These two views seem to go together often:
- People are consuming too much
- The advertising industry makes people want things they wouldn’t otherwise want, worsening the problem
The reasoning behind 1) is usually that consumption requires natural resources, and those resources will run out. It follows from this that less natural-resource intensive consumption is better* i.e. the environmentalist prefers you to spend your money attending a dance or a psychologist than buying new clothes or jet skis, assuming the psychologist and dance organisers don’t spend all their income on clothes and jet skis and such.
How does the advertising industry get people to buy things they wouldn’t otherwise buy? One practice they are commonly accused of is selling dreams, ideals, identities and attitudes along with products. They convince you (at some level) that if you had that champagne your whole life would be that much more classy. So you buy into the dream though you would have walked right past the yellow bubbly liquid.
But doesn’t this just mean they are selling you a less natural-resource-intensive product? The advertisers have packaged the natural-resource intensive drink with a very non-natural-resource intensive thing – classiness – and sold you the two together.
Yes, maybe you have bought a drink you wouldn’t otherwise have bought. But overall this deal seems likely to be a good thing from the environmentalist perspective: it’s hard to just sell pure classiness, but the classy champagne is much less resource intensive per dollar than a similar bottle of unclassy drink, and you were going to spend your dollars on something (effectively – you may have just not earned them, which is equivalent to spending them on leisure).
If the advertiser can manufacture enough classiness for thousands of people with a video camera and some actors, this is probably a more environmentally friendly choice for those after classiness than most of their alternatives, such as ordering stuff in from France. My guess is that in general, buying intangible ideas along with more resource intensive products is better for the environment than the average alternative purchase a given person would make. There at least seems little reason to think it is worse.
Of course that isn’t the only way advertisers make people want things they wouldn’t otherwise want. Sometimes they manufacture fake intangible things, so that when you get the champagne it doesn’t really make you feel classy. That’s a problem with dishonest people in every industry though. Is there any reason to blame ‘advertisers’ rather than ‘cheats’?
Another thing advertisers do is tell you about things you wouldn’t have thought of wanting otherwise, or remind you of things you had forgotten about. When innovators and entrepreneurs do this we celebrate it. Is there any difference when advertisers do it? Perhaps the problem is that advertisers tend to remind you of resource intensive, material desires more often than they remind you to consume more time with your brother, or to meditate more. This is somewhat at odds with the complaint that they try to sell you dreams and attitudes etc, but perhaps they do a bit of both.
Or perhaps they try to sell you material goods to satisfy longings you would otherwise fulfil non-materially? For instance recommending new clothes where you might otherwise have sought self-confidence through posture or public speaking practice or doing something worthy of respect. Some such effect seems plausible, though I doubt a huge one.
Overall it seems advertisers probably have effects in both directions. It’s not clear to me which is stronger. But insofar as they manage to package up and sell feelings and identities and other intangibles, those who care for the environment should praise them.
*This is not to suggest that I believe natural resource conservation is particularly important, compared to using human time well for instance.
We are “evil” marketers and what’s truly wrong is lying and playing to our brain’s weaknesses, mainly mating triggers — not of much use after kids are born.
However, we aren’t going to pay time and attention to anything else. Effectively, you can’t sell anything to folks they don’t already want. You can’t tell any of us anything we don’t already believe — unconsciously it turns out.
There is interesting work, however, on dopamine receptor deficits, that suggest:
– Drives and cravings are mainly driven by lack of normal dopamine receptors at birth
– Not acting on the craving, in rats, actually somewhat restores the broken dopamine receptors
However, there is no human alive who will “buy” or sell that! lol
There is also research, however, (actively ignored) that advertising does nothing to trigger buying. Actually the core ideas and practices or marketing/advertising/sales have less than zero evidence-basis. It’s all typical business ideology — no evidence.
Our proposition is that advertising and marketing is actually just to support the in-group status quo and impress employees, business partners and the power holders.
That actually makes sense and seems very practical. Those effects would be far more reliable and profitable than trying to get people to buy stuff with a 30 second commercial or age in a mag, or web click? C’mon. That’s fantasy stuff and magical thinking.
Have you seen this TED talk, which makes some of the same points although in far less detail?
I had not
> The reasoning behind 1) is usually that consumption requires natural resources, and those resources will run out
The RHETORIC is indeed that, but I doubt that that’s the reasoning.
I’ll quote Swift: “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.”
I suspect that most people who asert that others (it’s always others) have too much is not based on reasoning so much as class envy.
The supposed power of advertising is a myth.
My problem is with advertising is that it demands large amounts of my attention to try to sell me things that I don’t want. I am usually happy with well targeted ads that make me aware of products I actually want, but those are rare.
