoming more ubiquitous and more personalized. It is exhausting to constantly have to filter all the messages we receive every day. And I suppose this is one of the goals of advertising, for us to let down our guard and just “go with the flow” – buy the car on impulse, because I’ve subconsciously accepted the fact that with this car, I’ll be happier. I just don’t know where I got that idea. Some truths are “self-evident”, I tell myself, and sign the papers.

  5. The best decision of my life was to go bankrupt. Telling HSBC where to shove it – all all the looooong list of credit cards, loan companies… I don’t have any cards now – except a cashcard! If you haven’t tried this approach, and you can live without a car and your own house – go for it, it totally reverses the “consumer contamination” we live within.
    Now, as a designer, I lovesome advertising, but what I find most inspiring is Cuba. They don’t advertise anything apart from this slogan “CONSUME ONLY WHAT IS NECISSARY”, where as we seem to live by “CONSUME ANYTHING”.

  6. advertising is pretty much a pain in the ass. how often to we buy things we want, because WE want those things as opposed to buying things they want us to. its very hard to tell which is which; their desires or our desires. its similar to sin and our thoughts. the world says freedom is doing what you want to do. but what thoughts are really ours? almost everyone would agree that they want to do something nice or meaningful for the world, but is that what we do? Paul talks about this in Romans 7:18 and a couple after and before, and he does a way better job of it.
    in sum: advertising is paid for by people rich enough to promote their product, which other people may not need, or want.

  7. Not long ago my 4-year-old son was in the car as my wife let the radio play … an advertisement began and he said, “Turn it off, Mom, they’re just trying to sell us stuff.” That’s my boy!

  8. Yeah my eldest used to shout “no, daddy we can’t but nestle because they kill babies” in the middle of the shop… where as my youngest sings “b-b-b-baby bell” pretty much all the time!
    Go figure.

  9. Finally got round to seeing ‘The Corporation’. Fantastic.
    “What we have to realise is that children’s minds are not fully formed, yet the marketing strategies used on them are fully adult. This is tantamount to corporate abuse.”
    Check out for great links.