You can respect the science of advertising. Reading what the buying public wants is akin to knowing that, seventeen minutes ago, a one-legged woman walked through this stream carrying four pounds of Virginia country ham and a blank pad of paper. It’s magic.
But it often seems evil magic. A marketer who finds THE idiosyncratic appeal of a savings account or a kitchen device does us a service. We might not have money to buy, but it’s our choice and at least those ads seem solicitous, discerning. The problem begins when we’re sold not this car but the life that would include it, not these clothes, but what they signal… usually that we deliberately spent more than necessary… when we didn’t really have the funds at all.
Adolescents make the best targets, but no consumer is immune. Most advertising appeals to visions of what we’d like to be, and that fiction is always up for grabs. If you know who you want to be, you can be sensible, but who can be sensible immersed to the neck in pleas, appeals, and promises? We don’t question what we ought to desire and accept that we ought to desire all the time. Satisfaction won’t move product, so advertisers pray we hope for more materially rich futures. They prey on our fear we’re getting out of touch or ossified.
We’re complicit because we accept their assumption that it’s better to be impulsive than content. We can’t be finished buying. The beast of commerce must be fed. It’s our duty to spend.
Maybe it’s always been this way—who was there when someone prehistoric first scratched an arrow on a rock?—but the volume of advertising static seems to be rising. The traditional airwaves are louder. New airwaves open up all the time. Many new instructions to buy are cleverly embedded in innocent signals or foisted on captive audiences.
In comparison, anything un-accompanied by hype seems unimportant or dull. When everything elicits questions of value or worth, we begin to think everything needs selling. We’re prone to judge, perpetually assessing good and bad, desirable and undesirable, likeable and not, for and against. We live among things we rate.
The Buddhist ideal of “living in the now” is reaching an instant free from desire. The advertising version is finding satiation, the moment we’ll finally be—absolutely, unquestionably, rapturously—full.
Neither “now” seems possible, but at least Buddhists are sincere. The other “now” is deliberate misdirection, a means to disappointment.