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Advertising as a source of dissatisfaction: cross-national evidence (voxeu.org)
581 points by howard941 on May 28, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 523 comments



Folks in this thread may find this interesting, a 4 part documentary on Edward Bernays and the history of advertising and PR as we know it today.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DnPmg0R1M04

From the video description -

"The story of the relationship between Sigmund Freud and his American nephew, Edward Bernays. Bernays invented the public relations profession in the 1920s and was the first person to take Freud's ideas to manipulate the masses. He showed American corporations how they could make people want things they didn't need by systematically linking mass-produced goods to their unconscious desires.

Bernays was one of the main architects of the modern techniques of mass-consumer persuasion, using every trick in the book, from celebrity endorsement and outrageous PR stunts, to eroticising the motorcar.

His most notorious coup was breaking the taboo on women smoking by persuading them that cigarettes were a symbol of independence and freedom. But Bernays was convinced that this was more than just a way of selling consumer goods. It was a new political idea of how to control the masses. By satisfying the inner irrational desires that his uncle had identified, people could be made happy and thus docile.

It was the start of the all-consuming self which has come to dominate today's world."


Fun fact: Bernays grandson is the co founder of Netflix. And you may think what brainwashing are all of these memes by Netflix? (Stephen Bernays Randolph his father)


Wow. And I suppose they managed to eroticise Netflix itself via "Netflix and chill". Pretty brazen stuff when you think about it.


Netflix content mostly feels empty and shallow, so it seems to not be working correctly. Or maybe they were aiming for this cheap TV ambiance.

Or it is working perfectly, since I have a subscription (for now).


>>> He showed American corporations how they could make people want things they didn't need by systematically linking mass-produced goods to their unconscious desires.

I sometimes wonder if the people who are the true targets of advertising, made to want things they don't need, are the people who buy advertising.


Those people can also do A/B tests, and compare various methods of advertising. And they get their money's worth on customers (e.g. a promotional vlog by an a-lister can suddenly push millions worth of product). So probably not.


a/b tests only work for outcome based advertising. A lot (if not more) of the old world advertising isn't outcome based. It's more about make consumers hear your brand over and over and be associated with things that you think of them automatically.


The descriptions I've read about a/b testing make it sound a lot like null hypothesis significance testing, which has a well earned reputation in the social sciences. And you have to buy the things that you're testing, either from a vendor, or by employing people who assemble the stuff.


Advertising signals are normally too weak to be detected by standard A/B tests. Additionally, most traditional advertisers do not run A/B tests. Their agencies especially do not run such tests. Source: https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C5&q=lewi...


"PR" was invented by the military. I learned this from someone in PR who was trained in the service during WWII and then went on to work in the "public relations profession" as a civilian. I suspect the military trained Bernays. He may have invented the "profession", but he did not invent PR.


Bernays started Public Relations as an occupation + name in the private sector. In the military it was known as propaganda.


> "PR" was invented by the military.

That's a bold claim, with your only supporting evidence some anecdotal claim by some guy you knew who claimed it.

If you are refuting the article and making your own bold claim, surely you can offer more evidence then "some guy I know told me"


Turow, Joseph (2008), Media Today: An Introduction to Mass Communication, Routledge (New York), at 627, 631

"If you are refuting the article..."

The article made no mention of public relations nor Bernays. I was responding to a comment that cited a YouTube description. I am familiar with Curtis' documentaries, including the one in the video. I enjoy them. However, I believe he makes them as art, for entertainment purposes, not as a teaching tool. His comments in interviews seem to support this view.


Is watching this documentary still useful after having read Bernays' Propaganda?


I haven't read Propaganda so can't answer your question, but I do think you should watch the first part and see if it adds anything new. The documentary is not much about his work as it is about him and the impact of his work - it's a level meta. So might be worth it.


Wow it's crazy to think the world wasn't always like this... and I guess it's even crazier that you can't really imagine a world without adverts using things like celebrity endorsements. It's insane how much effect seemingly minor things can have on society.


Well, a constant barrage of promotional messages, playing with people's feelings, taking advantage of psychology, hurting their self-worth to hook them (buy these clothes to be like those beautiful people, fat? you need this product, buy this gadget and enter the lifestyle of the persons using it in the ad), embedded covertly in TV, movies, celebrities and openly in tv, billboards, print, webpages, video games, mobile apps, flyers, posters, and so on, is not exactly "minor".

We see hundreds of ads every day. Even if we miss each particular product placement, their aggregated core message "buy more stuff" and "your life is not perfect like the people in the ads" registers just fine.


They are using a core mechanism of humanity though. There where always risk-affine outliers, who developed new techniques, tasted forbidden berries, and thus we copy those who stumbled upon success. It was a good strategy until it was hacked.


Advertising hasn't been about 'persuasion' or psychology for a long, long time.

Advertising today is mechanical applications of the central limit theorem / law of large numbers to sociological problems.


Is that for reach and penetration and whom to target? Wouldn't know how I would apply that to ads.


I fail to grasp what you mean.

Reach, penetration and target audiences is like 95% of what modern advertising does.

Modern advertising works on simple statistics rules like "people who drink Pepsi might need heartburn medicine" or "people who recently bought home appliances might want to buy another one".

These things are simple applications of the CLT. No psychology or manipulation is needed or wanted.


Oh, I just wondered if it is indeed used for that purpose and didn't make the jump to questions like that.


Can somebody point me to further reading on this subject please? Specifically in advertising.


To me, it is worrying how much human effort we're investing into advertising as a whole. The top minds of our generations, backed by billions of dollars in funding, are working on increasingly manipulative ways to capture people's attention and use it to generate profit.

We're constantly getting better at it; who knows what path this will lead us down. I suspect it might not be the one we had wished for.


It seems like a larger and larger percentage of our economy is being taken up by parasitic sectors that have a net negative value for society. Advertising, soda, highly processed food, credit cards, car dealerships, (most) sales people, etc. We'd probably be better of as a society paying these people to do nothing than to do what they do now; we'd be even better off if we paid them to do something actually productive.

There's a lot of talk about what impact mass automation will have on our society, and what kind of work people will have once they're replaced by machines. This is always framed in such a way as if it's a problem we're about to face, but it looks like it's actually a trend that's been going on for decades (at least). And the answer is that, unless there is an effort to direct these people towards productive ends, many will continue to flow to these parasitic sectors.


You'd be smart to accuse me, here, of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, but the core parasite is Capital, which siphons value from the labor of mankind in a Byzantine labyrinth of social games meant to obscure this essential truth.


But capital through markets is how we get around the "labyrinth" that is the economic calculation problem. I think it's like complaining about how you lose power when you transfer electricity over wires. It's true, but there's always going to be a transmission cost.


There is no economic calculation problem: http://flowing.systems/economy/politics/2017/08/16/calculati...


>The Mises Institute has put it up for free, which is surely off-message but whatever.

Ah, a clearly well-rationed article is at foot. Here’s a hint, if someone isn’t able to model free things in their understanding of capitalist systems, they don’t understand them enough to critique them.

Anyway, the rest of that “critique” isn’t actually a critique. It’s just goal post shifting to the point where it assumes socialist systems by nature have perfect demand discovery mechanisms (none of which are alluded to) and can never produce a surplus. Conveniently, it follows that clearly socialist systems are perfectly efficient and do not allow surpluses because they have this neat built in mechanism of perfect demand discovery.

So it’s “not true socialism” if there are any inefficiencies in food production, energy production, etc because “true socialism” has a mechanism by which everyone gets exactly what they need.

Did someone inform the author of this that such a mechanism has never existed and the most efficient mechanism we have discovered so far is markets?


> the most efficient mechanism we have discovered so far is markets?

This thread originated in a discussion of the detriments of advertising, I would remind you. The "markets" we're currently employing to "discover demand" find greater profit in engendering it.


Also in true socialism there will be no exchange of consumption goods between people. How will this be enforced? Hmm, let’s not think about that.


It's not a question of enforcement, but incentivization.


The core parasite is government, which siphons value from private citizens under the threat of violence.


I know people love to parrot this libertarian talking without really thinking it through. Generally young, logic-minded people that end up following some kind of Randianism and cannot fathom the possibility that people are, by and large, basically bastards to each other.

The truth is the government is a social contract designed to actually protect people from violence. Yeah, it taxes people. But it also protects them from mobsters and racketeers and is at least supposed to offer a chance to poor people. A libertarian paradise dooms the poor to never be able to afford education and basic necessities unless they sacrifice through slave wages. In a libertarian paradise, the rich run amok, and children of rich people start with an insane advantage that no amount of smartness or slaving away will ever erase. And no, by and large, people are not Howard Roarks in hiding. Most people are within 2 sigma of the mean--i.e. not geniuses. In a situation with no social contract, the 5 sigmas both in terms of intelligence and aggressiveness prey on and suppress the rest. Inequality skyrockets. It ultimate results in violent revolutions, like France. In short, libertarianism is madness.

In general it'd be great to have a discussion about these things, but since this comment is just some non-thinking spouting of absurdity, I'll just leave it here. I already said too much.


I agree that libertarianism is ignorant at best.

But your example of the French Revolution detracts from your argument, because that occurred in the context of a strong monarchist government, not a libertarian dystopia.


Yes. The point was more that inequality will result in revolution, no matter how it arose.


I do think the period directly following the revolution in which the rival factions fought over the country is a context of a libertarian dystopia, if only a glimpse of one.


that is one way of looking at it.

Another way would be to say that effective government ensures that the rule of law is maintained, that contracts are enforced, that the environment is protected, that trade is conducted efficiently etc ..

Granted, none of the above are absolute, some governments will do better than others and some will abuse their power.

What is the alternative? Somalia in the late nineties? All government functions handled by corporations? something else?


Indeed, and economists seem to be a bit puzzled by this [1].

[1] https://strikemag.org/bullshit-jobs/


In a system where we (richly) reward people who buy and sell securities back and forth, or who manipulate people into wanting to buy mountains of crap (with lovely side effects such as the above post mentions), or produce clothing and food, transport them half the world, then set it on fire, when the system rewards these behaviours then of course this is exactly what will happen.


> Advertising, soda, highly processed food

Did you see this? -

> Crossfit, Inc. Suspends Use Of Facebook And Associated Properties - May 23, 2019

https://www.crossfit.com/battles/crossfit-suspends-facebook-...


It's not like there's some central planning committee that sits down and decides what to pay everyone.

Citizens decide where to spend their money -- at least the part that the government doesn't tax and spend for them -- and all of these industries you name exist and pay well because people value them and choose to spend their money on them.


> and all of these industries you name exist and pay well because people value them and choose to spend their money on them.

I think his point is, these industries are not valuable to people; they are just aggressive at extract wealth from other people. In net, they have a negative value (from his perspective) and thus society will be better without them.


No one's being forced to buy soda, eat highly processed food, have a credit card, or use a car dealership. Yet people voluntarily choose to spend their money on these things, so they obviously do find some value in them.

When you characterise them as 'not valuable to people', you're making a prescriptive moral judgement (and not one I necessarily disagree with), as opposed to a descriptive observation of where free agents choose to spend their money.

