Selling you something

I have a lot of issues about television, but for today, I’m going to focus on the adverts. Now, adverts of course are not unique to TV – posters are everywhere, magazines, facebook, most websites. Anywhere you go, someone will be trying to sell you something. Even here (glance to your right, in case you missed it.)  See, I’ve just tried to sell you something! But TV is unique in how it does this, and I find it troubling.

Most ads, online and on paper, are static. A few words and images which are easily ignored. They may even be targeted, and I don’t mind that – eco tourism in my nature magazines, green products in my Green party publication and so forth. I don’t mind hearing about things I really could be interested in. TV can focus, based on assumed age group of the audience, but aside from that, it’s mostly aiming for everyone. This is not helpful. Your best hope is things like DIY stores alongside DIY programs. So it’s mostly a cluster bomb approach.

Now, when you watch TV, you may well be sat down, and interested in a program. If you’re not, then the raised volume often associated with advert breaks will draw your attention to them. But, watching is an immersive medium. With your vision, and your hearing engaged, and anything to hold your mind a bit, that’s your attention tied up. TV programs try very hard to keep you engaged. So do adverts. You are, in many ways, a sitting duck. And so the advert has the power to throw you, immersively into the world of the advert, and tell you something that will make you want to buy a thing.

Now, you may assume that what adverts tell you is all the reasons why you want this fantastic product. They don’t. I did a brief marketing course a few years back. The first thing they told us is that the easiest way of getting people to buy stuff, is fear.  Fear of missing out. Fear of being left behind, or thought less of by friends. Fear of not having something you didn’t even now you needed, and so forth. Every time a TV advert sells you something, it is also almost certainly selling you a little bit of fear too. It’s telling you that your bathroom isn’t clean and shiny enough to pass muster. It’s telling you that your kids will fail because they don’t have some bare essential you’ve never even heard of. It’s telling you that colleagues will look down on you for being sweaty or having the wrong glasses, or some other bullshit. It’s also telling you that it’s ok to look down on people who do not have what you have.

Under the smiling, shining surface of adverts, there’s a lot of encouragement to feel dissatisfied with your life as well. Are you in the slow lane? Is your car not as great as this one? Is your wardrobe letting you down? Are you too fat? Too hairy? Too human? Be afraid that people will judge you for this. Be very afraid. Buy our product to have a hope of hell in surviving out there in the urban jungle.

The adverts come round with considerable frequency. How much time does a typical TV watcher spend being told to buy more stuff, and given reasons to feel shitty about themselves? Every day. What does that do to a person’s self esteem? What does it do to their consuming habits? We cannot, as a planet, afford the rapacious nature of our consuming culture, and yet every day, the vast majority of us are being beaten about the head with the message that if we don’t buy more stuff, we are going to be total failures. This is not helping. It’s not good for us. It makes us sad, and it encourages to spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need. The things we are sold as solutions to our problems are not solutions. Happiness is not a shiny kitchen, or the right brand of soup. Happiness is much more complex. You will not find it at the bottom of any kind of bottle.

I would hate TV less if it didn’t spend so much time trying to sell us stuff. Adverts are not the only problem though, but I may come back and grouse about other issues another time.

It is possible to sell things without using fear or trying to cause misery. I’d rather go ‘ here is a thing that I made, if you think it might suit you, please do buy one, it helps keep me in mushrooms and potatoes and that enables me to keep doing this stuff.’ But what about an advert campaign that suggested, be it ever so subtly, that you couldn’t hope to be a real and proper druid without reading my books? A campaign to tell you this is the definitive book. The only one worth having. So many adverts sell the authority of the product. I don’t believe in the authority of my product. I’m going to spend some of my time telling you to read Ronald Hutton, Kevan Manwaring, Robin Herne, Brendan Myers, Cat Treadwell, Emma Restall Orr and others, and more. For gods’ sake, don’t imagine you need my book to go druiding! There are lots of good books out there. Mine is not the only way.

Somehow, I can’t see that catching on in mainstream advertising, but it feels a lot more honourable than the usual approach.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

6 responses to “Selling you something

  • Alex Jones

    The purpose of television is to serve the marketing men in selling advertising to the consumer. The trick as you note is to place a person in a state of need, that will be satisfied by the magic pill of buying the product advertised.

  • bish

    That is so very subversive. And a model of modern advertising.

    Tell your readership they don’t need your book and tell them to look at other authors… the implicit message being that this is a good and trustworthy person telling you good ethical sensible stuff (so perhaps you ought to get closer in touch with some more of her good thoughts… maybe, buy her book) LOL. They still don’t need your book, but now they want it.

    You cannot win. We cannot win. And in fairness of course you did tell us you were trying to sell us something. 🙂

    (For those who don’t know me, and who might not have seen my glowing review of Nimue’s book elsewhere, I am joking)

  • Jennifer Tavernier

    Gee – here in the USA, fear-inspired adverts have become full fledged reality shows. (with their own adverts!) They do not produce the product, and tell you where to get it, they are all into “Lifestyle” (so they can sell the backgrounds, clothes, camaraderie, etc. too) LOL!

    I have given up on volume controls, except that I turn to “mute” when the commercial comes on. (since they will bust your eardrums and wake anyone in a 100 yard radius, not to mention the dead.) Makes it hard to catch things at night – the good intelligent things.)

    And of course now, the commercials and screen bottom banners have more length to them than the actual writing/program. They figure that 4.3 minutes is a good average time for programme slots, interspersed with 5-7 minutes advert/commercial lengths.
    However, there are a few Commercial Gems – (like the silly operetta for a financial annuities company, and folger’s and maxwell house (coffee) real people singing/dancing ads. Now THAT puts the art back into it, at least, and they are totally well done. Make you smile!)
    The fun stuff comes on late. i/2 hour long infomercials, that insomniacs love, on everything under the sun. Strangely enough, there are NO commercials at all!
    Sigh…Few and far between, I think that is another reason that some are hooked to TV – just waiting for an intelligent and decent commercial.
    However, I DO like the reverse psychology angle! LOL! An unexpected bit of something new and tongue-in-cheek!

  • Fionnech

    It’s frightening how much psychological manipulation goes into convincing us to buy things. I recently found a host of neuroscience research, the purpose of which was to use the way our nervous systems function to create ads which target us at a neural level too.

    I’m very grateful for the ability to record programmes and fast forward through the adverts.

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