Ads seem to be everywhere. They’re on subway walls, in taxi cabs, on our phones, hidden in emails, in the refrigerator at work, at the bank, in the hospital examination rooms. In our closets. Out of sheer curiosity, I began to wonder just how many ads I’m exposed during a typical day.
According to the American Marketing Association — the professional trade body that trains advertisers, and promotes cutting edge ad delivery “solutions” like product placements in movies, blog posts and games– in a typical round trip journey from home to work, I’m exposed to a whooping 4,000 to 10,000 ads a day! That’s a virtual tsunami of commercials, print ads, Brand labels, Facebook ads, Google ads, banner pops and ads disguised as newspaper articles. Ads are anything a business can produce to get my attention and compel me to buy.
Imagine 4000 salespeople popping up randomly during the day to criticize on your hair, your clothes, your lack of rest or food, your teeth, your posture, your family or your entire home. In the 1940s, Theodor Adorno, a German sociologist, noticed the real criticism embedded in all advertising. He also noticed the unrealistic product promises of fortune, fame and “romance” that would never be satisfied. Adorno saw the earlier, insidious prototypes of the full-blown ad and product tornado we live in today. Film, radio programs, books, popular music and even real estate developments in his day were producing a consistent stream of the idea we know very well today; you would be happier if you would only buy “X”.
The long game of capitalism is to keep us lonely, confused, distracted, off balance and ready to buy. Forever. This game can be summed up in two words, perpetual tease. Adorno’s insight is still relevant today; capitalism cannot sell you what you really want; that is, real community, tenderness or creative outlet. It can only paper over your real human needs with cheap, chewy fillers full of bright, shiny nothingness.