Greed creates need

Buy it, even if you don’t know you need it. Advertising has always been about creating need. After all, anything really worth having is going to sell itself, to a degree.

However, advertisers are always desperate to bombard us with information about things we didn’t even know we wanted. The latest thing we can’t live without, even though we’ve been getting along fine without it up till now. Doing this has caused advertising companies to seek out ever more insidious ways of getting to us, especially with today’s culture, particularly among the young, where we react badly when we know we’re being advertised to. Subtle, almost subliminal advertising has been the way forward for some time now. Product placement is a big one, in movies particularly. If Brad Pitt drinks a Coke instead of a Pepsi in his latest blockbuster, Coke sales will go up. Sounds absurd, but it’s true.

Guinness once tried to do away with advertising. They decided that they were so well known that people would stay loyal. They pulled all advertising to save a heap of cash. It nearly sunk them and it cost a fortune for a mass, blanket advertising campaign to get their customers back. People, in consumer-mode especially, are remarkably fickle and short of memory.

The people that need advertising are also preyed upon by those with space available. I was recently approached (indirectly) by a company making a small independent film. They were in need of revenue and were selling product placement slots. They were offering placement of my novel in the movie, with a sliding scale of fees and exposure. The cheapest would just have the camera pan across the book on a shelf. The most expensive would have a cast member reading the book and making a comment about it in a scene. They were prepared to write it into the movie if I paid enough. Now seriously, if you saw someone reading a book in a movie, would you rush out to buy the book? Maybe if it was Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie (can she even read?) but not in some indie flick. I was the one potentially being exploited there.

So advertising space is at a premium and we’re subjected to it whether we like it or not. We can always choose not to watch commercial TV or listen to commercial radio, but the choice is being taken away. Walk up a flight of steps from Town Hall station in Sydney and on each riser in front is a banner trying to force me to eat a Big Mac. Draw money from an ATM and in between Enter your PIN and Please Take Your Receipt I have to wait while they try to sell me a Home Loan.

Now a company called Massive is reportedly being hunted down by Microsoft for between $US200 and $US400 million dollars as they have developed software that will make the billboards and TV screens in computer games display actual advertisements, paid for by companies seeking exposure. Play these games online and the software will actually download the latest ad into the reserved space. The owners of Massive stand to make a fortune selling their company, the game developers make a fortune selling the advertising space and the advertisers make a fortune when gullible people react to the ads and buy all their stuff. The only loser is the consumer, once again convinced to part with their cash on something they don’t really need.

I think that globally we should take a lesson from the Bhutanese people. Their government has a fantastic idea. Rather than every policy being tested for its impact on their Gross Domestic Product, it’s tested for its impact on the GNH – Gross National Happiness. Things are banned if they are perceived to be making the country less happy. Recently Coke and Pepsi ads were banned; their capital, Thimpu, is remarkable for its lack of advertising. They even replaced their one set of traffic lights with the human traffic controller that used to do the job as the introduction of traffic lights was frustrating people. Seriously, do a search on the subject. It makes for interesting reading.

Now, if only I could sell more books in order to afford a flight to Bhutan. Where’s my copy of Advertising Your Book Made Simple got to…?

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One thought on “Greed creates need

  1. One of my work mates was actually one of the most senior web developers at Massive. They’re good at what they do, and seeing that put into computer games is definately a scary thought.

    However, consider this. In the real world, we can’t escape advertising. The posters and billboards placed around every corner are there to stay, until when one drunken night you tear one down in a futile expression of anti-consumeristic rage. At which point in time it is promptly replaced.

    In the information world, choice (customisability) and accessibility are the only selling points. When the internet first grew to be popular, banner ads appeared. Then browsers appeared that could block them. Then popups appeared. Now every modern browser version has a popup blocker. Google’s advertising only gets away with their ads by adhering to the following strict criteria:
    1. Their ads are always within context of the environment they’re placed in.
    2. The ads are always discrete (simple text and links. No blinking fluoro banner images)
    3. The companies that purchase google ads are certified to a certain extent (I’m not precisely sure of the standard)

    And they more or less represent the most successful online advertising campaign in existence.

    So on a certain level, Guiness was ahead of its time. We’re heading into an age, through information exchange where instead of being told what to buy, we instead have all the information so readily available to us that we can discover for ourselves what we want and what we need in a heartbeat.

    But where does this lead? Peer-reviewed product and service catalogues? Open and malicious disinformation?

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