Tim Longhurst's Blog

Advertising keeps rich wanting more? Give me a break!

May 5th, 2005 · No Comments

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ogilvy.jpg“While children are dying at a rate of 30 000 per day
because of poverty,” Tim Longhurst complains, “a billion-dollar advertising industry
exists to make sure that we in the West never feel we have enough.”

I’ve got a message for Tim Longhurst: where did you find the keyboard
to type that complaint? In your treehouse? Or did an ADVERTISEMENT tell
you about keyboards? Wake up, Longy, you’re an idiot.

Tim is, of course, commenting on research
that shows that 62% of Australians believe they “can’t afford the
things they really need”. Longhurst argues (unconvincingly) that the
vast majority of Australians are, by global standards, incredibly
wealthy and the vast majority have their basic needs met.
In the very statistic he quotes, Tim is showing how out of touch he is
with the Australian people: clearly 62% of Australians think he’s wrong.

Is all this ‘lack of contentment’ the
fault of advertising, purely because advertising encourages people to
want more things? I’m sorry, but I don’t see the link.

Let me tell you something – I never thought I’d use this column to
take sides, but it’s about time the battlers in the advertising
industry had a champion. I humbly accept that role.

At first glance, “a child dies from poverty every 3 seconds” seems like a compelling call to action, but let me ask you, have you ever met one of these “11 million children who die each year from poverty?” Even one? Of course you haven’t. So if this stopped happening, would you even notice?

Let’s imagine for a moment that you lobbied your government to contribute more funds for the UN’s Millennium Development Goals and that you began supporting organisations that campaign to cancel crippling debt in developing countries. Even if you did create a ‘fairer world‘, how would that change your life? For one, you’d probably have less money to spend on things. Now who cares about the kids?

A world without poverty? You’re not in poverty, so let’s get some perspective on this issue.

A world without advertisements? Now that’s a scary place.
Without consumer brands, how would people find their sense of
individuality? Imagine walking into a bar and having no idea which
beverage best expressed your personality? How would people know if you
were a sophisticated, worldly type or a relaxed, happy-go-lucky type?
By meeting you? I don’t think so.

How would you even know which beer you liked? By taste testing? They
all taste about the same for goodness sake! The point that you and I
know, and obviously Tim has missed, is that brands allow us to cut corners. We don’t have to taste all the drinks on the shelf, we can narrow that list substantially to just the drinks we’ve heard of, and finally, to the drinks that we have an emotional connection
with. Advertising, dear Timothy, is how we connect people with
products. Advertising is useful because it relieves us from having to
work out our priorities for ourselves.

Advertising is the art of shaping priorities. If it just so happens
that the only people wise enough to invest millions of dollars shaping
the priorities of our citizens are corporations, then what do you
expect? Do you expect General Electric to turn around and get people
thinking about the kids who aren’t getting nourishment, or about the shiny new refrigerator they’re trying to sell? Get serious, Longhurst.


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