I don't drink soda or eat highly processed food, I don't have a credit card, and I didn't buy my car from a dealership. But the fact that many people choose to spend their money on all these things tells me that those people do see value in them, and I don't think my preferences are right and theirs are wrong.


You lost me on "free agents", under the kind of system of advertising and PR we are under there is a very narrow window of "free agency".


If the advertising industry is such a powerful force of mind control that we literally have no free will anymore, then why did they let _you_ figure it out?

You're giving them way too much credit. Do you notice how the world is full of failed advertising campaigns? How the world is full of failed companies and failed products that the evil geniuses in advertising weren't able to make people buy?

There's a world of difference between 'we can use some principles from psychology to try to exploit people's fears and make them more interested in our product' and 'our unlimited powers of persuasion make free will an illusion'. And despite the hype, most big-data, machine learning, 'downloading your thoughts from Facebook before you've even had them'-style targeted advertising amounts to showing you ads for the thing that you just bought.


Almost correct. Governments have a strong say in what is incentivized and what is not through taxation and monetary policy.

The people running government are (in most places) elected by the people but that is affected by political manipulation, gerrymandering and politicians often represent the moneyed interests that got them into power.


Governments have a strong say in what is incentivized and what is not through taxation and monetary policy.

Governments have similar competition problems as individuals and companies. If taxes are raised too much, the people with money will take it to other countries with more lenient tax systems.

And unpopular policies will cause other political parties to seize the power from their promoters. Money and advertisement also plays a part in campaigns.

Finally, if you try to extract competition from politics, you get a tyranny.

People on HN likes very much to write comments with the "we as a society" or "we as a species" or "we should do that", but there is really no such we.


Okay, explain to me how the government is incentivising 'advertising, soda, highly processed food, credit cards, car dealerships, (most) sales people, etc.' through taxation and monetary policy.


How about the chicken tax [1]? Or how any truck is allowed to bypass CAFE standards for emissions [2]? Or the fact that if a truck or SUV is used for "business" it can be written off completely over time as opposed to a limited amount [3]?

That's off the top of my head. Taxation is control. And the wealthy & powerful have undue influence over who chooses what gets taxed - using the above methods I referenced.

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

[2] https://turbotax.intuit.com/tax-tips/small-business-taxes/bu...

[3] https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/cafe-lo...


Well, to start, corn is highly subsidized. This means corn syrup is cheaper than it should be, making soda and most processed foods cheaper than healthier options.


Low quality ingredients will always be cheaper than high quality ingredients, regardless of subsidies and taxes. That's an unfortunate fact of life, not a government decision.

And there's nothing to stop people buying diet soda.


Here's an article backing up my point:

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-diet-farm-subsidie...

Why do we need the govt making cheap unhealthy stuff even cheaper?


Wrt soda, and highly processed food, I think that FDA and similar agencies could make an effort to evaluate the consequences of prolonged consumption of such food and figure out what quantities are safe. They could require proper labeling and not allow children to buy such foods (as with cigarettes and alcohol).

For credit cards, maybe he meant that in some countries, where individuals cannot default, banks are comfortable taking too much risk and advertise credits aggressively. I have personally witnessed several victims of this (yes, people can be dumb).

Wrt "car dealerships and (most) sales people", it is probably not affecting the individual so much, but if you look closer at "enterprise sales" and government spending, you will certainly notice some "interesting" practices. However, I think that this is a lot harder to solve than the other case above, because it is not so directly aimed at the masses.


But you're talking about guiding your children, not observing your neighbours. This is 'how do I make other people choose the same things I would choose', not 'people aren't free to make their own choices because [the government somehow]'; it's not 'people aren't free to choose', it's 'I don't like what they choose'.

I also don't like what they choose, and I don't disagree with any of your suggestions; I think these would all be good ideas. But you're asking for less freedom, not more.


> Citizens decide where to spend their money

That's the problem, to a large extent we don't because of the pervasive manipulation the advertising industry does to us, the industries reason for existence is literally undermine our free will.


suggesting that you come over for dinner because my desserts are tasty is not “literally undermining your free will”.


> Citizens decide where to spend their money.

It's almost criminal the way we propagate the narrative that advertising is ineffectual. Of course, if it were, there wouldn't be so much money in it.

So it's very hard for me to take seriously people who believe in consumer choice.


What percentage of the products that you see advertised every day do you buy? 100%? 50%? I'm guessing it's probably less than 1%.

No one would argue that businesses spend a lot of money on targeted advertising, and targeting is something that marketers are constantly trying to refine.

What is targeting? Showing things to the people who are most likely to buy them.

In the world you're describing, targeting wouldn't exist, because the mind control techniques of advertising have made free will a thing of the past, and people will just buy whatever the all powerful advertising agencies tell them to buy.


Advertising, sales, dealerships, middlemen, and snake oil salesmen all existed long before the automation started.

You claim sales and advertising are parasitic, but what is the alternative? A central planning committee that decides what products we can buy?


How are soda, highly processed food, and credit cards parasitic? They provide a service that people find very useful.


Just like heroin and hitmen.


Gee wiz, sugary drinks and hitmen. What similarities they share!

Seriously, this is total nonsense and it frustrates me to even read such a wild comparison.


This is such a hugely snobby attitude.

The value of soda for example is that some people like the taste and sensation. It brings them a little bit of joy. Not everything has to be coldly utilitarian.


There was a scientist who's work was to find the optimum amount of sugar to put in soda - the "bliss point" that would get people to keep drinking it without getting fed up with the sweetness - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bliss_point_(food)

You aren't making any decisions when you enjoy soda: a large corporation paid some people to conduct studies and ensure that you can't not enjoy it on a basal level.

Of course it's not bliss - it's not good for you in anyway. In fact we know - completely - that it has massive long term deleterious effects on your overall happiness - because it's not optimized to actually "make you happy" - it's optimized to keep you drinking it.


Or people enjoy soda because the of insane amount of sugar put in it by people intending to make the product as addictive as possible.

Remove the sugar from soda and you have awful-tasting water.

Sugary drinks are no better than cigarettes, and the people pushing them know exactly what they are doing and what they are exploiting.


You can make anything sound absurd by reducing it to its ingredients like that.

And anyway, value is determined by the buyer. You can't say as an individual that something has no value to society.


> And anyway, value is determined by the buyer.

I disagree. You can make anything seem valuable by defining value in the most cynically narrow terms possible like that.

By that same logic, heroin has great value in society, and hitmen and we shouldn't be trying to stop these things. However we do, because the popularity of the product is no measure of its contribution to society.

Continue on with that logic and literally everything is valuable, making it a meaningless distinction.

> You can't say as an individual that something has no value to society.

I can and did. It's an opinion not an assertion.

If you are creating a need that didn't already exist, like targeting people's predisposition to addictions to substances like sugar, or nicotine, or heroin, then I posit that you have created no real value whatsoever.


By your logic music and art have no value to society, because there was no need for those until they were invented, someone could assess their value as zero, they consume natural resources which harms all of us, and the people could be doing something more productive (by some unstated metric of yours) instead.

You just don't enjoy soda. There's nothing wrong with other people enjoying it. Either in moderation, or irresponsibly in our opinion, which is their own business. Other people don't enjoy music and art and should probably think they should be done away with you like you with soda.


Art and music aren't produced with the intention of fostering addictions in people. They don't cause death and suffering simply by being sold, or even being abused (how would one abuse art or music?).

So no, that's not my logic at all. There was already a need for art and music. There wasn't already a need for Coca Cola and Lucky Strikes.


I don't accept that sodas are either. I think they're a honest product. They aren't healthy, but they don't pretend to be. They say very clearly what they contain and they're marketed as a treat. They are optimised to be as delicious as possible I'm sure, but singers also optimise their songs to be as pleasing as possible so you'll buy their next album.


If they're an "honest product" then why do they put caffeine in them? Caffeine doesn't change the flavor to make it "as delicious as possible".


Kola nuts, which contain caffeine, were in the original formulation. It's a stimulant - that's partly what some people are drinking Coca Cola and similar drinks for in the first place. It wasn't added later to increase sales.


Right, but nowadays there's no reason for it to be in there. You said they're marketed as a treat, and optimized to be as delicious as possible. So what's the caffeine for then? They're not marketed as energy drinks or designed to be as stimulating as possible.

I say that the caffeine is in there solely to keep people addicted to it even more.


> So what's the caffeine for then?

Part of being an enjoyable experience - not literally part of being delicious but part of being a sensation people enjoy.


The answer is that caffeine is addictive and the soda companies are selling drugs.


> hey aren't healthy, but they don't pretend to be. They say very clearly what they contain and they're marketed as a treat

Soda manufacturers include this information because they are required to by law. It is in their interests to hide this information from you.

Lobbysists for junk food manufacturers are always hard at work fighting against these kinds of regulations, because you knowing what is in their product is harmful to their bottom line, because they are selling you what amounts to a mild poison.

People fought to get this labelling required by law. These companies aren't doing it out of the goodness of their hearts.

> They are optimised to be as delicious as possible I'm sure, but singers also optimise their songs to be as pleasing as possible so you'll buy their next album.

The difference being my health isn't harmed by a pop singer trying to improve their voice. Nor are they creating a need or addiction to music that didn't already exist. There has always been a need for music among humans. Even tribal war drums count as music.

I'll concede that most pop music is lowest-common denominator crap manufactured and marketed to as as wide a demographic as possible for no other reason than profit, but really, pop music is such a small part of the entire musical landscape.

Even if it were, what damage to people is pop music causing? What addictions is it fostering?

You could debate about the dumbing down of music that manufactured pop music encourages, but we are talking about actual harm caused by fostering addictions here, which things like sodsa and cigarettes do, as a result of their being addictive as well as damaging to health.

The pop music analogy isn't a very good one, because music doesn't damage your health by encouraging your addiction to substances harmful to your health.


> I'll concede that most pop music is lowest-common denominator crap manufactured and marketed to as as wide a demographic as possible for no other reason than profit

Bah I think you're showing yourself to be a cynic and a snob with statements like this. You don't like that music so it's 'lowest-common denominator crap' and you can't see any purpose for it apart from profit, no matter if other people chose to enjoy it.


I'm not being a cynic and a snob. There are studies showing how much simpler, more generified and more homogenous and less dynamic pop music has become over the last few decades.

It's an actual thing that has happened.

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/is-pop-mus...

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2012/jul/27/pop-music-soun...

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal...

You didn't address the point of my post though, the pop music analogy was just an example you used that I felt didn't work very well because music, even pop music, doesn't harm your health or exploit addictions in the ways many advertised products do.


I can't second this strongly enough. Why are we utilizing such vast amounts of our limited resources to persuade people to make certain decisions? In my humble opinion it's usually because the decisions the people who employ advertising tactics want the people they are advertising to, to make, are suboptimal, if not downright bad, and people wouldn't make those decisions, but as a by-product of having been advertised to.

Quite frankly, advertising is psychic violence, and you can't escape it. Exploiting people's psychology to consolidate their resources for yourself is tantamount to theft. When men do it to women to push them to sell sex, we call it "pimping", and judge it as a completely reprehensible, unredeemable act. Of course your general well-being is diminished by a barrage of messaging encouraging you in every conceivable way, that the only road to satiety is to act against your own self-interest. How could that not totally fuck with you?