I do think that there is too much consumption in the sense that people consume more than they can afford (and I don’t believe that they made a rational choice that future crushing debt is worth extra consumption now). Solve this, and environmental impact can be handled by internalizing externalities.
One effect could be that we compare ourselves with others, including virtual others. Are you at least as good-looking and happy as the people in the ads?
But this really applies to any media. I will never look as good and move as fast ad Damon Salvatore. :feelsbadman.jpg:
One cause for disliking advertising: a noisy, attention-grabbing signal which pulls our attention away from what it was previously on, at least to some degree.There’s also the added cognitive load of dealing with the low signal-to-noise ratio. A large percentage of advertising claims are superficially meaningful (and apparently deceptive), yet vacuous.
It is interesting that these characteristics are shared with many forms of entertainment. I think the difference is partly due to the novelty content in the entertainment, but there’s something else missing.
You manage to combine cynicism and naivete. Since naivete is excusable, we’ll start there. You write, “Of course that isn’t the only way advertisers make people want things they wouldn’t otherwise want. Sometimes they manufacture fake intangible things, so that when you get the champagne it doesn’t really make you feel classy. That’s a problem with dishonest people in every industry though. Is there any reason to blame ‘advertisers’ rather than ‘cheats’?”
Actually, an advertising executive would have to be dishonest _not_ to “manufacture fake intangible things” Their duty is to their stockholders; to the public, only not to break the law.
So, maybe you don’t know how corporations work. No big deal. But this is bigger: “One practice they are commonly accused of is selling dreams, ideals, identities and attitudes along with products. They convince you (at some level) that if you had that champagne your whole life would be that much more classy.” You go on to say that this shouldn’t be objectionable from an “environmentalist perspective.”
This is cynical on two levels. First, the sleight of hand, whereby you “refute” an environmentalist critique applied to an issue that has nothing to do with environmentalism–the selling of false dreams. Then, even worse, you imply advertising is OK because it passes this silly environmentalist test. Self-deception is NOT harmless–read Trivers’s book–and we don’t need parasitic leaches on the economy gaining from making the population even more irrational than they are.
Turn away from Hanson. He’s dishonest and he’s reactionary. You were better before he got his claws into you.
Stephen, she’s not implying that advertising is OK because it passes some silly environmental test. The point is pretty simple: if “classiness” and other non physical goods are packaged into products, then these things make up part of the price of the good. So if people are buying these kinds of goods, it means they are substituting these intangible things for physical resources, as far as their purchases are concerned. There are plenty of things to criticize about the above practice (you rightly mention self-deception above, for one), but I think all Katja’s trying to point out is that environmental effects are not one of those things.
this is simply wrong.
as long as tangibles are exchangeable with intangibles, it waters down physical exchanges.
The financial markets tell us so.
When Katja talks about ‘classiness’ or ‘imaginary’, then she should be more explicit.
If there were two separate markets, where those two ‘goods’ were traded, I would not mind, but it is not.
In better societies, maybe hypothetic, like buddhist ones, the ‘values’ were separated.
Even ancient christian value-systems were like that:
“Give god, what god’s is, and the king what the king’s is”.
As a rabid agnostic I recognize that as a valuable aspect, and try to translate it into my worldview.
You can see sort of ‘advertisements’ in the purely spiritual domains, but this would overstretch metaphors.
This is not advertising!
Spiritual people in their right mind do not sell anything, Therefore they do not advertise.
Same with me here. I do not advertise.
I do not sell anything.
I even would not talk, if there was not a basically intelligent soul (Katja), to need some corrective advice.
I even do not ‘advertise’ my opinions.(Hopefully)
What I occasionally do is: Trying to correct opinions of people who have a residual open mind.
Where Katja is a borderline case.
Quite self-opiniated, is’nt it?
“Stephen, she’s not implying that advertising is OK because it passes some silly environmental test. The point is pretty simple:…”
Yes, very simple: it’s called a strawman argument.
“He’s dishonest and he’s reactionary.”
Dishonest I could have let that go. But dishonest AND reactionary, how unforgivable!
This post boggles my mind on so many issues that I have difficulties even where to start.
Veblens ‘theory of the leisure class’, advertisements of the 1920s to late 50s, ‘The paradox of choice’ (which you can view as a TED-talk) pop into my mind.
I concentrate on two statements of Yours:
…But doesn’t this just mean they are selling you a less natural-resource-intensive product?…
producers of luxury-products like champaigne strip surplus income and transform it into relative status.
But this is not saving resources, but diverts them into inefficient uses.
Look at the arts market.
