February 24, 2015
Advertising's Greatest Sin
I am an advocate for advertising. I believe it helps create wealth, and creating wealth is what economies are about.
But I am not a blind propagandist. Having worked in the industry for 41 years, I believe advertising has had some troubling effects on society.
Advertising apologists usually trot out the "we just reflect what is going on in society" defense. While this may be true in certain cases, there is one offense in which advertising has maintained a leading role -- the marginalization and belittling of the old.
In its foolish and unrelenting worship of youth, advertisers and marketers have unwittingly created a barrier between generations and done damage to society.
There was a time when several generations in a family would be close, understanding toward each other, and respectfully engaged. Now, too many young people are embarrassed by their parents and treat older people with thinly disguised contempt. Advertising has played too large a role in this.
Young people constantly see themselves glamorized in advertising, and older people dismissed as fools. Here are some recent examples:
This is not a new phenomenon. It has been going on for decades. The effect is cumulative. And it is accelerating.
It seems that tech savvy-ness is now a proxy for wisdom, in the language of marketing.
In the real world, we understand that there is no correlation between tech fluency and wisdom -- in fact, some of the most bizarrely maladjusted people we know are basement dwelling web troglodytes.
But in this imaginary advertising world, those who are enthralled with "connectedness" -- i.e, mainly the young -- are portrayed as wise. Those who are not, are dopes and clowns. In this unhealthy, insulting advertising world, older people can't figure out how to turn on a computer or operate a thermostat.
Advertisers wouldn't dare dismiss women or black people or Jews as clueless fools, but dismiss older people as fools on a regular basis.
The aggregate effect of this is more harmful to society than we imagine.