Spending your time coming up with more devious mechanisms, and ways to decrease the escapablity of said mechanisms is a fucking unseemly way to behave, as an individual. As a species, it's absolutely tragic that all those brilliant people doing it, can't break from the comfort of those fat paychecks and find something better to do with their time on Earth... Myself included.


Absolutely agree with the above and upvoted.

We all have to stop focusing on the short term quarterly profits and growth and zoom out and see the big picture. Not only is software eating the world, but it's appropriating it for a low kind of social programming--turning us all into zombies. Software wants to mediate all of our experiences as humans, and advertising is right there with it, trying to interpose to do, as you wrote, "psychic violence" in little drips throughout our daily lives.

It's amazing that we let our minds be run by the shit in computers. (including all of this! haha!)


Exploiting people's psychology to consolidate their resources for yourself is not tantamount to theft.


Okay, for the sake of semantic digression, let's call it 'fraud' then. It's tantamount to fraud...

... Which is tantamount to theft.


I don't care how much education they have, the minds who are focused on developing ways to capture people's increasingly fractured attention are disqualified from being considered the top minds of our generation.


honestly, its just a thinly veiled repetition of the American/boomer dad stereotype that money flow is the key arbiter of intelligence (even though I think at the higher end of intelligence its actually the opposite/ non correlated)


I think that's a nearsighted appraisal of people in these industries. Advertising is effective and so is the myth that money gives you actualization, to me it makes perfect sense that smart kids are going into a high paying industry while missing it's harmful effect.


If they were really smart they would see the bigger picture.


You are assuming their values. Smart people can be selfish. Smart people can have no concern for a legacy or the bigger picture of humanity.


Very smart people are often smart only within a somewhat narrow field. I imagine they are often lacking in general experience and wisdom.


And then the math geniuses that could be the next Einstein are slaving away in cubicles writing algorithms for the stock market. So much potential lost in the pursuit of increasing someone else's wallet.


And their own. These people are writing algorithms for the stock market because it pays incredibly well. Same for the engineers at FAANG selling ads online. Our society values money/material above all else and it's making us miserable.

Money is your score at the game of life.


Money is an alternative to violence, given that in a large population instrumental convergence converges to something


Money is your score at the game of life.

Maybe the answer is to stop treating life as a game..


Yes, perhaps what I should have said is that somehow money gamifies life and that is pervert.

That being said, I cannot really think of a better system than money at our current scale.


i think he was just giving a saying. that said it is a game when there are points and competitive at that. as far as life not a game indeed but it is still a game where the stakes are just higher.


> Money is your score at the game of life.

In the saddest and emptiest of lives, sure.

Living only to increase the number on your bank balance seems like a terrible waste of life to me.


The stock market geniuses probably enjoy their work. I imagine it's exciting and pays well. Can't say the same about academic work.


I would extend that to those working in tech.


Who funds that “potential?” Markets have a purpose. Increasing one’s wallet drives innovation. Patriotism and superpower competition led to the space race, however the same people that claim to hate profits also condemn patriotism/nationalism that has led to innovations like manned space flight. The Soviets didn’t care about space because they saw a benefit to humankind, it was to beat the US in propaganda. Tesla couldn’t build cars without investment. Bell Labs wasn’t a benevolent non-profit. Henry Ford didn’t make an assembly line ought of altruism. Capital and profits drives innovation, like it or not. Even universities reward innovation with the “profit” of tenure or increased project funding. So yes, we need smart people “slaving away writing algorithms.” Some of those algorithms help with the efficient allocation of capital — capital necessary to build stuff you care about.


> Capital and profits drives innovation

Not always, even when it does, it's only up to a point.


Here's the reason they keep doing-- It works. Stop rewarding it and they'll stop.

I actually think a large number of societal issues today are stemming from people's inability to think rationally for themselves. Things like fake news, being vulnerable to advertising, taking bad deals like minimum wage etc. If someone were able to think rationally and into the future to figure out, "4 years from now if I choose this [politician, car, job]" I'll be as bad or worse off, then those things would die out for want of funding...


> Stop rewarding it and they'll stop.

Here's the thing...

I'd taken quite a lot of advertising courses during my education, and among the many truly scary things that I learned in them, one stood out above all others:

Knowing how advertising manipulates you, and even noticing it in the moment that it's happening, in no way makes it less effective. People who claim that they aren't affected by advertising are incorrect.

Nobody can just decide not to reward advertising, short of keeping a list of all the advertising you're exposed to (and are you sure you can spot it all?) and refusing to buy any product or service that appears on that list.


I would never say 'advertising doesn't work on me' but it definitely doesn't seem to have the intended effect (persisting the brand in my memory for future sales) in a lot of cases.

Example 1: Coca Cola adverts. I can't stand coke, it tastes like soap to me. No amount of viewing their adverts (which are everywhere) will make me want a coke.

Example 2: I find most adverts cringey and embarassing and they serve only to make me avoid the company responsible in the future. If I see an annoying ad, I react wityh an aversion to products by that company. It's not true of everything, but it happens enough that I notice it.


> I can't stand coke, it tastes like soap to me.

No amount of advertising will be able to convince you to like something that you dislike. Advertising is manipulative, but it's not mind control.

But advertising is not trying to (for example) make you like cola if you don't like cola. What it's trying to do is make you choose one brand of cola over another.

For certain types of advertising, such as soft drinks, they're aiming to influence a particular moment. As a Pepsi executive once explained, they're aiming for that half-second when you're reaching for a soft drink and are making a spur-of-the-moment decision about which one. That sort of advertising is about influencing that spur-of-the-moment decision so you're more likely to choose theirs. It's effective because, in the absence of thought, you're overwhelmingly likely to choose a brand that you recognize the most or have the most positive associations with.


Ads are not designed to get you to buy stuff. Ads are designed to familiarize you with a product. So when you plan a party and have to think what drinks to buy, you already know Coca Cola is a drink that exists. Maybe you buy it, maybe you don't. It doesn't matter. And if you go to a party, you also know that Coca Cola is a drink you can expect to get.

That's what ads are for. To get everyone to know that they live in a reality where your product exists.


Advertising does NOT affect me 99.99% of the time. How do i know this? Almost all the groceries I buy has no advertisement or even branding. The vast majority of my spending goes to housing, Taxes, grocery bill, gas, maintenance and insurance. Almost none of the groceries I buy have any kind of logo, marketing or advertisement: cucumber, tomatoes, potatoes. Even when I buy soymilk, once I get through filtering all my conditions (organic, no added sugar, no added calcium/sodium, etc) I'm lucky if I even have 1 choice left. Beans come from nameless bulk, etc. Gas is based on location and price (not brand). Maintenance is always done at the cheapest place of the 3 closest repair shops. All my utilities offer me no choice at all. I have no idea what brand the clothing I'm wearing. etc.

I find this quite easy and intuitive. I'm not against advertisement at all. I've seen and remembered several advertisements but they almost never offer a product compelling enough to buy. When an ad does offer me something I actually want, I'll buy it (this happens for far less than 1% of my spending).

and yes, i'm well aware of how advertisements influence our perception of brands. but how is it effective if I never buy anything that has a brand? and when I do buy, I usually never have a choice: Utilities, etc

I have a 15" macbook pro that may have been aggressively marketed by Apple. But once again, I had no choice. the reason I bought it is because I'm a developer who used to create IOS apps and I needed the development environment to build apps (no choice but to use apple machines for that).


>Knowing how advertising manipulates you, and even noticing it in the moment that it's happening, in no way makes it less effective. People who claim that they aren't affected by advertising are incorrect.

Is there any evidence for such a claim? I've heard people say this again and again, but I can't see how this is true based on myself. Sure, I've been guided to a product based on advertisement once in my life, but everything else I've ignored obvious advertisements. I can't say that I haven't been swayed by an advertisement that's masked as a review, but that's divorced from this I think.

>Nobody can just decide not to reward advertising, short of keeping a list of all the advertising you're exposed to (and are you sure you can spot it all?) and refusing to buy any product or service that appears on that list.

But buying something that's advertised doesn't mean you're rewarding the advertisement. If you would buy that product regardless, then even if the advertisement stopped (or never existed) you'd still buy it.


There's research on nudging behaviours, and that being told you're being nudged doesn't negatively impact your decision vs not being told you're being nudged, which could be considered synonymous with advertising transparency [0] (although there are caveats at play that might make that unsound).

[0] https://www.coglode.com/gem/transparency-effect


I don't doubt the effects I'd advertising. What I wonder is whether advertising affects everyone. Studies can show that it affects people on average, but it doesn't mean it affects everyone.


Advertising does affect everyone in the broad picture. Specific advertising campaigns don't affect everyone, though. Also, different people are affected by different approaches. What works for one set of people doesn't for another.

This is why there are a set of different approaches that have been shown to be effective (given names like "the bandwagon" -- which covers the group of people who can be swayed by convincing them that everyone else is into something). A comprehensive campaign will have different ads for the same thing, each using a different approach, to maximize the number of people they affect.

By the way, if you ever want a deep-dive into this stuff without actually taking college courses on it, my recommendation is to find a copy of guidelines provided to car dealerships. Those things are very comprehensive, unabashed, and to-the-point.


You misunderstand advertisement. It is not designed to get you to buy stuff. It is designed to get you familiarized with the product and to shape your view of reality. Did you think people thought smoking was cool back in the days just because? Do you think wedding rings are supposed to be expensive?


I don't know about smoking being cool (I'm very biased against smoking, because my entire family smoked and I have asthma), but I do know that people smoked hundreds of years before advertisements were a thing. I've also always thought that jewelry was silly and pointlessly expensive, but I do know that people were affected by advertisement.


You should read up on the relationship between smoking and advertising. It's actually really interesting, and there's no question that advertising alone is the reason that smoking became so prevalent in society.

A similar story applies to other things that we consider so normal today that we don't even think about them, like deodorants, women shaving their legs and armpits, etc.

All of these things only became common because of advertising.


I go out of my way to avoid products whose corporations spend money on advertisements


Perhaps you cannot resist the advertisements you see, but you can take steps to limit how much advertising you are exposed to. Get Netflix, get an ad blocker.


Indeed, and this is what I do! I don't bother with Netflix or similar (there's no point -- I'm not watching commercial TV anyway), but I do avoid advertising as much as I reasonably can.


This is good advice for an individual and relatively useless advice when given to society as a whole. Yes, people should think for themselves. If you have kids you might even be able to teach them how to think for themselves.

But at scale, at the level of a population, an expectation of individual rationality loses out to the realities of these manipulative techniques. On an individual level they might not work, but on a population level they tend to work.

If a population is being manipulated by political propaganda, then yes it's good advice to an individual to think critically / rationally. But that only affects change on the tiniest margin. The propagandists will still win overall.


I think on top of your points, the effect of decades of underfunding education - and on focusing on "marketable" skills over "soft" skills such as critical analysis - must be taken into account.


Why would education matter here at all? People are much more highly educated nowadays than they used to be. They even score much higher on IQ tests compared to people in the past. People understand the world better today than before.