It ‘advertises’ by showing the ‘products’ in public museums like MOMA. This raises public awareness and hence ‘value’.
The proprietor of the DaVinci or whatever gains relative status through that.
Is this a good thing, because it -at first sight- is as resource conserving as can be? (besides the millions visiting the museums and expending energy just to do that?)
This is a maneuvre to redistribute virtual ‘goods’ in a virtual, financialized economy, which is convertible with the REAL economy of basic needs.
And it is obscene, if you think about it!
*This is not to suggest that I believe natural resource conservation is particularly important, compared to using human time well for instance.
What is this?
Some recent MIT study estimates the probability of 7°Celsius global warming until 2100 is 10%. Which basically makes the planet inhabitable.
Do You see the connection? Probably not.
Not particularly important?
…using human time well…
Now what should that be?
Acquiring status-goods to solve the problem?
I second Stephen R. Diamond with that.
You should definitely rethink Your intellectual affinity to Robin Hanson, who, to me: an angry European, seems to have some dangerously infantile traits, e.g his near-far-distinctions, his view on status and his transhumanist leanings, which I evaluated as a Teen, and abandoned thereafter.
Taken together, his views seem to form some sort of semantic net, where nonsense links to nonsense in a quite coherent manner,until it finally explodes into Your face.
I urge You to read Stanislaw Lems ‘Summa Technologiae’ to get rid of this silliness.
“Hanson, who, to me: an angry European.”
Well, you’re certainly a Hanson zombie well-trained in cynicism.
Are you saying I’m wrong with the quoted example? If not, you aren’t really communicating anything of value.
Do tell us what you imagine you’re saying about the quoted example, Mr. Faux Hanson. Your “comment” is a cynical characterization. It has no truth value. You can’t be bothered to communicate with even as much as a sentence–or don’t know how to.
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I dislike advertising for the same reason I dislike addictive drugs and other consequences of hyperbolic discounting: they reduce my net welfare over time.
two other aspects.
a) “paradox of choice”
There is a TED-talk about that, which summarizes this phenomenon nicely.
b) Compulsive buying disorder
…CBD is similar to, but distinguished from OCD hoarding and mania. Compulsive buying is not limited to people who spend beyond their means, it also includes people who spend an inordinate amount of time shopping or who chronically think about buying things but never purchase them. Promising treatments for CBD include medication such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) …
Should one laugh or weep, wehn thinking about that?
Any functioning society should BY DESIGN suppress unwanted tendencies.
The question is: WHO wants what?
Is it the producers of ‘goods’ or the consumer, or society?
Here we come to the core of the question:
Not all human tendencies are ‘free’ to pursue, which btw is a central tenet of free-market-ideology.
Homo oeconomicus and all his possible offsprings are stillborn brainchilds. (in the sense of modal, possible worlds- we talk as wannabe philosophers here.)
It is the old ‘normative’ versus the ‘natural’.
Human wants can-not be subjected 1:1 to the physical ‘is’, but have as a corrective the normative ‘shall’.
Philosophers of latter-day capitalism, and the human condition in general, ofcourse, should stand above that, and ponder the ‘is’ versus the ‘ought’, and not subject themselves to the ‘is’, because any substantial reasoning transcends (or should) this dichotomy.
From the ‘is’ flowers the ‘ought’.
Try being a gardener of the human condition, and all is well.
Interesting argument; it definitely gave me something to think about (and seemed to have spawned a comment war).
A few questions from someone who admittedly has no real background in rationality –
1) Your link “we consume too much” with “consumerism is bad for the environment.” Is that really the reasoning behind most people who believe that we consume too much? I’ve usually heard it coming from either my nostalgic grandparents or from someone trying to convince others to focus more time/money/energy on social bonds like friends and family. Maybe I’m just around a biased set of folks.
2) You claim that there is no difference when advertisers sell us something that we didn’t know we wanted and when entrepreneurs create something that we didn’t know we wanted. But there kind of is – if I buy an old product because of a new advertisement, then I’m implicitly admitting that I was either too dumb to realize the product’s value before I saw the ad. If I buy a new product that some entrepreneur put forth, then I can just praise his/her skills and implicitly pat myself on the back for buying such a cool new product.
Again, cool article, cool blog.
1) I don’t know about most people – I have probably been around a biased selection of people too. I think it is a common enough view though.
2) True, there are differences. But is there a difference in the social value of what they are doing when they inform you of the product?
I do not know wether You you adressed some of my comments
–I am generally embarrassing to the specific community.
…“we consume too much” with “consumerism is bad for the environment.” Is that really the reasoning behind most people who
believe that we consume too much?”…
I do’nt know.
