Monday, May 23, 2011


The rapture came and went with seemingly few sinners being thrust into a burning lake or otherwise wrestling with the devil. We had a few major catastrophes over the last few days, the Mississippi overflowing its banks, giant tornadoes crashing into a hospital in Missouri, but nothing out of the ordinary. In New York, we even had sunshine for the first day in weeks.

But thinking about the rapture made me think about advertising and it power, real or imagined. There are critics of our profession who say that advertising creates demand. That it makes people buy things they don't need. Sometimes, these same people declare that no one believes advertising anymore and that traditional forms of marketing communications are obsolete.

Purportedly $100 million was spent on advertising the rapture. I have to believe that that expenditure moved and convinced a lot of people who were predisposed to believe that judgment is coming. They repented their sins, arranged for pet-care and left their dishes in the sink. They believed the signs because they believed. Advertising helped them embrace what they already believed.

I think that's what advertising does best. Helps people believe more fervently what they hope to believe. My mother's generation, the kids of immigrants, believed that becoming an American meant having a certain kind of home. Waxy yellow build-up wasn't going to stand in my mother's way of being an exemplar.

Likewise, American beer advertising works because it tells out of shape layabout males that they have a chance with nubile supermodels. It works because the viewer is willing to believe the fantasy.

Many people who find sports interesting buy expensive television sets that promise to make sports more interesting.

Similarly, Apple's ads work because they let people believe that they'll be cool and creative if they buy Apple products. I don't know if any book written on an iPad will ever be half as good as The Canterbury Tales or any movie edited on a desktop will ever be as good as early Buster Keaton. But you're creative you must have a Mac even though you'll likely never publish a word or produce a movie any more elaborate than Grandma's 80th Celebration.

Yet all of us, in many different ways, buy into mythologizing. We buy beer or laptops or judgment because we want to believe in something.

I'm not sure advertising can make you believe in anything or buy anything you're not predisposed to feel favorably about in the first place.

We don't create belief. We appeal to it.


Anonymous said...

Wow you're a cyncical guy George. Pretty dark vision. Then were all hucksters (you included)?


george tannenbaum said...

The power of accurate observation is often call cynicism by those who haven't got it.

--George Bernard Shaw

Anonymous said...

Recognize that and Orwell's comment about advertising as a swill pit but if we don't believe, get excited about, or care deeply about what were doing than we may as well be sandwich artists at Subway.