You realise the reason why it's so effective is that it's psychological manipulation right? Telling people to just "stop rewarding" it is almost the same as telling abused partners to "just leave the relationship"; it's not that simple, and trying to reduce it as such is at best unhelpful, and at worst actively harmful.


But this is the whole point - they are unable to think rationally because went invested billions of dollars in trying to find out how to undercut people's rationality. This is the whole idea of advertising and evidently, it works.

You might as well complain that water does not flow upwards.


> Here's the reason they keep doing-- It works. Stop rewarding it and they'll stop.

That's like saying stopping rape is easy, just don't reward it. It completely ignores the non-consensual nature of the interaction. Except advertising is even worse, because at least rape victims are aware they have been victimized, people that are manipulated by advertising don't even know it. In fact, if you ask, almost everyone will say "advertising doesn't work on me." If that were true, then why do companies spend billions on it?


I actually think a large number of societal issues today are stemming from people's inability to think rationally for themselves.

Is this any different from the free market arguments about how regulation is bad, and the customer must inform themselves about literally everything and every consequence, with convenient disregard for the fact that it's impossible for a person to learn everything, and that it turns into a way to assign blame rather than to make the world a better place to live?

Why should "you must think for yourself" become a justification for you to be allowed to show advertising to me continually?

taking bad deals like minimum wage etc.

The only reason there are minimum wages, is because people fought for them, and refused to take even worse deals.


> Stop rewarding it and they'll stop.

Stop categorizing it as a tax-deductible business "expense".

It's not a requirement for doing business, and it should not be treated as such.


I actually think a large number of societal issues today are stemming from people's inability to think rationally for themselves.

I'm sure this has nothing to do with being bombarded with advertising from cradle to grave.


> If someone were able to think rationally and into the future to figure out, "4 years from now if I choose this [politician, car, job]" I'll be as bad or worse off, then those things would die out for want of funding...

Literally no one can do that for everything. The world is too complicated and, depending on the area, there are either too many or too few choices available.


Preying on the weak is dishonorable.


This is the "capitalism doesn't work because of human nature" argument (which I agree with). It is impossible to train people to pursue profit and to value consumption without these horrendous side effects. Meanwhile, it is quite clearly possible to train people to do worthwhile things with their lives without requiring them to chase a profit motive. (Examples include the free software movement, academic research, etc.)


I've never clicked a Google link and bought something. I've never watched a Youtube ad and bought something.

I don't think they're making much money off me. They still keep advertising at me.


You don't know that a purchase decision wasn't subtly influenced by seeing a Youtube ad though. Many ads aren't designed to get you to buy a product right now, they are designed to make you feel a certain way about the product or even just make you aware, so that when you are in the market, you are directed toward that product.


Have you ever bought a soft drink or purchased food from a fast food restaurant? Why did you choose it?


I always order Tango at places like that because I like the taste. I can't remember the last time I saw a Tango advert, but Coke which I avoid like the plague because it tastes like ass, has ads absolutely everywhere.


Because I like the taste of that drink or wanted to try something new.


Given the vaugeness involved with advertising and attribuitation being something humans aren't too good at I wonder hypothetically how long it would take companies to realize that consumer advertisement effectiveness dropped to zero vs other economic causes.


"backed by billions of dollars in funding" is the key to direct "much human effort" to pretty much any cause.

Only government [regulations] can change that - but above resources are certainly partially directed to make sure this won't happen.


A good way to immunize yourself against something is to have weaponized it yourself in the past. Then you can recognize it when it appears, and you know its strengths and weaknesses.

The human vulnerabilities that advertising leverages are coded deep in the genome; building antibodies instead of avoiding the virus entirely could be wise indeed.


Lol, we're already incredibly far down that path. Have you been using the same smartphone since 2008? I ask seriously: how many have you owned since then?


Well, if you want to use a smartphone, you pretty much have to buy a new one every few years. They don't exactly have great upgrade-ability, do they?

If course, it doesn't excuse all the Apple fanatics (among others) who go through one every single year.

I am still using a cheapo Asus from 2012. It was relatively powerful when it was released, but its performance drives me nuts nowadays. Thankfully, my smartphone needs are pretty modest, but I can see why a more "advanced" user wouldn't want to use such old hardware.


dreams ads. see futurama.


What can I say

"Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won't."

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Fight_Club_(film)


I'd say that's not true any more. We do have a war to fight, the war against destruction of our planet by humanity. (Hoping our politicians would fix it has turned out to be ineffective so far.)

If we could have a war against drugs or terror we can also have a war against climate change, soil degradation, desertification, insect decline and biodiversity loss.


What nobody is willing to admit or even consider is that it is a spiritual war. Progress on this front cannot be made without the collective consciousness of humanity moving toward higher/greater awareness.


It’s a good point. It all starts within. It’s a bit counterintuitive that to win the war we have to first fully accept things as they are, right now. It’s nice that on the external level there are people creating technology to protect us psychologically, ie: ad blockers.


So who's going to be the politician who can step forward and fight for those ideals without being bought out and thoroughly corrupted along the way? I hereby declare my endorsement for YOU, kaybe, to be that candidate! And with this push, I wish you the best of success between now and November of next year! https://i.imgur.com/7hvPycX.jpg


I'm a German scientist, I'm pretty sure I don't qualify.


What's a war without killing people?


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_as_metaphor

Even though that was meant tongue in cheek, I fear there will be innumerable deaths before this is over. We can discuss who killed them then.

edit: A war-economy-level effort is needed, with the same dedication of all participants, so there is another similar line of though.


Here's another take on the war metaphor in international relations:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Securitization_(internationa...

> an extreme version of politicization that enables extraordinary means to be used in the name of security


Wow, nice term, I hadn't heard of it yet.

Too many people in the EU don't know that our many decades of peace (longer than ever before!) is due to how the EU effectively did some reverse securitization. Basically, after WWII, any discussion of foreign countries was heavily securitized. "Germany" wasn't considered a major indutrial competitor, but a threat. And who knows, maybe France would be the next aggressor? Better be prepared.

The creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (the EU's predecessor) transformed the language in which politicians discussed neighbouring countries. Right now, it is unimaginable to have war within the EU.

When people (rightfully) complain about how, say, Germany abuses their position of power, or how the EU is un-democratic, or how too many MEPs are corrupt fucks, then it always strikes me how ridiculously successful the EU has been at preventing war among its member states. I mean, if there was any grounded reason to fear war, the last thing people would worry about is some MEP spending public funds in a strip club.


A war with even less enjoyment than it usually entails?


Our politicians are an expression of our political will.

People don't care (enough to vote)


I think they are missing the biggest issue with advertising, which is it incentivizes businesses to create things for the sole purpose of drawing their attention to the advertising. Truth is less important than shock value. Utility less important than appearance of utility. Extremist rhetoric gathers more eyeballs than moderate views. Advertising's biggest negative effects are in how it manipulates people into manipulating people's attention.


I take a little bit of issue with Truth is less important than shock value, which implies that news media is selling out their content for profit. The vast majority of news outlets don't make enough in ad revenue to stay afloat, and rely on outside funding. The news itself is the propaganda. Carlos Slim didn't put $250 million into the New York Times out of charity, he did it to buy influence.


So hasn't NYT sold out for profit?


The common conception is, like the person I responded to originally, that news outlets optimize for clicks and eyeballs in order to sell the most advertising. Many will cite "if it bleeds, it leads" as a mantra for news corporations that will do anything to get viewers.

That's just not how it works now, though. The narratives of the stories are what they're selling to you, and the advertising is secondary. It's something you can't unsee when you start noticing.


It’s a colossal move but we have to move the marketplace away from the current growth capitalism towards one of real utility.


While there are bigger changes we may need to make in terms of growth capitalism you refer to, for the simple subject at hand - advertising - there is a simple fix. Simply ban advertising in more places and ban more types of advertising. It's really not as heavy handed as it sounds. Bans on billboards in parts of the world show the way.

We can ban tracking of users. We can ban collection or sale or personal data. Things like this really aren't that crazy, it's how the world used to be up until a few years ago and the world still existed. Yes it might mean that some websites won't exist anymore. Other websites will be smaller and subscription based. Essentially your service will need to have some utility that at least a small portion of it's users will pay for. That's really not a big ask.


I formed the opinion a while ago that we should go a step further: ban advertising entirely (not exactly a new idea, Bill Hicks came first [1]). Billboards, TV ads, newspaper ads, paid-for articles, promoted Instagram content, all internet ads, everything.

One of the main tenants of capitalism is that it naturally produces a meritocracy. Products which are of a higher quality or cheaper than their competitors should, in theory, sell better. Advertising in any form subverts that. More expensive and lower quality products can completely outsell competitors by out-advertising them, which fundamentally undermines capitalism. I do not believe that any limits can be imposed which will make a meaningful impact: banning individual forms of advertising which we think have gone too far will be a never-ending game of whack-a-mole. Kill the industry entirely.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHEOGrkhDp0


Unfortunately, I think your solution would effectively destroy democracy at any level other than mayor and dog-catcher in tiny cities.

Televised presidential debates? Those are advertising for party-sponsored candidates to the disadvantage of write-in candidates. If all publicity is good publicity, then the same holds true for all news articles about candidates running for any office. How is a newspaper editorial proclaiming that "Elected official X is bad for Y!" any different than a campaign ad in the same newspaper that "Elected official X is great for Y!"?

In one case, the newspaper makes money to put the content to be there, in the other, the newspaper makes money because the content is there.

The same goes for books: how is publishing a biography of someone not a form of advertisement for or against that person?

If I'm not mistaken, that happens to also be the heart of (at least one of the justices' deliberations on) the Citizens United case that declared corporate spending on elections to be covered under free speech.


All democracy should be grassroots. I find the concept that you simply can't win an election or a candidacy without a large warchest to be abhorrent.

We live in an age where media dissemination costs essentially zero. All politicians should have volunteers and not be able to raise donations nor spend a cent on advertising. Easier said than done yes, but still a far better outcome for democracy.

Let the best ideas flourish by themselves.


I get the sentiment, but advertising is just a small part of how public perception is manipulated. Edward Bernays laid this out in his 1928 book, Propaganda, which is a how-to guide to indoctrination and manipulation of the public.


What do you believe that people without 'merit' deserve?


Isn't that impossible? I mean, capitalism is literally profits above everything else. Since evil marketing == profits, it will never change. It will only get worse.


It's not impossible at all. Math tells me that growth capitalism can't be maintained forever. The only question is when, and under what conditions, it will end.


Why can't it be maintained forever?

If a house can be valued at $4,000 one year, and $40,000 a few decades later, and $200,0000 a few decades later, what's the reason that "value" can't keep increasing eternally? There's obviously no real substance to "the value" of a thing, only people's interpretation and desire for it, and there's plenty of "value" where there is no physical substance at all, like exclusivity, or emotional content of art, or novelty of experience. What math tells you there is anything which can be full or supplies run out?


Because any exponential growth rate will eventually reach the physical limitations (i.e. carrying capacity) of the underlying processes that produce goods, whether that is fish or molybdenum. Eventually, even if we can keep scaling exponential growth by spreading to other planets and stars, the growth is fundamentally limited by the speed of light, which means expansion in space is limited by O(n^3), and oh yes, even O(1.00000tiny^n) will eventually grow faster than O(n^3).

https://bollocks2012.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/the-greatest-s...


