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This is why I left work in advertising. I could see the levels of psychological manipulation 30 years ago and knew with the future of data mining it was only going to get worse. There is nothing ethical about advertising. It's all about what you can get away with. Look at the history of subliminal advertising, though it never got so bad as to have laws enacted when the public became interested in it they realized the game was up and abandoned it.

The industry is full of tiny little battering rams like subliminal advertising. Each attempt yields success or failure, rinse and repeat. The refinement at this point is unfathomable.




Yeah, advertising is a field I also will no longer work in.

Manipulating people for money is ethically suspect. And the whole industry is an arms race: people spend money on advertising mainly because their competitors do.

If we banned all advertising tomorrow, consumers would still get about the same outcomes, especially now that the Internet makes it easy to find products and product information. Well, the same outcomes except they'd have circa an extra $1k/year in their pockets, and would spend a lot less time watching ads.


> If we banned all advertising tomorrow, consumers would still get about the same outcomes, especially now that the Internet makes it easy to find products and product information.

And if there's anything which recent history has shown conclusively beyond doubt, it's that people can be relied upon to give each other reliable and accurate information about people and products. Especially online.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_WhatsApp_lynchings

[2] https://www.vox.com/2018/7/19/17594156/whatsapp-limit-forwar...

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5489284/

[4] https://www.cnbc.com/2019/04/16/amazon-flooded-with-thousand...


Your apparent theory that online information only spreads through word of mouth is especially weird given that you prove it by linking to resources of known quality from media, academic, and non-profit sources.

That's surely what would happen if we banned advertising. One can already get plenty of great product information without advertising, and from the same kinds of sources you link.


I think it's dangerous to lump it all in together.

What if you're advertising the historical equivalent of a vacuum cleaner over a brush? A dishwasher over washing up liquid, a car over a carriage, a savings fund that invests ethically over one that doesn't, a cheaper, faster municipal broadband over a monopolistic inferior broadband, the examples are innumerable. A progressive political party over a corrupt incumbent?

I agree in general that advertising should be curtailed from the present level, but I don't agree that it's fundamentally unethical.

If you've got to rely on word of mouth, even with the internet, it will take a lot longer for good, useful products/ideas to spread.


Your notion that there is only advertising and word of mouth is obviously wrong. There already exist other channels. Journalism, for one. Experts blogging, for another. Conferences are a third. These are popular and useful today, and they would only become more so in a world without advertising. Likely new things would emerge as well.

If advertising were vital for learning about new products, nobody would use open source software. Nobody would use Hacker News for that matter. They do, which should tell you there's something wrong with your theory.


> Nobody would use Hacker News for that matter.

Hacker News is literally advertising / lead gen for YCombinator.


One, I rarely find it useful to discuss things with people who are in the habit of picking some nit, focusing on that, and ignoring the meat of my point, but I'll try one more reply. Two, per Upton Sinclair [1], I'm not sure it's worth discussing this with somebody who identifies as a marketer. And three, Hacker News is not advertising in the common sense of that term, which is paid placement of a message. If that is somehow confusing to you, I would like to see a ban for paid placement of messages, and not people doing something good for the public in hopes that people will like and pay attention to them.

[1] https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/21810-it-is-difficult-to-ge...


> I would like to see a ban for paid placement of messages, and not people doing something good for the public in hopes that people will like and pay attention to them.

Apologies for yet again picking a nit, but PR doesn't involve paid placement of a message. Neither does lobbying, media relations, inbound marketing (Hacker News), messaging, positioning, or getting an intern to stand with a sandwich board through the street. You could run a coach and horses through that definition of advertising.


I have no idea why you have decided I have an issue with all marketing. But when I said advertising, I actually meant advertising. In case you are still unclear on what that is, Wikipedia explains it well: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advertising


I think there is a thin line between ethical advertising and unethical psychological manipulation. I think generally, people know that when they are watching an ad, they are being tricked a bit. I think as long as it’s obvious to the user that they are being advertised to, there shouldn’t be an issue. Cambridge Analytica data was used to manipulate people by them not being aware that they were basically watching an advertisement. Except in this case, the ad was a real time political movie in the same theatre as someone else but both people somehow came out watching a different version of the movie because of filtered and targeted manipulative ads. They did not know that the posts they were seeing on social media were supposed to be manipulative ads.


> I think there is a thin line between ethical advertising and unethical psychological manipulation.

That line runs between "let's think about this as an interesting thought experiment" and "let's do this!" - People can and are manipulated even when they know they are being advertised. That has been shown time and time again. Advertising is psychological manipulation with another name.


Sure. My following question would be how do we then differentiate between healthy advertising an unhealthy one?

We can't abandon and block ads completely. If we did that, we wouldn't even get to be aware of products which might really make our lives better. How do we figure out the healthy balance out? I would argue that the current laws around advertising are pretty decent but they could be made better and adapted for social media platforms.




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