Ad Scum is the only way I can describe the plague that advertising has become. Now, I have taken on this subject in the past (Ad-Suck) but those were specific examples that just got under my skin at that time, today we are going to look at how advertising is so ingrained into your life that you scarcely even notice. I am going to go into how advertising and the relationship between publishers (books, video games, movies, TV, internet) and critics is also based on advertising and selling.
Everywhere you go in your day to day life you inundated with advertising to the point that you don’t even notice it anymore. There are ads in the morning newspaper (or blog). There are ads on the radio or TV that you use to wake up to. There are ads on the roadside as you drive to work. There are ads on the sides of buses and even on private cars. There are ads in the magazines you read. There are ads on the shirts of people on the street. There are ads before your movie. There are ads before your DVD. There are ads before your steaming content. There are ads as you log onto your game console. There are ads on your prepackaged food for other prepackaged foods. There are ads in schools. There are ads on advertisements for gods sake. There are ads everywhere. They are inescapable.
I bet you don’t even notice how much of your day is spent being advertised to. You are nothing more than someone that is expected to consume a product and give a company money for it, they know it, but you don’t. No you don’t. Most of you reading this will indeed conclude that advertising is there but it is not as pervasive and ingrained as I have speculated… and you would be wrong. Did you know that there the brands of products in the fridge and your workplace and even that fridge brand itself was put there to advertise to you? Bet you didn’t. Companies play large corporations to stock their brand of soda, coffee, water, butter etc… in the break room. Did you know that the music you hear on your radio or satellite stations was paid to be the music you heard? Bet you didn’t. Did you know that the ads on your e-mail server or your web browser are tailored to you and your interests in a better service of advertising to you? Bet you didn’t. You are nothing but a consumer to them, you are not a person, you are not an individual, you are a consumer to them and they make you want what they have. You are a number, not a free man. You are prisoner number 6 to advertising and they are the wardens.*
Do you think that as the consumer that you have the power? Don’t delude yourself, you don’t have the power although they like to make you think that you do. Sure, you can boycott a product or service but they know that you will be back, all they must do is vomit out some dimestore platitudes and false sincerity** to get you back and what have they lost? Really, what have they lost with your little boycott? You came back to them and in most cases with a greater spending degree. Boycotts also give companies FREE advertising, you might think you are “exposing a social ill” but in fact you are an unpaid and uncredited member of the advertising wing to that company. They played you. Do you really think they are as unfocused and ignorant as they come across? No, they know exactly how to the play the average person and they do it with the skill of an expert. They will do anything to get you to spend with them, lie, cheat, steal and even swing a banhammer like Thor on steroids. I will give you some examples of the more underhanded things done to advertise and manipulate you here but keep in your head that these are just the minor examples I have chosen to write about, there are hundreds more I could pose here, but I don’t have the time; it is that pervasive.
Back in the 50’s there was a practice called Payola, where record companies would pay a DJ to play the songs/singles on their record label, all the while you thought you were just hearing the newest hit they were brainwashing you into becoming their consumer and the DJ whom you trusted was the one selling you out to them. This Payola practice was exposed by the media (back in the days before the ad departments dictated content but I have talked about that already) and it was quashed… publicly, but Payola continued in earnest simply to be called something else and with slight alterations to the practice. Now what you have is not cash for plays, now what you have is endorsements for plays, merchandise for plays, ad buys for plays… they just changed the form of the payment is all. They can’t legally pay you money to play their newest prepackaged generic band, but they will buy X amount of ads on your station if you play their newest prepackaged generic band. It’s the same thing, just skirting around the legality of what is essentially a bribe. This is so common place in the music industry that it’s not even viewed as something sleazy or underhanded anymore, just normal business. Normal business.