Yes, I've watched Albert Bartlett's lecture several times; and if we get to talking about converting literally everything to pure computronium in a sphere expanding in all directions at approximately light speed, I admit that's a lot further into "forever" than I was imagining.

I was more thinking of the near-term future of resource scarcity, to make the point that "value" doesn't run out just because gold or oil extraction from the Earth runs out; people value intangible things and the economy runs on that being real value.


The real value has to increase, not just inflation. If the number goes up doesn't mean anything if everything goes up in equal amounts


That's not growth capitalism. Growth capitalism requires constant growth in both supply and demand. Increasing supply requires increasing the usage of raw materials (not to mention the waste generated through their use). The reality is that we don't have an unlimited supply of any raw materials, so growth cannot be maintained indefinitely.


Increasing supply requires increasing the usage of raw materials

Recycling exists; Planet Earth has been doing it with organic matter for a couple of billion years without running out.


Recycling is not a solution at human time scales, because it is lossy. Recycling is a way of delaying depletion, not eliminating it.

And you're ignoring that we're talking about growth capitalism here. Here if recycling were perfect, if growth continues indefinitely then a point will inevitably be reached where demand exceeds the amount of supply that exists, recycling or not.


Isn't this what you would expect? Advertising fundamentally is trying to convince you that you need something. If you're perfectly happy with your current situation then what else would you need? So the advertising has to convince you that you're not happy but that there is a product that you can buy that will increase your happiness.

You're basically being negged by advertisers.


Well like it says there's two kinds.

One is "Hey, did you know this thing exists? Check it out! Here are all the tests it passed, realistic cost of ownership, and locations where it is in stock".

The other is "Look at this woman, isn't she fascinating? People like her will desire you more if you buy the thing she's lying on top of. Actual woman not included."

Unfortunately, people have discovered type 2 is effective for a lot of things. Not only that, there are no scruples at all with appealing to people in this kind of way. It's not lying in the normal sense, but it is manipulation, or an attempt at it. Current dogma seems to be that rational people can just take the type 1 info out of your type 2 advert and think with the appropriate organ.


I'm not a copywriter in the sense of "person who writes adverts," but I am someone who writes copy for website content.

One of the problems is that it isn't even good communication to say (for example) "This device has a 7 inch screen." That's mostly useless information for most people.

It's much more genuinely helpful to tell people something like "You can easily read our large screen even in bright sunlight." Most people aren't going to see specs concerning screen size and mentally translate that to "Woah, this will make my life easier because it will be more readable than the dinky thing I currently use."

Good product descriptions explain to you what this thing will do for you. If it gives a spec, such as weight, it needs to also tell you why this matters -- such as "this is lightweight for this type product, making it much more portable than average so you can take it with you to the work site."

There is no clear dividing line between the kind of description that explains you can do X with this product and the kind of advertising that leaps to implying "And then women will fall madly in love with you and you will be the new Don Juan of your neighborhood!"

Over the years, I've wondered a great deal where the dividing line is between good communication and active manipulation. I think that line is actually quite fuzzy.

When push comes to shove, if you want to tell people about X, you can be assumed to have an agenda of some sort. But, most days, I'm reluctant to suggest the world would be a better place if we all just stopped communicating entirely.


I don't see why it's hard to see the line. Real benefits are real. If Gadget X is easy to read and light, it's easy to read and light.

Imaginary benefits are imaginary. If you buy Gadget X you will not instantly become attractive to the opposite sex, nor will you be the envy of your friends.

The line is where you shift the emphasis from real benefits to imaginary social, emotional psychological, and sexual - i.e. lifestyle - boosts that the product can't possibly provide.


There is no clear dividing line because lifestyle enhancement isn't imaginary. If you brush your teeth, dress well etc, it actually does improve your sex appeal. So does being able to signal a good income by having certain goods, like a nice car.

Homeless men (granted, an extreme example) aren't seeing a lot of action. From what I gather, not owning a car as a man in the US is a serious barrier to having a romantic life. Etc.

Sure, some things are pretty ridiculous. But lifestyle enhancements that impact your love life are not simply imaginary. They can be quite real and tangible.

That's part of why it is tricky. If studies show owning a nice car helps a man's love life, is it outright lying to imply the connection by having some gorgeous woman lay across the hood of the car you are promoting?

That connection is not purely made up, though it may well be an exaggeration in some sense.


The clear dividing line is when you feel bad for doing it. But money. So people do it anyway.


I've idealistically written useful information on multiple websites for years and years. People have gushed at me about the wonderfulness of my writing and how it enhances their life, but they mostly don't want to pay me.

Even before the ad blocker wars tanked online advertising generally, the HN crowd used ad blockers more aggressively than most other traffic to my sites. People on HN also routinely post some means to get past paywalls for articles posted here.

I wrote this piece in January: https://raisingfutureadults.blogspot.com/2019/01/the-hand-li...

It took me about two weeks to write it. I have about six years college and years of experience pertinent to the topic, plus years of experience writing for pay.

It has gotten more than 60k page views. It did fairly well on the front page of HN.

It did not make me one thin dime.

I've talked about this on HN for years. I was actually homeless when I began doing product descriptions et al for pay. Every time I comment on this problem space, I get told "quit you're whining and get a real job."

This is not just about me. Local papers are folding left and right, etc. It's an industry wide problem.

The world seems to want high quality writing completely for free with zero means for the creators to pay their bills.

I generally like the writing I do for pay. But even if I didn't, I would have zero moral qualms about it. It isn't like anyone gave a damn about me being homeless and unable to afford a meal at times while they read my writing for free and sometimes cooed about it being good writing while simultaneously telling me to STFU about my problems, which were not their problem.

I would love to have my Patreon well funded so I can write fewer product descriptions and write more stuff like the above piece. But the world simply doesn't want to pay me for that.

I do have clients who love my product reviews. That's how I'm currently keeping food on the table.

People who de facto expect good writing to be done by unpaid slave labor are not people in any position to make me feel bad about writing product descriptions. That's a laugh.


> Most people aren't going to see specs concerning screen size and mentally translate that to "Woah, this will make my life easier because it will be more readable than the dinky thing I currently use."

This sentence really hurts my head, especially because I think you are right. In my mind, it is equivalent to being chased by a leopard, and not taking your knife out of your pocket because there's no one there to remind you that knives are pointy and can stab things. I dislike advertising that tells me suggestions rather than specifications; it keeps me from being able to decide if the product will work for the use cases I need it for. I don't think I'll ever understand why that works so well on people.


But what if you are encountering an alien life form from another planet? How will you know if it's basically like a leopard, in spite of being purple with green stripes, so stabby thing it is? Or maybe it's friendly and stabbing it would start an intergalactic war because it's actually a visiting diplomat.

It's my job to give such clues to the clueless. (Not intended to call anyone stupid. I used to routinely ask for clues for the clueless when asking questions for myself online and self identifyng as the clueless on topics where I lacked expertise.)


I think you took a personal opinion based on the way I see the world and turned it into a what-if hyperbole contest. But again, opinion, and not worth killing the conversation over, just a tactic used in poor taste.

I would prefer to make my own judgements. There's a better chance that I know enough about physics and biology and have a relevant understanding of the situation that I'm currently in, than the chance that someone else has all of those things and is paying as much attention to my situation as I am, has no agenda conflicting with mine, and chooses not to lie to me for any unknown number of reasons.

For what reason would I be unable to take a ruler, measure the screen of my current device, subtract that number from 7, and use the outcome to decide whether or not the device you are selling will have better visibility? It would take, maybe 4 seconds. I could even estimate it within an inch if no ruler was available. What clue can you offer that I could not deduce for myself given base information, and additionally make a better deduction, because you don't know that I'm colorblind and nearsighted. You simply aren't in a good position to offer me a clue.

Edit: I think that last sentence sums up why I dislike advertisements, but let me add an addendum: advertisements tend to offer me stories to distract me from the facts. I do not seek distraction. I want to understand the facts, and use the product to create my own story, for myself, because it will be more genuine than what is advertised to me, because it will be true, and be real, and be rewarding.


> It's much more genuinely helpful to tell people something like "You can easily read our large screen even in bright sunlight."

I don't know about that. Years of being exposed to advertising has taught me that squishy claims like that are almost certainly misleading.

It's harder to skirt truth in advertising laws when you're stating objective facts, but it's trivial when making squishy "experience" claims.


Do you not naturally do the same thing in your own life? If you're hanging out with some friends and want to recommend a certain drink or food, do you say something like "Oh my god, you've gotta try this, it taste so good," or do you pick up the packaging and read off some of the ingredients list and nutritional facts? Would you first say some cookies should be tried because they're "delicious," or that they are worth trying because of the measurements and other particular properties? Or, going to the extreme, would you say I should try something because of certain gustatory and digestive processes afforded therefrom, which create a positively stimulating sensation, as transmitted by the parietal lobe of the cerebral cortex?


For a long list of reasons that aren't especially pertinent to this discussion, no, I basically don't ever tell anyone in my personal life "Oh my God, you've gotta try this, it's so good."

I'm happy to talk to people in an informational way about a lot of things, but I basically think it is unconscionably rude to try to essentially dictate food choices or similar to anyone for any reason at any time or otherwise put them on the spot where they might need to turn me down and then have to wrestle with whether or not to divulge medical information or other personal info that I might not yet be privy to.

I do this in part because there is a long history of me just making small talk and, to my horror, people jumping on it like it was excellent advice and it going weird, weird places.

I've wrestled a lot with the question of "where does good communication end and manipulation begin?" precisely because I place a high value on self determination and respecting boundaries, yet have all too often had people react to my words as if I were trying to make them do X. It's often not only weird, but also some manner of train wreck.

I knew a woman going through a divorce who was feeling old and ugly etc. I casually joked that the cure for that was a younger lover. My real point was "Oh, don't let your ex make you feel that way. His opinions no longer count." But the next thing I knew, she had a younger boyfriend.

We weren't even friends. We were casual acquaintances and she treated me terribly every step of the way, which just added to the WTF?? factor.

I bring those same rubrics to my paid writing, so I try to be very informational and explain what x product is good for and who might want it and why. But I'm very clear that if I do that well, there are people who will find my words compelling and promptly jump on it.

I sincerely believe you simply cannot neatly and cleanly distinguish powerful and effective communication from intentional manipulation. If I make the case strongly and effectively enough that this is good for x, there will be people who will jump on that without further thought.


That works if there is a single source from where people learn about your product. If you product is popular enough someone else will simply make a nice table comparing your 7" screen with your competitions 8" and 9" screens.


And that may well be your competitor, whose goal is no more high minded than yours: promoting their own products.

And if it's me, I will probably be paid to tell you why you might want to buy each product listed.

Obviously, the 7" model is portable, no frills, fits standard pockets and you will appreciate it if you need a space saving model or are buying on a budget.

The 9" has all the bells and whistles, is a premium product and well worth the money, if you can afford it.


Touche!


> One is "Hey, did you know this thing exists? Check it out! Here are all the tests it passed, realistic cost of ownership, and locations where it is in stock".

I almost never see ads of type one - in fact, even finding that information is usually made accidentally or deliberately difficult.


