The late and great standup comedian Bill Hicks used to have a bit where he would tell anyone in the audience who worked in advertising to go kill themselves. People would cheer and there’d be a general sense of “Ah yes, hahaha, Bill. Those guys are annoying.” Bill would pause, let them laugh a little, and then say something to the effect of “No, this is not a joke. I really want you to go kill yourselves.” The audience would laugh some more and he would say something imitating advertisers like, “Oh yes, I get it. He’s going for the ironic honesty dollar.” The audience would laugh some more and he’d say something like, “No, you people don’t get it. This is not a joke. I hate advertisers. You’re the scum of the Earth. Stop putting a dollar sign on everything. I really want you guys to go kill yourselves.”
Hicks’ bit managed to strike a chord even in the ‘90s, a time in which many of our modern marketing abominations were still nothing more than a twinkle in the dark void of their creator’s consciences. The routine came to mind recently when I read an article about the report some marketing geniuses prepared to justify their charging a million dollars for Pepsi’s new logo. The report explains the design process of the logo, which apparently took into account everything from Earth’s magnetic field to the Renaissance. In the words of Gawker, the document was a masterwork of “breathtaking bullshit.”
All this got me thinking, what benefit, what value, does advertising really provide for our society? The answer, I’ve found, is usually less than nothing, unless you consider inflicting pain upon consumers and charging a tidy profit for that service a benefit. What made Hicks’ bit funny is the truth of the matter that, unlike with most rant-based observational comedy, advertisers really are worse than just an annoyance. They aren’t airline peanuts or how some group of people drives like blank. They’re something far worse. Deep down we all know that advertising is a cancer. Unlike most occupations people hate on but realize the value of, like cops, lawyers, bankers, etc., we all know that advertisers serve no rational purpose but taking money from one pocket and putting it into another.
This is all to say advertising provides no value. It doesn’t generate any wealth. It doesn’t makemoney but just moves it from one party to another through deception and manipulation. Even providers of gambling and drugs can be justified as having some value as entertainment. What justification do advertisers really have besides the money they provide to their clients? That alone is not value. Just because they make money for their clients doesn’t justify their existence. Thieves make money for their clients, but stealing creates no value and is illegal because thieves make that money to the absolute detriment of their targets. There is nothing added.
What is the point of this? Is it really worth feeling like shit, being scared, tricked, treated like a walking sack of cash to be looted to the maximum extent possible, in order to increase sales or achieve whatever other dubious benefits to society advertising supposedly provides? I can’t travel a mile in this country without being told I’m too fat, too ugly, too stupid, too shy or too lazy, and sold the lie that there’s a way to improve my situation and that I need it. I can’t go anywhere without being told I’m probably going to die a horrible death unless I fork over the cash, that my life is a pointless, meaningless void until now, that I’m an unsuccessful loser but there’s a way to fix that. I can’t walk ten feet without having every bodily desire poked and prodded. They’ll make my mouth water and my dick tingle. Satisfaction is just around the corner, you’ll see, and it can be had a very reasonable price! There is always a solution to everything and it only costs three easy payments of $29.95 (that’s a $3,000 value!).
I guess what I’m getting at is that the costs of advertising don’t justify the benefits, so why not just outlaw it? Let’s make manipulative advertising, which is to say almost all advertising, illegal. Such a move wouldn’t be entirely unprecedented. In Quebec, Norway and Sweden, advertising to people under 12 years of age is illegal. If one form of pernicious advertising can be made illegal, why not another? It’s not like such a move would send our economy into a death spiral. In fact, Norway has a higher per capita GDP than the United States despite crazy, socialist regulations like that one.
There are really only two types of ads, those that take advantage of the company doing the advertising, and those that take advantage of consumers. The Pepsi logo is the former. Most others are the latter. Both are parasitic bullshit and provide nothing but poison to the human race. So, advertisers, please go kill yourselves. No, seriously.