Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Thursday April 02 2009

I am always on the lookout for Fixed Quantity Of theories, ever since I wrote a pamphlet for the Libertarian Alliance called The Fixed Quantity of Wealth Fallacy.  And I have long felt that I was observing another of these amongst advertisers and their defenders, in the form of a Fixed Quantity of Advertising Money.  I claim no originality for any of this thinking.  My Guru on this, Adriana Lukas, has been telling me stuff like this for years.  What I have in mind is the notion that there is this great gob of money that is just Out There, to advertise stuff, and It Has To Go Somewhere.

No it doesn’t.  What if, as Adriana herself has long been saying, advertising just shrinks, from Capital A Advertising back to plain old old-school advertising, to the emission of product information and specs, accompanied by puff from the makers explaining why they made it and why they hope it will do well and who they think might like it and might like to buy it, just put on some internet notice board somewhere, for people to link to and talk about and agree with and disagree with and generally pass it on if they’re interested.  Because you see, all those billboards and telly ads and full page spreads in the newspapers are not just being switched off.  They are not being replaced on anything like a sufficient scale to keep everyone in the puffery trade still puffing along in the manner they used to be accustomed to.

In a way it’s the old hippy dream, first publicised by the likes of Vance Packard in the 1950s, that advertising would just stop, and simply be replaced by people just making stuff, and other people just buying it if they wanted it.  Capitalism eh? You make impossible demands of it, and then the damn thing does it!

Personally, I am finding that the capital A Advertising that has dominated the last half century still works okay, in those places where it always did work okay.  Works okay as in: does not annoy me.  (Whether it still sells me stuff on the same old scale is a different story.  I guess: not.) I don’t have a problem with movie posters in the London Underground, or big signs next to motorways or on the side of buses.  But I find “internet advertising” very irritating.

Interestingly, when I am surfing, I find myself making a distinction between Real Adverts and “internet adverts”.  Real Adverts are adverts that I have already seen in the Underground or wherever, simply reproduced on internet sites.  Thus, for instance, I have recently been noticing internet adverts for Quantum of Solace, which are graphically identical to the real adverts that you see out in Real Advert World, i.e in the Underground and on billboards in the street.  To this QoS advert, I do pay some vaguely respectful attention, in among being annoyed by how it is placing itself in my way and demanding my attention - which I suppose must supply a quantum of solace to old-school advertisers.  But any advert that is only on the internet, I find absolutely worthless.  Total junk.  Nothing but interruption between me and what I am actually trying to pay attention to.

Much seems to hinge in the advertising trade on the notion of “targetted” advertising.  I find targetted adverts particularly annoying, and particularly uninformative.

The point is, whenever I now see an internet advert which I have not seen in Real Advert Space, I don’t know if it is a Real Advert (like that QoS one), or merely an advert targetted at me. And if it is targetted at me, then to hell with it. If someone is only saying this to me, then I’m almost certainly not interested.  What I want to know about is what someone rich thinks it worth his while to say to everybody.  It is exactly the untargetted nature of old-fashioned adverts, Real Adverts in Real Advert Space, that makes them so useful and amusing to me.  Untargetted adverts are Real Adverts.  Targetted adverts are visual spam.

Untargetted adverts are adverts which I know to be very expensive.  What they tell me is that this product, and this Real Advert, are things that lots of other people besides me are interested in, or things that someone with a lot of money to burn thinks that lots of people besides me will be interested in or might be interested in.  But if I see an advert at the top of a blog or website that I have only seen on blogs or websites, how do I know how it got there?  Is this on this blog for everyone?  Or: just for me, and for all the other people on some rather small list that merely happens to include me?  Don’t know.  So, even if it actually is a Real Advert, being bombed at everyone who reads this bit of the internet, I screen it out.  Basically, what I am saying is: I hate internet advertising, because I learn nothing from it.  It is not just interruption.  Interruption is all it is.

Advertising still works, in Real Advert Space, in such places as the Underground or Trafalgar Square or an airport or beside the motorway - in the sense, as I say, that it does not induce active hostility.  But the internet is not a “public space”.  It is my personal space, or something, or I don’t quite know what.  Whatever it is exactly, the internet is certainly not a giant collection of Undergrounds and Trafalgar Squares.  What works on the internet is someone talking to me, or writing talkatively for me, in a manner that I can easily switch off and can choose to go on listening to.  Perhaps a bloke is talking about some new product about which he is genuinely enthusiastic or intrigued by or admiring of, because he just is, not because he has been paid to say all this, any more than I am being paid by Adriana Lukas to puff her stuff.  What absolutely does not work is some hired twat dripping with insincerity, whom I know nothing about except this, standing right next to me and the person who is now talking with me so amusingly, and shouting into my ear - because the hired twat has “targetted” me.

From time to time I get emails from people wanting, or saying that they are wanting (who knows the real story? - what if they are just compiling a list of suckers to bombard with penis enlargement emails) to advertise on my blog.  The answer to all of these people is: no.

If I want more money, I’ll try to do more paid work or try to spend less of what I have on classical CDs.  I will not clamber aboard the sinking ship that is the capital A Advertising Industry.

Any adverts you seen here, Real Adverts or internet adverts, will have been put here by me because I consider them to be in some way interesting.  No money will have changed hands.

So, for instance, if I include this piece of foolishness (which I came across at the top of this ...

image

... it is because it was easy to copy and reduce, and because it gives me the chance to mock the bit of it that says “Where the conversation begins”.  (These twats still seem to imagine that conversations can’t begin without them.) Nobody paid me.

And here is another advert, which I actually quite like, which I snapped in the Underground:

image

I like it because, based on the snippets I’ve seen of it so far, I am going to rather like Michael Sheen’s turn as football management legend Brian Clough, and am looking forward to recording it when it comes out on telly and adding it to my home-made DVD collection.

imageOn the other hand, the examples of internet advertising I have supplied in this are woefully insufficient to make my point.  Which sort of is my point, because in the normal course of things I literally don’t see them, as anything but something to be scrolled past or swatted aside.  While searching rather pointlessly for actual examples of such interruptions, I discovered something which rather proves the point some more.  In my bit of the internet, there really isn’t much advertising to be seen.  Which would rather suggest that it isn’t worth anyone’s while to be doing it.