>I almost never see ads of type one -

Type 1 ads (if one relaxes the dry listing of specifications a bit) might be called "informational ads"; Type 2 ads might be called "aspirational ads".

The informational ads are often found in hobby magazines. Interests like woodworking, electronics, airplane flying, fishing, guns, gardening, cooking, crafts, etc. Many readers enjoy looking at those type of ads to learn about new and unknown products that are relevant to their passions.

The aspirational ads are the abstract visuals that really don't describe the product at all. They are meant to tap into the emotions. They deliberately avoid mentioning any concrete specifications. E.g. perfume ads where a model walks through the forest, or a Coca Cola bottle being drunk by a CGI animated polar bear, or Apple showing silhouettes dancing with white ear buds. Apple doesn't want to communicate the earbud's frequency response such as 60Hz to 18kHz -- that's too vulgar. So let's show happy people dancing instead. These type of ads are designed to prey on our feelings of inferiority and therefore, the advertised product promises to make us more beautiful and popular.


I agree with most of thing, but I also think it needs a little flavour as to "informational" vs "aspirational".

I agree with both of those, but would also classify the examples you gave below as the difference between "mass advertising" and "intent based advertising". TV ads vs AdWords essentially. One is to capture interest and change behaviours, the other is to sell to an audience who's already in the market for your product.


I call them German Ads. I used to live in the German speaking part of the world, and now and again I would see an ad that clumsily tried to persuade you by telling you about the product, what it was made of, and all that. And then a ridiculously lame attempt at showing a content housewife or something like that. Almost like the ad writer was trying to do a type 2 but was too honest.

Typically some ordinary household chemical.

I mean imagine a Coca-Cola ad where they talk to you about the fact that carbon dioxide is dissolved in the drink and it comes out of solution, giving you a tingling sensation. Versus what coke ads actually look like... snowy streets with trucks decorated for Christmas, a sense of warmth and expectation.


I'd like to see some honest feature ads.

Drink Coke! - Tastes good if you like sugar and caramel, much better than Pepsi - Not the most unhealthy drink in moderation - Carbonation that bites your tongue so you feel alive - Our tax dollars subsidize the Georgia state government


The Wirecutter (https://thewirecutter.com/) is a site dedicated to this kind of advertising and it is extremely useful.


You say that, but the very first thing I see is "Father’s Day Gifts Your Dad Will Love". Not "Recommended Gifts for Father's Day", or something similarly objective, just straight up manipulation like all the other adverts.


That's fair, the gift guides don't seem to be particularly useful; however, I've found the buying guides to be really useful, to the extent that I have developed muscle memory for "best X wirecutter" whenever I need to buy a thing I don't have strong opinions about / don't want to do a bunch of research for.

For instance "The Best Steak Knife Set" [1], lays out a couple of options and why you might pick them as well as their criteria and test methodology so you can figure out why you might want to pick something else.

[1] https://thewirecutter.com/reviews/best-steak-knife-set/


Wire cutter is manipulation masked in honest reviews. I’ll say the unpopular because people are so hellbent on convincing themselves those reviews give a damn about products with no affiliate links. Oh “but they make recommendations for nonadfiliated products!” Yeah, what percentage of the whole is that? Mmmmmmmhmmmm.


Stuff like this is in a sense worse. Everyone knows ads are ads. But these are 'unbiased' reviews which are totally biased, requiring them to actually distort objective information where required.


If the product is big enough I'll skim reddit. Nothing like hearing the hard facts from a pissed off anonymous hivemind that isn't going to let anyone off the hook. Even the apple subreddit has been crucifying the company as they keep falling down the stairs with every keyboard half-fix they silently release (I think we are at 'gen 4' now).


On the other hand there's certainly attempts at manipulating content on sites like reddit too for advertising purposes. Though I don't know if there are good statistics on how prevalent it is


Your post had me thinking the consumer pharmaceutical ads for prescription medicines would fit but then no, they flunk all three of the elements you called out. The marketing just weirds me out -- I'm supposed to select chemotherapeutic agents peddled from a TV ad? One of a dozen patent autoimmune remedies? Prescription medicine ads deserve their own abusive category and are particularly abusive in that their costs are taxpayer-subsidized.


I don't know what you even do with that information. Are you supposed to ask your doctor to put you on medication? "Uhh, sir you don't even have that disease."


There is no reasonable argument that consumer ads for prescription medications should be allowed, and there are tons of reasonable arguments (including public health arguments) for why they should not be.

That they're allowed in the US at all is demonstration of caustic effects of high-dollar lobbying.


Prescription medications cannot be legally advertised in the UK, and this makes the ad space much quieter. All you get advertised is OTC painkillers and cold remedies.


Google's text ads, which are nothing but "hey this thing exists", are the ads I see most often.


I am, thankfully, pretty distant from things advertising these days, but one of the few things that stuck, and one of the first bits of advice is to move away from the factual type 1, to the vague aspirational type 2 on the grounds it works far better. I seem to remember one popular book picking on example type 1 ads from a newspaper or yellow pages and turning the boring lists of features into the hollow promises^W implications of type 2.

Which is essentially admitting it's very good manipulation so close to lying it should carry a warning or regulation.

It's the former type that's sometimes quite popular - like in the back of old computer or hobby magazines - precisely because it's handy for discovering new things.

TL;DR Type 2 is what marketers and advertisers do, type 1 is what a lawyer, gardener or software engineer might produce to sell their product.


I bet you do but aren't even realizing it. Every tech product review is a type one ad. WiRED, tech crunch, etc.


Actually, ads on facebook are surprisingly beginning to look like this for me. I've found myself going from hating ads to finding them actually surprisingly interesting, and things I would have wanted to look at anyways (like, for example, interesting kickstarter ideas)


I see ads like 'Now: The new X with the features Y and Z' all the time.


only two? Neither is negging either.

How does "Look at this beautiful person, just look. Your life isn't like this. Ha. You suck. You're a failure. You're ugly, you're stupid and nobody likes you and you haven't even got $product" "This family is so much happier and more well adjusted than yours, you're a rubbish parent and you don't even have $product"

Every ad in fashion be it for cream or stink or (gasp) sometimes even clothes. Loads of mirrors in every shopping centre aren't there?

Negging is exactly right. Make people afraid and sad. Fear of missing out, fear of weapons of mass destruction, fear that "maybe they don't really like me." Sometimes it's subtle eg Clooney selling coffee and sometimes it really isn't, eg Life Insurance ads and the Iraqi invasion. (Maybe some pushing the idea believed in WMD - that's not the point. It was levered very thoroughly to sell the war - be right or wrong).

Teaching children to identify and analyse psychologically manipulative techniques is essential for their mental well-being.

Obviously it's not just ads. There's a load of academic research that follows the same pattern. "You need to be terrified about your children's screen time." Maybe I do but do you have the research or are you just stoking fear to promote your career? The latter definitely exists.


Marketing has a light side and a dark side.

Light side: Closing the loop between what the customer wants, what their actual problems are, and what engineering and manufacturing can deliver.

Darkside: Ladies you need to use our spray or else your hoo-haw will stink.


The light side is of so little value that I think we should just throw it out with the bathwater and kill this modern experiment in advertising.

Our society is paying huge costs to support this industry in terms of wealth, novel innovations, productivity and sanity. It's terrible.


I'd very much agree. I don't want people to preemptively try to solve my problems for me. If I have a problem that I've actively decided I want to solve, and have prioritized finding a solution, I'll seek out products to solve it. I don't care to randomly run across an ad for something that I could use, but haven't actively decided that I want to seek out and potentially purchase.

For this reason I block ads in every way that I can, no matter how "light-side" they might be.


> The light side is of so little value that I think we should just throw it out with the bathwater and kill this modern experiment in advertising.

I don't think that's true at all. Where else would you learn about new services or products?

Here are some examples from a 2010 model railroader. https://photos.app.goo.gl/RvRzECgs7MaTo7tP8

Some, especially the Kato model Amtrak one, have some aspects of an aspirational ad, but I don't know if I'd condem them as such. They usually, as the Kato one has, information about the specific items that are now available and often some "ambiance" information that many hobbiests, especially people new to the hobby like to look at.

I don't mind ads like these as they're not designed to make you feel as though you need to purchase something to be better and they're not in a public space. They're they're to matter-of-factly says a service or product is available.

I could also show you the local pennysaver or Craigslist. All of those are also add, but they're not the "aspirational" kind. They're more matter-of-factly that someone is selling so (used) item, or provides some kind of service, or that there is a garage or estate sale at such-and-such address. How else would this information be made redily and easily available?


Why would I want to learn about new services or products?

Or more directly to the point, why would I want to let /you/ decide which services and products I learn about, when, where, and how often? When that is a) more in your interest than mine, and b) inevitably going to turn into a "cover every surface and channel into advertising as you try to shout loudest for my attention in competition with every other vendor of every product and service in the world".


>Why would I want to learn about new services or products?

I think you missed the context of gp's comment. His example of ads was from a hobby enthusiast's magazine such as Model Railroader.[1]

Many readers buy hobby magazines in part for the ads. Yes, there are feature stories but the ads themselves are also informative of new products the readers want to learn about.

So to directly answer your question of "why would I want to learn about new services or products?" -- it's because that desire for ads was implicit in your decision to buy a hobby-oriented magazine. (The "I" and "you" is not you specifically but a rhetorical placeholder for the generalized magazine buyer.)

Another example of some people expressing a desire for ads is buying the Sunday edition of their local newspaper. (Many readers won't buy the Monday-to-Saturday editions but they'll go out of their way to buy the Sunday copy that's has the ad inserts.) They didn't buy it for the news articles written by journalists; they bought it for the stores' ads to see what's on sale and for the coupons.

An opposite example of buying a magazine because it does not have ads would be something like Consumer Reports.

[1] https://mrr.trains.com/magazine


Humans learned about new things for thousands of years without the modern of advertisements.

I have no fear that the news of useful and interesting products will spread just fine even if advertising is massively reduced.


Let me rephrase your response.

> Humans learned about new things for thousands of years without the modern of technology.

> I have no fear that the news of useful and interesting information will spread just fine even if technology is massively reduced.

Sure, we don't need ads the same way we don't need computers. I however like being able to learn about things outside my physical filter bubble and immensely enjoy my used tools and electronics (along with the massive coat savings) I've bought from ads on Craigslist.


You would have been able to find those same tools and electronics, you may have had to just spend a few minutes browsing some sort of catalog. The lack of advertisements wouldn't cause any serious difficulties.


>You would have been able to find those same tools and electronics, you may have had to just spend a few minutes browsing some sort of catalog.

You may have read the gp's comment too quickly. The context was used tools and electronics from Craigslist ads.

The "used" would be pre-owned and less expensive, and "Craigslist" presumably means buying from a local seller.

Catalogs for tools and electronics are typically new items that are national in scope instead of local.

The Craigslist advertisements made him _aware_ of a local seller selling a used tool that he wanted.

What would be the non-advertising way to accomplish that same goal? Possibly driving to flea markets or swap meets every week? But the sellers with their wares on display are themselves a form of advertising. It's also an incredibly inefficient use of time to repeatedly drive to a location and walk away empty-handed compared to seeing a relevant Craigslist ad.

