• Opinion
  • 10/30/2020 @ 1:54 PM

I am going to tell you something crazy. Except it’s not crazy. It makes perfect sense. It only sounds crazy because no one ever says it. I am going to say it now. Are you ready? Here it is…
Advertising should be illegal.

All of it. Anywhere. Anytime. Completely. Illegal. Billboards. Pop ups. PR. On the train and on your phone. It should not exist. At all. Ever. Anywhere. I will say it again. ADVERTISING SHOULD BE ILLEGAL. If you disagree, as I am sure many of you do, first off, go to hell, second, before I begin, give me a single reason why it should exist. I’ll wait. Justify its existence for any purpose other than making more money for the already rich and powerful.

The truth is, there is none. Advertising does not help us, it hurts us, in many ways. It fills our shared public spaces with ugly images and messages to distract us, to bait us, to trick us into feeling dissatisfied and wanting more. And did anyone ever ask us, you, me, any of us, if we wanted to forfeit our space and our attention and ultimately our lives? Of course not, because we would have said fuck no.

To be very clear, advertising does not exist for us, it exists for owners of public space -- cities, real estate owners, and tech companies - to make money by selling that space to corporations who sell their products to us to in-turn buy more ad space, and so on. Owners of shared spaces and corporations benefit endlessly, and we, at no point, benefit at all. In fact, we are doubly fucked. First, we are sold, our eyes and ears and our minds, then we are sold products. In the end, we are the commodity.

What does it say about our elected officials and legislators that no one stops this insane, damaging cycle? Whose interests are they acting on behalf of? Even the most radical politician has never mentioned banning advertising. It’s unimaginable. Advertising is so pervasive, we cannot any longer conceive of a world without it. It is this loss of the notion of a world without ads that is the only justification for its existence. We’ve gotten used to it, basically, which is a horrible reason.

So, what would a world without ads look like? - open space, maybe, public art, or (gasp), nothing at all - and feel like, less distraction, less mental and physical clutter, a growing sense of satisfaction.

Let’s say this world without advertising existed, as it should, then imagine someone suggesting covering all public and private space with images and taglines designed to manipulate you into purchasing goods and services you do not want or need. Would you think that sounded like a good idea? It would be universally deemed an absurd suggestion.

I am not saying the things we desire and want to pursue should not be available to us. If you want something, it should be available, and still would be. Don’t worry. I am not talking about regulating consumption. You can still get your face creams and blenders and branded tee shirts. You’ll still have stores you like and marketplaces you trust and favorite brands and all the shit you don’t need in bottomless quantities. But think of how much better it would be for consumers AND companies if there were no ads. Companies wouldn’t have to spend offensive amounts to compete. Products would have value because of their emotional or material quality, not because an agency was hired to come up with a brilliant campaign that taps into our individual and collective insecurity.

Advertising knows it’s wrong. It is aware, more than anyone, of its own nefarious nature. This is true of every field. Every industry knows its own darkside better even than its harshest critics. But the existence of a darkside suggests a light side which advertising does not have. It’s fully dark.

It should not exist. There is an apologetic undertone to all ads, trying desperately to fit in, to be casual, to not let down the fourth wall, the layers of rounds of revisions and money spent to make it appear what it is not, a naturally occurring part of the physical and mental landscape. It tries, ultimately, to sneak in the room without being noticed, like a thief. Only something so twisted would have to work so hard to simply appear normal. Advertising admits its own fault, always, and we admit it too.

After all, there are forms of advertising that are already illegal, advertising using subliminal messaging was deemed too manipulative long ago, admitting all advertising is at least somewhat manipulative. But how much manipulation is okay? How much brainwashing is ok? How much violence? How much rape? How much personal invasion? I have an idea. How about none.

No one asked for the landscape of our lives to be bombarded constantly with carefully curated campaigns, images and messages with one aim, to manipulate us. Why would we? No one forfeited ownership of shared public or private space. Why would we? We were never even asked. It was simply stolen from us, and we got used to it. Well, it’s time to take it back. If you see ads, and, to be clear, you do, many of them, all the time, everywhere, burn those motherfuckers down, deface them, rip them from the frame, scrawl over them in spray paint. The fact that these petty acts are considered criminal while the massive scale of theft and manipulation of the advertising industry is considered standard is, like so many things, completely backwards.

Public space is yours. Your mind is yours. Your wellbeing is yours.
  • Take it back. Take it Back. Take it back.
  • Take it back. Take it Back. Take it back.
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