Subject: RE: the Addictive Power of Advertising

The review of Kilbourne's book reminds me of reading Jerry Mander's Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television some years back, serialized in... Whole Earth Review? Mother Jones? Too long ago to say.

It was interesting to me to have written negatively about allowing ads to surround us (or was my Last Word so obtuse that no one got it?), and then just a few days later be almost the only voice against them on our email mailing list. Now that it's done, I don't mind them too much for several reasons:

I saw a nice plain text ad on an otherwise "normal" web site with color, images and the usual stuff supporting the content itself - it was in a box, with ADVERTISEMENT to one side in an uncluttered field. Of course, this is self-defeating; an effective ad will integrate seamlessly with its surrounding content, and be just a little more interesting, enticing, etc.

I'm willing to speak for the author and posit that she ISN'T talking about onelist's sort of advertising, nor about animated or Javascript images on web pages. (Seen the "punch the monkey" ad? As I wrote to one host - an especially apt designation in this case - this goes beyond disregard or annoyance, to active dislike.)

The web's advertising as attractive nuisance is mostly lame, compared to what can be done on TV, or in a movie theater. (Bad news: it'll doubtless be "fixed" to better compete.) It does offer more possibilities for advertiser, publisher and reader, though - being able to track behavior is a powerful tool. Maybe the reader will get some benefits, but you will not be first in line.

Here's a little test for you, if you're a web surfer who accepts cookies: Look in your cookies.txt file for an entry that starts with If you've got one -- and I'll bet you do -- you're part of a grand new process of tracking readership behavior and studying how to make the web pay. And no, you didn't even have to click one of those on-line "I accept" license agreements to get started.

It is possible to "not see" the content of an ad that's presented to you. It's also possible to see it, but not pay active attention to it. And of course you can look at it, acknowledge it, dismiss it, take action based on it, etc. That "see it, but not pay active attention to it" category is the one that I think is genuinely hazardous to your mental health.

It's insidious. It's working as planned, too. This is one of many arms races that evolution fosters, amplified and accelerated by the wonderful facility of human consciousness. We learn to disregard advertising, advertisers learn how to turn up the voltage so that we still get the message. Our threshold of disregard inches up, the "fast cuts" get a little faster. Children are easy targets, of course, and as the twig is bent, so grows the tree. A recent presenter at HP played a bit with what we're carrying around with us, starting a few catch phrases, and seeing our reactions. "Winston tastes good..." and plenty of us could finish it, THIRTY years after that ad has been off the air. (Of course, I was a just-barely-teenaged smoker 30 years ago...)

It's not like I've never been confronted with that phenomenon before, but she'd made her point: as long as we're carrying things around with us, why not construct some personally useful messages for ourselves instead?

Our attention is not unlimited, but rather we have to make choices, and we will find ourselves in situations where others will try to make the choices for us. It seems only prudent to limit our exposure to coercion, and in those cases when we can't, we should heed the findings of how our mind works. It's probably better to take a moment and recognize an ad for what it is, what it's attempting to do, and how it's attempting to do it. Then we can decide - consciously - to hold or discard the message.

It sounds counterintuitive! Wouldn't it be better to just not pay attention? As it turns out, the answer is no - not unless you can truly exclude the attack (let's call a spade a spade) from ALL levels of your attention.

We can also work together on this: note my personal response [*] to the "onelist" appendage on this message. If I hadn't mentioned it, you probably would have simply missed the ad completely.
Tom von Alten

* (For appended ".sig" advertising, a screen or so of blank lines puts it far enough below the end of your message that readers will have to at least chase after it, rather than always stumble into it.)

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

Sunday, 30-Jul-2000 11:29:00 MDT