>some sort of catalog. The lack of advertisements wouldn't cause any serious difficulties.

Fyi in case you were unaware... Many retailers' catalogs are created with ad sponsorships to offset the cost of printing, mailing, etc.


In the new world, you would pay a small fee for a quality catalog.

I guarantee you some sort of comparable solution would arise for used goods. Once again, perhaps it is as simple as something like a craigslist requiring a small fee. It could be subscription based, a fee paid by the seller (to place the listing or when the sale is completed), and so on. Aren't there apps already doing this?

And of course, there are likely many other good solutions that I'm not thinking of.

Lastly, we don't have to ban _all_ advertising. We could significantly reduce it and gain many of the same benefits.


>, a fee paid by the seller (to place the listing)

Right, and the print version of that in newspapers was actually called "classified ads". The listing is an advertisement from the seller trying to make the public aware of what he's trying to sell. The seller paid a fee to the newspaper to list his item.

>Lastly, we don't have to ban _all_ advertising.

Ok, that comment changes things. I was interpreting your previous claim of "the lack of advertisements" as literal absolutism and it seemed to contradict the concept of "classified ads" which you approved of. I understand you just want less ads.


They are called classified ads if they are placed in the newspaper, as the primary purpose of the newspaper is to deliver the news, not sell things.

They wouldn't be considered ads if it was a dedicated medium intended primarily to facilitate the exchange of used goods (or whatever product). This is what I was referring to.

But even still, classified ads are an interesting case. They feel closer to a catalog than your standard advertisement.


>They wouldn't be considered ads if it was a dedicated medium intended primarily to facilitate the exchange of used goods (or whatever product). This is what I was referring to.

Then I admit I don't follow what your reply[0] was about to jimktrains2 comment "I've bought from ads on Craigslist."

With my straight reading of your subsequent replies, it seems like your suggestion of "a dedicated medium intended primarily to facilitate the exchange of used goods" -- is exactly what Craigslist already _is_ -- and you had originally dismissed Craigslist ads in your reply to jimktrains2.

Perhaps the conversation seems nonsensical to me because you were unaware of what Craigslist actually _is_? From the wiki[1]: "Craigslist is an American classified advertisements website"

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20040659

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


I thought Craigslist had ads in addition to user-submitted postings, which is I wrote my comment the way I did.

Apparently Craigslist doesn't actually have "ads" in the usual sense: https://www.quora.com/How-does-Craigslist-make-money-if-it-d...

It seems the difficulty here is identifying what is considered an advertisement, beyond the obvious display ads which are not intrinsically a part of the content that they are embedded in. But fortunately display ads (and their brethren) are the most problematic, so I think we would get significant mileage just focusing on that.


I don't think the "light side" exists. Advertising is fundamentally about convincing the consumer to buy your product, when they otherwise wouldn't have. That goes regardless of whether it's good for them. Sure, it might be good for them, but that's basically irrelevant. If you're giving someone an unbiased opinion about a product or service, that's not advertising - it's a review.

At its core, marketing is all about creating information asymmetry. You're not informing the customer, you're persuading them. They're opposites.


> Light side: Closing the loop between what the customer wants, what their actual problems are, and what engineering and manufacturing can deliver.

Marketing seems to have given up on that sort of effort years ago.


>>Light side: Closing the loop between what the customer wants, what their actual problems are, and what engineering and manufacturing can deliver.

>Marketing seems to have given up on that sort of effort years ago.

Marketing hasn't, but companies' hiring and organizational structure decisions have - especially tech companies.

As long as the only marketing personel a company hires are advertising personel, given authority and responsibility for advertising only, the loop can't be closed.

In tech, programmers are the "engineering and manufacturing", but they tend not to want to be told what consumers want by the marketing team (who, if hired and authorized properly, would be doing rigorous independent research and data analysis using data from that research, user data, and bought research, to come by those insights...)


> In tech, programmers are the "engineering and manufacturing", but they tend not to want to be told what consumers want by the marketing team

This is true. In fact, I'm currently engaged in a bit of a battle over this very thing at my current employer (I'm a software dev). They're hiring a brand new marketing team, but all they've been hiring are salespeople, and I've been pushing them to be sure to include someone who will do actual market research that we devs can use to inform product design.


That is a good thing to push for because while they overlap Marketing != Sales. A good marketing person is absolutely worth it.


And then there is a third kind which says hey dude we know you bought a pair of Timberlands last year so here are offers from their new line-up.

The web has enabled unprecedented levels of intrusion for advertisers.


But can you point to a time in human history where type 2 wasn't the predominant form of advertising? This is not some modern discovery or exploit.


actually, subjectively I get the feeling looking back at older ads post-industrial revolution that the weight has shifted, and that the abundance of it (such that almost all advertising is psychological/social manipulation rather than presentation of facts) is some modern phenomenon.

Previously the idea that you would struggle to know what specific product an ad is selling, where to buy it, what it costs, and what it's features are would seem obscene, but these days concepts of brand, desire, status, aspiration, are so omnipresent that deriving any pertinent details is now a common experience.

Pre that, it probably is all the same, because modern advertising is, fundamentally, just propaganda rebranded by ad men.


Some historians of advertising - probably most famously, Adam Curtis in "The Century of the Self" - argue that "type 2" directly fell out of World War-era propaganda research redirected towards consumerism.


Curtis must have missed the Victorian periodicals that are full of Type 2 ads. See e.g.

http://christinetrent.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/cigs-10...

http://christinetrent.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/pills.j...

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/0...

Industrial printed advertising started in the early 19th century with the first stirrings of printed mass media.

But flyers and noticeboards have been around since at least Roman times, and limited-run pamphlet and newspaper/gazette ads were already a thing as far as back as the 16th century.

The propaganda research is more Type 3 - tailored ads designed and monitored for effectiveness. Before Bernays ads were hit and miss, usually made by someone with a brush who could draw and set type.

After Bernays it became a huge industry of influence, and concepts like branding, image, narrative, demographics, and dramatisation began to be used consciously.


The first two ads seem pretty Type 1 to me: they mostly consist of text straightforwardly describing what the product supposedly does, except for a smallish image in the first one. The descriptions are incorrect (cigarettes are not safe, and whatever was in those pills was certainly not as efficacious as the ad claims), but that’s basically an orthogonal issue.

On the other hand, your third example is definitely Type 2.


I see Type 1 as essentially honest and realistic, and Type 2 as essentially dishonest and unrealistic - the implication of non-existent benefits and lifestyle enhancements in a misleading way.

The presence of pretty women is a popular way to dramatise the "benefits", but it's not obligatory.


I’m put off by the image of a pretty young lady who reeks of carbolic (phenol).


I don't doubt that WW-propaganda accelerated it, but manipulative ads were a big thing even in 1898, when William Randolph Hearst started a war to sell more papers.


I think type 2 has been around since Ogg sold "bright hot magic" to Urgh the thatcher. The big change is that within the last 60 years or so, we have developed very accurate scientific models of human cognition and behavior, and those models are being used to shape advertising to have measurable effects on how humans perceive the world. It's like we've developed Persuasion, the Force skill from Starwars, and now we are using it to control peoples' buying habits, and doing so in ways that are actively harmful.


> One is "Hey, did you know this thing exists? Check it out! Here are all the tests it passed, realistic cost of ownership, and locations where it is in stock".

I'm pretty sure that I haven't seen that sort of ad since the late '80s.


I have seen an ad that informed me of the existence of a product with a certain property, which I had wished existed but didn’t think did, and this led to a purchase of the product being made.

However, I don’t remember the content of the ad, so I can’t be confident that it didn’t also have an emotional appeal to it.

The company in question later did something else I didn’t like, but the added feature (really, the removal of a ubiquitous mis/anti feature) continues to be something I appreciate.

This was in the last 5 years I am pretty sure.


Ever been to the 'gear' section of WiRED?


No, I stopped reading Wired about a decade ago.


You've missed one of the biggest kinds which is buy these things from us for 25% less than the competitors. I quite like that kind if genuine.


"We" had a chance to re-set this at the dawn of Internet Indexing and Search and discovery Optimization, but Overture (and then Google and later FB and TWTTR, at al) and "us" enabled and encouraged advertising to become the driving force of the internet. We could have had a different ad-free internet, but no one was willing to pay that bill.


We did reset this at the dawn of the Internet. Google's text ads were basically Type 1, and they almost completely replaced the earlier Punch-the-Monkey banner ads we had during the dot-com boom, largely because Google was so much more effective as a discovery platform that sites which advertised on it replaced sites that tried to do their own TV/banner ads.

The problem is that Type 2 ads are more effective than Type 1 ads for mainstream consumers, the ones that think with their emotions rather than carefully weighing competitive alternatives. So even though Google started as a Type 1 only company, the text ads on it have gradually been creeping back to Type 2 manipulation since, and they've expanded into more manipulative ad segments with the DoubleClick and YouTube acquisitions. They also face competition from Facebook (which has been manipulative from the start).

Manipulative ads became the face of the Internet because they work. For them to stop being the face of the Internet, they'd have to stop working. That either requires that 3B people take ownership of their emotions (which seems unlikely, given the general state of emotional education in the world) or that the Internet serve only the few million people in well-off, hyper-rational, educated professions (which also seems unlikely, and not even desirable).


I remember that. Google ads were actively helpful! I clicked them because they were cool.

Today, I run an ad blocker because most ads are manipulative again, I recognize I can be manipulated, and I have to do what I can to avoid it. I wonder if there is some way to configure uBlock Origin to allow informative ads while blocking manipulative ads.


> We did reset this at the dawn of the Internet. Google's text ads were basically Type 1

I remember those. Those ads were actually useful and welcome.


> Current dogma seems to be that rational people can just take the type 1 info out of your type 2 advert and think with the appropriate organ.

I'd rather just consign the type 2 adverts to the nearest null device and pick up a copy of Consumer Reports when I want factual information about a product. It helps that most of the women used in advertising are just skinny blondes that you can get for a dime a dozen in Stepford, CT.


Your comment would be much improved without the second sentence.


I would go further and state that our entire economy and society are based on the manufacturing of demand. There are so few things we actually need. Food, water, clothing, shelter. Everything else is a luxury you've been convinced to buy (or it was given to you by someone who was convinced).

I'm not talking about ethics here, just straight facts.


Luxury goods are status symbols, we buy them because we crave status because deep down we crave recognition from others in society. So I wonder if urbanization/the trend towards more loneliness is the problem. If you have a tightly-knit community, you'd have people who appreciate you because of your character, sense of humor or good company; not because you drive a fancy car. And nowadays we don't really have real communities anymore, just polarization through the Internet, where people try to feel better about themselves by putting down others.

This (2+ hours) documentary about status is quite eye opening: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1MqJPHxy6g


Status can't be all of luxury goods - although it may be for say fashion. Material comforts and perception of superiority are reasons - those who have a community and any disposible income have their own market "profiles" based on familarity. Even if it is just say preferred sorts of Whiskey by mennonites.


In a capitalist society status is defined entirely by ownership of capital, and low status is defined by very limited capital.

