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Every day we are assaulted by advertisements. We wake up to radio ads from our alarm clock. We see ads rolling down the streets on taxis and buses. Our fellow citizens wear advertisements on their chest like a badge of pride. In pursuit of knowledge online and in newspapers and magazines, our reading and thought is constantly interrupted by large text and flashing images that insult our intelligence. We sit ourselves in front of our TVs at night to be preached to by corporations.
Advertising is an insult to the intelligence of all of us. We are expected to, and many of us do, buy products based on 30-second snippets that say very little about why a certain product is good. Beer is purchased because a commercial made us laugh. Clothing, cologne, fast food, and many other things are purchased because good looking people are using them and meeting other good looking people who are doing the same. Wouldn’t you rather base your purchasing decisions on a well-written review, or perhaps a hands-on test drive? Every time you are shown a mindless advertisement, you are being called stupid. You cannot make informed decisions on your own. Not only that, but you cannot even make informed decisions with help. Advertisers are relying on the fact that you are going to buy their product based on factors that have nothing at all to do with their product. Advertising is inherently dishonest. You are constantly being lied to. Does this not enrage you?
For some forms of advertising, there is the following dilemma: How are you to view content without advertisements?
Many people use technological tools such as ad blockers to remove advertisements from web pages. I find this to be a breach of the unwritten (and, I am sure, written) contracts that you have with websites that you view. You are not directly paying for the content you are viewing, so why should you be able to use their resources (bandwidth, server resources) without viewing their ads? Having said this, I think pop-up blockers are a different story. It is not expected or acceptable behavior for new windows to open from an unauthorized website.
First of all, if the website offers an acceptable subscription offer, shell out the dough. Slashdot offers a subscription to their website that is quite acceptable. For $5, you get 1000 ad-free page views, along with several other small features. I signed up for this subscription on October 19, 2005, and have since used only 260 page views. At this rate, I am paying approximately $0.065 per day to view Slashdot, which I do frequently.
Secondly, if the website does not offer an acceptable subscription, write them a letter telling them what you are seeking. If they get enough letters, they will start to listen, especially if they see that they are losing readers.
The subscription method is not the only way to make money from a website without advertising. Some websites sell merchandise. An excellent example of this is Homestar Runner, my favorite web cartoon. They have no advertising, but do quite well through merchandise sales alone. A website that seems to have missed out on this opportunity is, sadly, cockeyed.com. Rob Cockerham could have surely made a decent amount of money by asking for donations and selling merchandise. Unfortunately, his website has advertisements. He even whored himself out to huge advertisements plastered on one of his pages as auctioned off on eBay. I emailed him, pleading for him to make money in another way, and even bid $50 on the eBay auction. Unfortunately, I didn’t win the auction, nor did Rob respond to my requests to calm down on the advertising.
Television and radio have similar problems and solutions. Unfortunately, there is not much we can do about broadcast TV, other than to support our public access channels to keep them ad-free (which isn’t always the case). The problem is that broadcast TV cannot deliver ads to some, and not to others.
Focusing on cable TV, everyone pays for it, and everyone still has to view advertisements. Looking up cable television rates on the Comcast website, the minimum monthly cost for zip code 94109 is $16.52 for basic cable. There are plans costing as much as $100/month with most of the channels still including gratuitous amounts of advertising. But, there is no alternative, correct? Well, almost. True, there is no other option as far as cable TV goes. There are alternatives to entertainment, however. Netflix and others offer DVD movies by mail subscriptions. And, of course, there are books, magazines, and the Internet.
Use your personal power of capitalism and choose not to pay for cable television. Write the cable company a letter telling them how you feel. Additionally, many of us have heard of Tivo by now. It lets you record TV shows and watch them at your leisure, even skipping through advertisements. I personally find it to be too expensive, especially when added to the cost of cable TV. But, for those who like to watch TV more than I do, it is a viable option.
At this point we have discussed several ways in which we are advertised to on forums owned by corporations. But what do we do when our own government is promoting advertisements? Corporate advertisements on public property are endorsements of whatever is being advertised. How can our government possibly endorse the practices of corporations such as McDonalds, which purchased advertising space on subway cars in Washington DC? Could we perhaps personify a corporation? McDonalds has unfair labor practices, and promotes unhealthy eating. Maybe we could replace the images on the subway with a slave owner eating red meat and cheese. Maybe then people viewing the ads would see what is really being shown to them.
Even our public schools are polluted by advertising. From Commercial Alert, “Channel One is a company that delivers two minutes of advertising and ten minutes of “news,” banter and fluff to captive audiences of about 7.7 million students in 11,500 middle and high schools across the country.” In addition to Channel One, we have a larger problem of corporate-sponsored vending machines and fast food restaurants being allowed access to our schools. Super Size Me (documentary) and Fast Food Nation (book) provide excellent details on this growing problem.
Fortunately, we have several ways to change how government works. You can write your representative, protest, and most importantly, vote. Unfortunately, even our elections have been greatly influenced by pathetic forms of advertising. Votes are captured by 30-second sound-bytes and phrases such as “flip flop”. The presidential “debates” are just one giant taxpayer-funded advertisement for only two choices, excluding (and arresting) those who actually have new ideas that they’d like to explain at length.
So what is the “big picture”, society-wide solution to this advertising dilemma? Truthfully, there isn’t a “big picture” solution as long as we are living in a capitalistic society. As long as advertising works to sell more products, advertising will be used. Having said that, we should not be content to let our government promote advertising. Advertising needs to be removed from our public property like public transportation vehicles and public buildings. Write your respective representatives to let them know how you feel.
What can be done, however, is to remove much of the influence of advertising from your own life. Reject magazines, newspapers, television, radio, and other sources that have obnoxious amounts of advertising. Write to these companies stating that you would prefer an ad-free subscription model as opposed to the model that is currently promoted.
Not only can you remove yourself from the influence of advertising, but you can also be a small part of the solution for others. You surely have countless articles of clothing promoting one company or another. Get rid of them. Wear clothing that does not obnoxiously promote for-profit enterprises. Be the change that you wish to see in the world.
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