“Phony careers and meaningless lives”

This week comedian and writer Jerry Seinfeld won a Clio award, intended to “reward innovation and creative excellence in advertising, design and communication”.  I don’t know why he won the award (indeed, he didn’t seem to know either), and I don’t really care: advertising and marketing are aspects of the modern consumerist world that make me feel ill if I think about them for too long.

“I love advertising because I love lying.”

Seinfeld comes close to illustrating my sentiment when it comes to advertising, and did this whilst on stage accepting his Clio (named after the Greek goddess and muse, not the Renault).  With the trophy in hand, he tore into the world of advertising:

He goes on to support materialism with such subtle irony that most of the audience, presumably made up of execs there hoping to win one of these awards for themselves, applauds and cheers apparently in a delighted state of ignorance.  Jerry also talks about the 1991 Clio debacle, in which the presenting company suffered so poorly from mismanagement that it had run itself into the ground and its employees had walked out, leaving the award show to be run by the caterer and a few drunken volunteers.  It doesn’t support what I’m saying here, but it’s a grimly amusing anecdote that you can read about on the Wiki page.

I’m writing this blog not because I thought Seinfeld was particularly funny or insightful – in fact, accepting an award only to ridicule its sponsors is a bit of a dick move, when he could have simply refused – but having worked in the world of corporate marketing and sales I hope it might go some way towards explaining why I chose to abandon Western business and take up teaching in the East.

“In advertising everything is the way you wish it was.  I don’t care that it won’t be like that when I actually get the product being advertised … We all believe that ‘Hey, maybe this one won’t stink!’  We are happy in that moment between the commercial and the purchase.”

Advertising has become inherently dishonest and manipulative.  It doesn’t need to be this way: an ad in the paper advertising a car with its specs and price is something that you still see from time to time.  This is all an advert needs, and the product will speak for itself.  But as businesses produce shoddier products, their advertising must become proportionately deceptive in order to make it seem appealing.  I spent over a year writing sales material for a global company and felt unclean the entire time.

“I think spending your lives trying to dupe innocent people out of hard-won earnings to buy useless, low-quality, misrepresented items and services is an excellent use of your energy.”

I spent most of my down-time avoiding television.  I don’t listen to radio, either.  Advertisements bother me to the extent that I don’t even go to where they might appear.  I’m tired of seeing TV ads with misleading charts and statistics, where spurious data is manipulated to appear legitimate.  Anyone who looks closely can see through these ruses, but many do not look, and others accept that deception is a part of advertising.

I look forward to the day when the only marketing I see is in incomprehensible Chinese hieroglyphs.

— db

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