So of course luxury goods are defined primarily by their capital cost, supported by subsidiary markers like cultural capital and social proof. Actual utility (and quality) come second.

Competitive status display is entirely about the careful curation of success tokens - clothes (+ accessories), car, house, sexual and breeding partner(s), and the amount of autonomy, agency, and political and cultural capital at work.

Ads exist to promote competitive status display through curated consumption of success tokens.

It's a sport no one can ever win, but for some people it's enough to be on the leaderboard for a while.


Depends what you refer to when you say "need". Is internet a luxury? I want to video call my parents thousand of kilometers away (webcam). I want to do it without the connection being interrupted every second (good internet connection). I want to be able to distinguish my mother from my father (HD webcam) and hear them without buzzing sounds (good microphone). But wait! There's this thing called a "smartphone" that has good camera and microphone, and you don't have to be sitting in the dark corner where your PC is.

The problem with ads is that most of the times they promote a product for a need that either doesn't exist or does not apply to you, but still, after being spammed a lot you might give in and think you actually need that.


Prison provides food, water, clothing and shelter. We send people there to punish them.


You will notice 'being locked in cages' is not in my original list.


My point is that subsistence allocations of food, water, shelter, and clothing is not enough, and such are part of the punishment of prison.


They're certainly enough to survive, which is why they're provided in prison. The argument wasn't that these are the only things you should ever have in life, but rather that these are the only things you need in life, and everything else is a luxury.

The punishment of prison isn't free food and shelter, it's a lack of luxuries. And people survive for decades in prison, so obviously what they're getting is, by definition, enough.


I wouldn't even consider prison to offer "shelter" since you're locked in there with violent people.


Words work because we agree what they mean in advance. You can't redefine "shelter" to suit your argument. Just make it with the standard definitions of words.


Would you consider that a non-standard usage of "shelter"? I had a quick look online and I'm seeing definitions like:

a position or the state of being covered and protected

a shielded or safe condition; protection

a place giving temporary protection from bad weather or danger


The things that make prison an undesirable place are lack of autonomy and separation from friends and family. You don’t need advertising or corporations to provide these.


Or to put that differently, we provide those essentials to prisoners because they'd die without them?


> food, water, clothing and shelter

Add love to that list and it sounds like a good life.


> So the advertising has to convince you that you're not happy

That claim doesn't follow. Some people actually are unhappy, or would actually be happier if they discovered and purchased certain products.

I'm not claiming that advertising is or isn't a net positive, but this part of your argument doesn't hold up. It's kind of like saying "dating, or asking someone on a date, is fundamentally trying to convince someone that they would be happier with you; if they were perfectly happy already what else would they need?; so you have to convince them that they're not happy just to get them to go on a date with you; thus asking someone on a date if basically negging."


If someone is perfectly happy, then they cannot be happier with someone else. At the hyperbole, your argument doesn't hold either.


Yes, my point was that both claims are logically equivalent, to point out that they are both fairly poor arguments.


I think advertising is to marketing as space travel is to rocket science. An ideal situation for space travel is to be able to teleport anything anywhere, but that's not possible yet, so they build rockets to travel as fast as currently possible. Similarly, an ideal situation for advertising is to read each person's mind, determine exactly what products they are looking for but aren't yet aware of, and make them aware. But that's not possible yet, so they use marketing spam to make aware as many people as possible.


That seems like an unreasonably optimistic viewpoint, based on the history of advertising, and indeed, mass market product of anything.

Optimistically: determine exactly what products they are looking for but aren't yet aware of,

Realistically: determine what high-margin products you could possible convince them of, and show those products in as intrusive a manner possible

The Internet seems to have made us all aware that the depths of human dishonesty and unethicality have no bottom.


> Similarly, an ideal situation for advertising is to read each person's mind, determine exactly what products they are looking for but aren't yet aware of, and make them aware.

If marketers had that power, that's not how they'd use it. Instead, what they'd do is deploy a powerful analytic system to determine what your touch points are, in order to learn how to more effectively manipulate you to make you want whatever it is they happen to be selling.

Or, to use currently fashionable marketer-speak, they'd use it to move you through the funnel more efficiently.


Note: advertising and marketing are not the same thing just like space research and rocket science are not the same thing.


Yes, I understand they aren't identical (I consider advertisers to be less problematic than marketers), but they both are working toward the same goal.


except the goal of marketing is not inherently to meet a person's needs.

At the macro level, it's maximising needs met, but at the micro level this is done by both initiating and implanting desires that otherwise aren't present or necessary, and by creating problems/pain points (which then, as a second order effect, create a need, which is met by the product).

In economic terms, advertisers aim to maximise locally measured utility, but they do this by externalising the costs of the dis-utility they deliberately create.

Like the proverbial glass salesman, garbage man, or mafia, they provide a theoretical good, but they've found business booms if they can generate their own demand by throwing rocks through windows, trashing the town, or partaking in their own crime to sell their protection services.

In our instance, the town is our own psychological and social state, and while we don't account for these externalities andnegatives, they will keep actively damaging us because its in their interest and locally optimal from their pint of view...


Every single person responding to my comment is conflating advertising with marketing. They are not the same thing!

Advertisers are putting customers in touch with marketers for products. Marketers are trying to convince those customers to buy the product. If the advertiser somehow magically knew a priori that nothing a marketer could say would change a given customer's mind, it's in everyone's best interest to not waste any resources on that customer.


> Every single person responding to my comment is conflating advertising with marketing. They are not the same thing!

> Advertisers are putting customers in touch with marketers for products. Marketers are trying to convince those customers to buy the product. If the advertiser somehow magically knew a priori that nothing a marketer could say would change a given customer's mind, it's in everyone's best interest to not waste any resources on that customer.

I agree with the point, but not the rationale. The difference between advertising and marketing is simply a syllogistic fallacy.

All fat men are men, all men are human, therefore all humans are fat men.

All advertising is paid media, all paid media is marketing, therefore all marketing is advertising.

Marketing is a superset of actions that contains elements of direct advertising, paid influence (PR, influencers, "brand ambassadors", employee advocacy...), product development and market research, events and announcements, sales, and distribution.

I'm a marketer - my main job at the moment is advertising (which I hate, but am stuck), but it's not the only element to the role of a marketer.

You might conflate all of the above under "advertising", but even if you think it should all be burned to the ground, it's still helpful to segment is so you can choose the order in which you set it alight.


well, firstly, no, under that definition, it's not in the advertiser's interest to get the marketers to stop spending money (that generates the advertiser's profits) even if its not doing anything.

secondly, if we take your definition (and call me crazy but if everyone in a conversation is using a certain definition I generally find it more amenable to participating in a conversation to adopt that definition), you've got it completely backwards.

Marketers use advertisers to get marketing into peoples heads. Advertisers exist to make money by meeting the needs and desires of marketers. Consumers are not, as a general rule, paying to see ads.

The idea that advertisers exist to try 'deduce peoples wants and then met them' and they're the ones just 'using marketing because they haven't found a better way' is so..., and I try to keep things civil here on Hacker news but can think of no other way to convey this thought..., naively stupid that it's borderline offensive and disrespectful to the people on the other side of the conversation.


It doesn't just convince you of something, it even drives culture, like beauty and fashion. Advertising has changed how women look and perceive themselves and the products they buy. None of it is needed. Make-up, shaving products, creams, etc. Fashion has turned into fast fashion. It's just a waste of natural resources and creates plastic waste.


I guess that’s the current form of advertising. It tries to create demand where there has been none before. You could also imagine advertising that tries to address your actual needs. Unfortunately that probably would make a much smaller market.


Current? A German philosopher wrote in 1844:

> every person speculates on creating a new need in another, so as to drive him to fresh sacrifice, to place him in a new dependence and to seduce him into a new mode of enjoyment and therefore economic ruin.


I was thinking about people Edward Bernays who took things to the next level.


> A German philosopher

Subtle, I like it.


At its best, advertising is a form of search technology. If I have a need A and there’s a company out there providing exactly A, it’s awesome if I find out about it - both sides benefit from the transaction. To me this sort of advertising seems ethical and useful. Unfortunately there’s of course the other kind, based on deception, psychological tricks, and appeal to emotion.


> At its best, advertising is a form of search technology

That's not advertising. That's curation. Mixing these up is like mixing up astronomy and astrology.


Advertising is not a good system for that. If there are multiple companies providing A (the usual situation), advertising will not help you choose well. If you think you need A but in fact A is quite harmful and you're best off avoiding it in favor of B, but there's no money in B, advertising will actively attempt to mislead you.

There is no magical ethical kind of advertising based on informing the customer. All advertising is 100% biased towards the decision of purchasing the product. That's what makes it advertising.


Humans enjoy things more based on their subjective interpretation of it.

Advertising makes you enjoy things more.


I am not willing to let others tell me what to think and feel. Particularly not advertisers, who don't have my best interest at heart.


That's a bold claim. Can you elaborate on it some more? I'm not sure how the advertising is helping our interpretation in this case.


Nobody would enjoy having a diamond without advertising. Maybe a child, to put with her collection of other rocks and shiny things.

While I agree with your parent that advertising can help people enjoy things more, I don't agree with the implication there's a positive side to ads. Everything I can think of that people enjoy more because of advertising, they'd probably be happier not enjoying.

Also: advertising can make you enjoy things less (usually things you already have). Maybe things you'd be happier if you enjoyed more.


It's a fairly established finding of social science that associations change your appreciation.

By pre-configuring your initial reaction or associating it with something positive you feel actually better about it. There are plenty of documented examples of this:

Patients being told that they are switched from a brand drug to a generic one report worse results, or the mere increase in the price tag of a drug increases placebo effects.

Its a completely different experience to drink a coke from an official can, than to drink it from a silver-slated can and being told "it is cola".

And lets not even get into politics! Basically the game of changing how people react to moral issues.

The person that believes ads and marketing have no effect on what they like simply doesn't understand himself.


> Advertising fundamentally is trying to convince you that you need something.

I think this is how we have an increase in hoarding behavior.


I would not say it works that way for me. I see most advertising as a visual noice and/or annoying interruption. I think majority of the time I am not even aware what is being advertised.


Probably it's almost impossible to measure one's own reaction to ubiquitous advertising. Ignoring it consciously does not mean you are unaffected.


Same, but (unfortunately) I suspect we are in the minority. Whenever I visit my parents' house, there are at least two separate TVs on, regardless of whether someone is actually in the room watching. There's probably a 50% chance that there's an ad playing in that house at any given moment.

I ask my dad, "Why do you pay $300/month+ to have ads shoved down your throat?" He responded with some non sequitur like, "How else do you know what's going on in the world?" Wat.

Apparently there is some value in watching the same catheter ads over and over that I was not previously aware of.


People still look at me strangely when they say "hey have you seen that new ad for X" and I tell them I avoid advertisements. Likewise when I change the radio station the moment an ad break starts. I think the idea of ads as a negative influence has not penetrated very far in US society.


The 'I'm not watching anything but have to have the TV(s) on' is genuinely dystopian-esque behaviour that's seen as relatively acceptable.

Have an in-law that does it (even when staying with us) and drives me insane...


It's also one reason we fail to stop the climate crisis. It's hard to reduce our emissions if we "need" as much as our economy can produce.


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