"A vast sector of modern advertising... does not appeal to reason but to emotion; like any other kind of hypnoid suggestion, it tries to impress its objects emotionally and then make them submit intellectually." ~ Erich Fromm
Observing television advertisements can be a means of measuring the value systems of a society. I say this because marketing is a scientific process that employs psychology as a tool to determine what images, words and sounds can be most effective in selling products and services to the masses. Therefore, the one single event watched by more people in the world than any other, the Super Bowl, can provide an abstract perspective of humanity -- a general reflection of ourselves.
I found myself laughing at some of the commercials (my favorite was the OREO whispering arguments in the library) but one particular advertiser was able to be effective without need for popularity, which is the reason it is most instructive in making my point. I'm speaking of the Go Daddy Super Bowl Commercials.
"Society drives people crazy with lust and calls it advertising." ~ John Lahr
If you are fortunate enough to have missed them, Go Daddy featured two commercials, both with the same themes as in past Super Bowls. The basic formula is to use sex appeal and shock value to get people talking about their web-hosting service. The implicit message, primarily aimed at men, is that success is measured by making loads of money, which can then be used to purchase private jets filled with scantily clad women serving cocktails. Most importantly, this "success" is accomplished quickly and easily.
Although there were reports of disapproving Twitter comments of these ads, and rightfully so, Go Daddy posted its biggest sales day in history on the day following the Super Bowl. This helps answer a question I ask myself every year while watching this enormous cultural event: "How does such mindless idiocy produce enough sales to justify the multi-million dollar cost to be seen for 30 seconds?" Two words: It works.
"Paradoxically, what keeps the so-called consumer society going is the fact that trying to find yourself through things doesn’t work: The ego satisfaction is short-lived and so you keep looking for more, keep buying, keep consuming." ~ Eckhart Tolle
The larger point here is that advertising reflects the overall society but it also perpetuates and expands cultural values, without regard for its usefulness or potential for the advancement or decline of the society. If there are profits to be made, find out how to make them and proceed to implement the strategy quickly and effectively. This is the Go Daddy model, but it is also representative of all advertising.
If the society is getting sicker by the day -- gaining weight, degrading women, becoming desensitized to violence, and defining success by monetary, material and social means -- it is only an afterthought, if at all a thought, in relation to financial gain. This is not a complaint, just an observation with hints of cynicism.
Even if your mind is powerful enough to resist buying a product or service in direct response to its marketing presence, the society still grows sicker because of the indirect responses -- the marketing messages are still infused into our thinking, our culture. How many children watched the Super Bowl? Do you think they recognize the difference between illusion and reality? Why did Go Daddy have record sales after their mindless ads aired before millions of people?
I do not pretend to be morally "above" anyone or anything. However, I can tell you what I teach my two young boys: All advertising is designed as a "trick" to motivate you to buy something. If you recognize the trick, you win; if you do not recognize the trick, you lose. They understand this completely:
"If you recognize illusion, it dissolves and becomes entertainment." ~ Kent Thune
Go Daddy is a joke; Rush Limbaugh is a comedian; Barack Obama is a magician; and the evening news exists to sell advertising, not to provide facts. They are all marketers; they are all illusionists. When you see or hear marketing messages, you can laugh at them, you can be entertained... at least until you realize how many people are actually still buying the illusions.