I just watched two videos about ‘black Friday’ shopping, which made me speechless.
Are idiot US-consumers so much down the pit that they loose all self-respect?
Homo oeconomicus gone mad? Nothing more to say.
…If I buy a new product that some entrepreneur put forth, then I can just praise his/her skills and implicitly pat myself on the back for buying such a cool new product.
This is a very interesting statement/question.
I have a couple of Macintosh-128Ks, and worked with Apple IIs.
The interesting thing is, that operational ‘value’ degenerates into nostalgic ‘value’, which is of no operational value at all, but simply a MENTAL ‘value’, which all the operationalists, so to say, neglect.
They are subject to a human weakness, so the operationalists say, but are they right?
Why ist there any ‘value’ in oldtimers?
And what is that?
Transhumanists do not attribute any value to past ‘junk’.
They continuously break the bridges.
Are they correct?
I doubt that.
There is a heavy price to pay, I would say.
I wasn’t taking jabs at anyone in particular; just noting that this comment thread seemed more heated than most. My comments were entirely meant to be taken as a response to the article as a whole and not to any aspect of the threaded discussion, so apologies for any confusion.
To the first topic – the statement that we consume too much – I’m not trying to argue that we do or do not. Katja’s argument though, as I understood it, seems to be that if you agree with the statement for environmental reasons, then maybe you are being illogical in doing so. I was just curious to know if you took it in a different direction (for example, “we would be better off donating to charity than buying consumer goods”), is there still a logical problem in the argument. I haven’t thought much on it; I was just tossing it out there.
To the second point – it seemed at some point in the article that Katja drew this comparison between entrepreneurs and advertisers:
“Another thing advertisers do is tell you about things you wouldn’t have thought of wanting otherwise, or remind you of things you had forgotten about. When innovators and entrepreneurs do this we celebrate it. Is there any difference when advertisers do it?”
I actually take my comment back though – what I wrote was more a reflection on why one is high status and one is low status. But I agree with the idea that such a status difference has no basis in logic.
Your point about operationalists, transhumanists, etc. though was completely lost on me. All of those terms are new to me, so I suppose that I missed your point.
I’ve contended that Katja’s argument is a strawman, used for Robin Hansonite special pleading for capitalist interests, but to see her bias and irrationality one need go no further than her own conclusion:
“Overall it seems advertisers probably have effects in both directions. It’s not clear to me which is stronger. But insofar as they manage to package up and sell feelings and identities and other intangibles, those who care for the environment should praise them.”
Her last sentence is fatuous, as one could as easily say “But insofar as they do something BESIDES manage to package up and sell feelings and identities and other intangibles, those who care for the environment should DEPLORE them.”
Which is to say, by her own admission, she has managed to prove *nothing.* She hasn’t even shown that what _she_ doesn’t know is unknown and that the strawman environmentalists don’t know what _she_ doesn’t know. Her research is too shallow for any conclusion on that score.
Thus, Katja inveigles a pro-advertising argument into an agnostic analysis. But this isn’t even to mention the quality of her “analysis,” which stands even less scrutiny than her conclusion’s logic. The argument–the presentation is not a paradigm of clarity–is that advertising causes consumers to pay more for the product than the worth of its tangible parts because the consumer pays for the status associated with the product in addition to the bare product itself. This is no more than to say what could be more clearly expressed: since advertising isn’t a natural-resource dependent industry, to the extent its revenue forms an expanding part of the national product, natural resources are saved. You could as easily argue that “environmentalists” should be glad for the current economic depression, since a contraction in the national product saves natural resources at least as well as a reapportionment of its sources.
So, don’t tell me this pro-advertising argument isn’t astoundingly cynical. By inserting fluff like “dreams” and “ideals” Katja apologizes for capitalist waste.
appreciate Your comment.
It is not at all clear to me, what this is all about.
I term this, for a lack of better terms, ‘diffuse semantics’.
It goes back a long way to Mauthner, Frege and Wittgenstein, who wondered about the meaning of Meaning, and of words and sentences, and how they relate to the world.
Pierce and others did the same in the anglosaxian world.
Poor Katja, it seems to me, is somehow lost in between, and is associating herself to the strange tribe of Transhumanist Bayesians, which to me is like a contradtiction in itself.
There is something strange in that:
We strive for coherence anf preciseness in what we are trying to express, but ultimately fail. (At least me.)
There seems to be a wall, which hinders our mutual understanding.
As much as I am appalled by Katjas post in the first place, she is a decent person, I am sure, and most of the commenters also.
So the interesting question is, how to deal with all that?
They sell you material goods that fulfil longings you otherwise wouldn’t have had….
