Tag Archives: adverts

Politics and adverts

Last week, an advert from the company Iceland was banned. In practice it’s a little bit more complicated because much of the content was created by Greenpeace, and apparently there are some nuances around ’banned’ when it comes to what’s allowed on the TV. It’s not allowed out (as far as I can make out) because Greenpeace are considered to be a political organisation and therefore any content that comes from them is deemed too political for screens and isn’t allowed.

Here’s the Clearcast statement regarding the advert.  – https://www.clearcast.co.uk/press/iceland-advert/ 

Not knowing the rules about adverts, I poked around. This is a useful bit of the government’s website for anyone who wants to look. No doubt somewhere there’s a detailed version written in difficult legal jargon, but this is at least the official gist of it. https://t.co/WwIc2Hy6iM

One of the things that becomes evident reading through, is that the status quo is fine, and change is political – or at least potentially political. Now, as I see things, there are huge political implications to the status quo, and this means business as usual gets to lobby anyone with a screen on a daily basis to persuade us that business as usual is just fine and dandy.

Greed, consumerism, waste, throw-away possessions, pollution, constant growth, capitalism, market economies – these are all part of business as usual. We are killing ourselves and the planet with business as usual, but because it’s normal, encouraging it isn’t considered political.

Take the car industry – with implications for road building, tax, air pollution, noise pollution, climate change, peak oil, road deaths, premature deaths from air pollution… these are all political issues. These are all issues that require governments to spend money. Many of them are issues that kill people. Transport is a big issue in terms of climate change. People with TVs are reminded on a daily basis of how good and desirable their cars are, because it’s business as usual and that’s fine, apparently. Car companies are not considered political, despite the massive political implications of car production.

Adverts for flights to exotic destinations are much the same. The fashion industry is a massive polluter, but apparently there are no political implications to showing adverts for clothes that help us wreck the planet. We can watch all the adverts we like for shampoos that are using palm oil and destroying habitats, but we can’t watch something that invites us to question this.

So much around us is set up to affirm that how we do things is fine, and change is suspect. We’re killing ourselves. We’re killing life on Earth. Business as usual is destructive, poisonous and unsustainable and we have to challenge the assumption that if something is normal, that’s a good thing. We need to radically change everything that humans do, which is a massive task. Doing it in the face of constant normalising and encouraging of all the most damaging things, makes it all that bit harder.

Here’s that Greenpeace/Iceland advert.

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.