Video game publishers are in a similar line when it comes to reviews of their games. If they buy ads on your webpage or in your magazine then it is assumed (by them) that they automatically get a glowing review of their game from the editorial staff. Back in 2007 this custom of ads for reviews was fully exposed when Jeff Gerstmann was fired from Gamespot.com for failing to give a glowing review to the Eidos Interactive game Kane/Lynch 2: Dead Men. Gerstmann’s firing for his giving a fair review to a mediocre game should have been the exposure that was needed to end this endeavor (along with the walk out of a large portion of the review staff at Gamespot over this issue as they refused to work for a company that would cave to advertiser pressure) but alas it did not. Gamespot continues to give favorable reviews to “meh” games who’s publishers pay them a mighty sum in advertising dollars and as a result no one, NO ONE, ever trusts a Gamespot review of a game. They are almost the Faux News of the video game industry now. Was it worth it to sell out your (already less than stellar) reputation? To Gamespot it was. I have not yet experienced this kind of thing in my line of work, the magazines I write for have never told me one way or the other what I can (or should) say but I have heard from too many of my co-workers that they have had “suggestions” given to them so I know this exercise is still alive and well.***
Those blurbs on a book cover by a famous author for another authors work are usually paid for as well. Most times the author who is giving the blurb will have only read a small portion of the manuscript or none at all in some cases. They are contractually obligated many times to provide X amount of positive press for the publisher and the other works by that publisher. This is not always the case as in the famous Stephen King endorsement of Clive Barker, this was someone that King very much wanted to break into the mainstream and who unequivocally deserved the praise he was given. In fact, I heard he was given a little a bit of crap since he was “going off the range” to do this for Barker. Alas though, it seems that cover blubs are just as bought and paid for as the similar ones on movie posters, speaking of which….
“An explosive good time at the movies”, “This year’s hottest new star!”, “Another winner!” and quotes like these are commonplace on movie posters and in TV spots for movies… but they are not real. Have you heard of film critic David Manning? No? But I bet you have seen his ringing endorsements on such stinkers as Hollow Man, The Animal, The Patriot, A Knight’s Tale and Vertical Limit though. David Manning does not exist. He is a fictional film critic made up by the advertising division of Sony Pictures in an desperate attempt to give positive press to films they knew were bombs out of the gate. David Manning is one of the more shallow and narcissistic attempts to make you consume and all the more blatant that it took years for anyone to exhibit this fraud for the people. They still commit acts of artistic and moral purgatory to get you to see movies but they hide it a tad better today. Those people that get interviewed outside of movies who subsequently proclaim “best date movie ever” or whatnot… they work for the studio. Those real film critics that give one line blasts of excitement to a movies poster… were given all expense paid trips to the screening and a chance to have their picture taken with the star. It’s all still selling you, it’s just that you either don’t notice or quite frankly don’t care enough to do something about it.
Finally today we have the issue of advertising right on the cover of magazines. Parent & Child, Esquire, Wired, Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek and many other magazines in recent years have had those gatefold covers where as soon as you open the issue an ad unfolds right in front of you. This used to be a practice that even the most desperate and hopelessly dying magazines would not employ but today it is sadly common place. Many editors refused to bend to the advertisers will when it came to cover advertising but that is a time no more. No, today it is so common place that you don’t even notice that it happened or even for how long it has been there. Why do they do this today? Two reasons, one is that with the web seemingly have put out a hit on print it is claimed that the revenue from this is the only thing keeping the magazine in print (bullshit) and two that the cover ads have been shown to be more effective than any other kind of magazine adverting (heartbreaking). So the editorial presidents of the past are disregarded for a few extra bucks and another advertising method is now a normal part of doing business. Even worse is the “shadow” newspaper ads that have been employed of late where they will take a “shadow” from a TV show or movie and superimpose it over all of the print on that page… does not matter if you just want to read that article about something unrelated to Game Of Thrones, you have to do so through the image of a dragon.
Do you see why and how you are so easily duped? Do you care in the least? Am I a lone man crying to the vast outland that is?
*See what I did there?
**Has there ever been a better oxymoron that that?
***I have a feeling columns like Sanity Is Razor Thin and the things I proclaim within are part of the reason I have not been strongarmed like that, they know that I won’t stand for it and I will expose it when I see it.