Commentary

Einstein's Corner: It Only Hurts When I Laugh--Part III

During the past two weeks, I've written about how we as marketers resort to more and more deceptive marketing and advertising tactics as a basic response to our diminishing faith in the power of what we do, and as a function of our denial of our addiction to it.

We no longer trust the truth--no longer even trust our ability to recognize the truth when we see it. So--by and by--we stop looking for it. We promote the efficacy of self-serving deception instead. Much of reality programming, for instance, is predicated on deception and deceit. The better the lie, the better the deception, the greater the reward.

True, there's nothing new under the sun, and as a predatory species concerned first and foremost with our own survival, we have always sought the advantage over the truth. But while seeking the advantage may better serve the interests of survival, seeking the truth is essential to improving the quality of life.

But what happens when our search for the advantage consumes all of our time and all of our energy? What happens when there's nothing left in the tank to fuel the search for truth? What happens when we promote deception as the only truth, or extol advantage as the only objective? If the medium is the message, what happens to the message when the medium is addictive? And how would we know?

The truth about addiction is that it tolerates and promotes only deception. Our excessive time investment in it displaces any concomitant search for the truth, and thereby compromises and cripples any efforts to improve the quality of life. As the default condition, addiction permeates every fiber of our being on every level, and adjusts the internal debate to serve its own self-interests exclusively.

Emblematic of how our addiction adjusts the debate to promote its own needs is the trusty old advertising/consumer quid pro quo mythology still cited so often by so many senior marketing professionals in defense of the commercial broadcast advertising model--a model now under escalating attack from numerous directions.

According to the mythology--dating back to the introduction of commercial radio--consumers will tolerate a certain level of advertising in exchange for free content. But there's a problem. Actually, a number of problems, beginning with the fact that free content--with the exception of commercial radio and the content broadcast to the 15% of the population not serviced by cable or satellite--no longer exists. The cable companies and ISPs are simply not in the business of giving away free content. The average basic cable bill--exclusive of premium "paid" programming-- has increased 40% in the last five years. A guy could go broke paying for all this free content. If the quid pro quo of advertising in exchange for free content is valid, why hasn't the sheer volume of advertising on TV and the Web decreased as our cable and ISP bills increased?

There is no more free content versus paid content. There's only paid content and paid more content, and therefore no more justification for the electronic advertising clutter in our lives--at least according to the logic embodied in the quid pro quo promoted by the industry itself.

Concerned with its own survival, however, the addiction steps in to moderate and frame the debate: Thousands of professional media addicts respond to the clarion call to defend the quid pro quo when there is clearly no quo, and only an increasing volume of quid to defend.

But the cost to defend deception--the cost to defend our addictions--always escalates, not unlike the cost of our cable and ISP access. No matter how much faster, how much smarter, or how much better we become in defense of our addictions, eventually the cost overwhelms the quality of our lives, and we end up--in the words of noted media ecologist Neil Postman--in imminent danger of amusing ourselves to death. A more perfect description of addiction would be difficult to find.

I would love to hear from media professionals who believe in the aforementioned quid pro quo why they think it's still valid, or if there's a better defense of advertising to consider.

Many thanks, as always, for your gracious time, dear reader. Best to you and yours...

Please note: The Einstein's Corner discussion group at http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/einsteinscorner/ is dedicated to exploring the adverse effects of our addictions to technology and media on the quality of our lives, both at work and at home. Please feel free to drop by and join the discussion.

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