Here’s how she deals with your objection: “Or perhaps they try to sell you material goods to satisfy longings you would otherwise fulfil non-materially? For instance recommending new clothes where you might otherwise have sought self-confidence through posture or public speaking practice or doing something worthy of respect. Some such effect seems plausible, though I doubt a huge one.”
Well, I (like you apparently too, Jemimah, think the effect *is* huge. This point is the beginning, not the end, of the proper discussion on Katja’s own terms: Can Katja sustain her–to me outrageous–thesis that the savings of natural resources due to advertising itself not being natural-resource intensive outweigh the direction of desire toward consumption of natural resources. Her “doubt” only displays her crypto-partisanship.
Looks to me like you misunderstand Jemimah, who is arguing that advertisers give you new desires. You are claiming they direct your non-materialistic desires to materialistic solutions. I say that seems unlikely to be a huge effect in part because most advertisements I see do not seem to have that thrust, and most people who are for instance trying to gain confidence will do a combination of material and non-material things. What the combination is may shift a bit, but mostly people already have the idea that looking nice will help them.
The question is how much an advertisement for product X (e.g. a new dress) directs your spending away from similar product Y (new pants) relative to completely different product Z (time with your family), weighted by how resource intensive those things are. The advertising improves the resource intensiveness of X, while also pulling customers from Y to X. At the same time it will pull customers from Z to X, but I would expect that to happen at a lesser rate between more distant substitutes.
Without a stronger theory than we have of the dynamics of desire, whether advertised products serve new desires or redirected old desires is just a matter of semantics–of arbitrary boundary drawing. To take an example, I think it’s well accepted that advertising deodorant products largely created their demand by instigating feelings of self-consciousness regarding certain of one’s scents. Was this a new desire or a transformed previous desire, that might before have been satisfied enough, more cheaply—by washing? I think it’s an empty question.
One of advertising’s effects is to increase the number of impulsive choices, due to both the display of strong triggers for appetites and the induction of decision fatigue. Bad, impulsive choices mean wasteful consumption because the initial purchase is unlikely to satisfy and substitute purchases follow. If we’re going to talk intuitions, I’d say this has a lot more to do with resource drain than does minor adjustments regarding the fantasy content of goods.
To take an example, I think it’s well accepted that advertising deodorant products largely created their demand by instigating feelings of self-consciousness regarding certain of one’s scents
That doesn’t explain why anyone would invent them in the first place.
(As well, “largely created” is a wonderful weasel term, as is “well accepted”. By whom and on what evidence?)
It’s claimed (see Wikipedia on deodorants, referencing a book that isn’t easily linked) that an Andalusian Muslim invented underarm deodorant in the 9th century; this alone suggests that people noticed stink, and found it unpleasant, long before advertising as such existed – and certainly the existence of pomanders in the middle ages and renaissance Europe was said, even in period, to not be solely due to the idea that stinks caused disease.
Anyone who’s ever smelled someone else’s BO and found it displeasing doesn’t need to be told by wicked advertisers to be self-conscious about its existence.
(Then again, on the “resources” issue, I disregard it entirely. Resources are cheaper than ever in history, precisely because we use so many. Economies of scale make resources inexpensive, as well as the goods produced from them.
Further, this “wasteful” consumption that is “unlikely to satisfy” is not demonstrated, and is indeed exactly what advertisers and producers don’t want – if you’re not satisfied and substitute purchase something else to fill that desire… they lost a repeat sale.
What they want, from the evidence of their own campaigns and marketing, is to make you satisfied with their product, so you’ll keep buying it, ideally for the rest of your life, and introducing it to your family and friends… that’s far more lucrative than a one-time sale that leads to dissatisfaction and going elsewhere.
In short, show me something better than “well accepted” and various pieties about “wasteful consumption” that are not in the naked self-interest of those allegedly promoting it.
I’m absolutely willing to believe advertisers and producers of goods are amoral and self-interested… which is why I believe they want to satisfy our desires, expressly for their own benefit.
Incentives matter, and my account seems to align them more plausibly.)
“I’m absolutely willing to believe advertisers and producers of goods are amoral and self-interested… which is why I believe they want to satisfy our desires, expressly for their own benefit.”
My Dear Good Friend,
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The motion that we are discussing is: That Advertising Stimulates Demand, Increasing The Danger To The Planet. As a wise person you already know this to be false, however the blogs are full of much Loose Anticapitalist Talk, by people who view life “like a comic strip” (saying by Burkinabe leader Thomas Sankara). What we need is “propaganda of the deed” (saying by French doctor Paul Brousse).
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Yours fairly friend, (but amoral and self-interested)
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