OT: The Invisible War against Advertising and Influence

Note: This is not related to the Kindle.

Brian Carpenter has a very good post, Advertising is devastating to my well-being, and it points out two things worth agreeing with.

First, that advertising is terrible -

Stop making the world a garish and hideous place to live by flooding it with ads.

Stop trying to grab my attention, evoke emotional responses in me, manipulate my mind, and trick me into spending money on crap I don’t need. This is what advertisement is. Stop disrespecting me and insulting my intelligence. Stop viewing me as an anonymous, money-spending piece of cattle.

Stop trying to track my every move online. How many people understand tracking cookies? How many companies make it clear that every click is being recorded and data-mined? How is this ethical?

Second, that books and the Internet are relatively free of Advertising -

(By contrast, books (for example) are awesome. I pay for a book, and then I read the book start-to-finish with no ads, no distractions. A few pages at the back maybe, but I can ignore those. Books are nice.)

The internet is also a wonderful thing. FIRST a person or company puts a lot of information somewhere that everyone can read it effortlessly for free, and THEN they sometimes expect me to look at their ads. And I can simply choose not to.

It’s very interesting to read some of the comments which are in favor of advertising. They are mostly surface level arguments. Reality is that we’re beginning to get two opposing camps.

Intelligence Creating Things + Devices Vs Consumer Creating Things + Devices

There are some things that help you see reality, think for yourself, and be self-dependent and smarter.

  1. The Internet.
  2. Books.
  3. People whose life strategy is to help other people and benefit from that.
  4. Your Parents if they are aware of reality, and unfortunately, Parents may not always be very aware.
  5. Those of your friends who actually want good things for you and are intelligent.

Those are just a few – Hopefully, that illustrates what’s meant.

There are also some things that are trying to trick you into giving up your own life and let other people exploit you -

  1. Pretty much anything that promotes addiction like social games.
  2. Products and companies that tap into psychological weaknesses.
  3. Advertising that first creates artifical unhappiness and then exploits it.  
  4. Things that encourage you to live life as a ‘spectator-sport’ – This includes Facebook and YouTube and Video Games.
  5. At the highest level any culture that tries to trap you in the lower levels of Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy.

These are consumer creating machines.

Influence + Advertising are pretty hard to fight – unless you make people smarter

Take compliance chains – Get someone to agree to 5 small requests over the course of an hour and she/he will be almost powerless to refuse a bigger request. They’ll be left wondering how that just happened.

However, if they had read about it before or knew about it they’d know exactly what you were doing. The Internet and other things like it are doing exactly this – they are making us smarter and more aware of how people are manipulating us. It becomes harder and harder to stay dumb and unaware of influence and manipulation.

The Internet and books and things like NPR help people resist influence and be more aware of attempts to manipulate them.

  1. People become smarter. Consider all the reviews at Amazon – It’s fellow customers so you know you aren’t being fooled.  
  2. People become more aware. You read up on the Internet on lots of things – how people sell, what people use to influence you.  
  3. People learn from other’s experience.

Instead of ignorant, trusting, malleable consumers we suddenly have intelligent people making smart buying decisions.

Intelligent People make for Terrible Consumers if you’re a Greedy or Stupid Company

A smart company will simply create good value propositions and win-win situations. On the other hand a greedy or stupid company will try to prey on people’s weaknesses including their greed.

Give us all your information in return for this free service.

Let us attempt to manipulate you and trap you in return for this free game.

If people are unaware of what’s really happening they happily go along and get stuck in situations they hadn’t anticipated.

However, as people become more intelligent this stream of gullible consumers is replaced by an army of smart customers who either want nothing to do with greedy companies or want to exploit the greedy companies without getting trapped.

Which leaves companies with just two options – Find a way to unroll all the good the Internet is doing and make customers stupid again. Find better and stronger ways to manipulate people.

The Press and most sites are incapable of helping customers or even siding with smart customers because they are dependent on advertisers to survive. This dependence makes it easy for them to rationalize manipulating and influencing people.

The Press will keep trying to mislead customers

Main stream newspapers and blogs will always try to point customers to things that make them stupider. It’s not necessarily a conscious or active decision – It’s not as if they’ll direct you to an outright evil company. It’s just that they are funded by advertising so they MUST survive and they’ll send you to things and devices and companies that are promising to keep advertising (and hence the Press) alive.

There will be disasters

It’s naive to think we can take this great consumer culture (people being turned into advertising-motivated sheep) and suddenly replace it without major disasters. There will be – We’re seeing some of this already as newspapers are dying out and magazines are struggling.

Most of the companies and things associated with Influence and Advertising are going to die out. It’s happening before our eyes. Newspapers always talk about ‘monetization’ and ‘ad revenues’ and ‘keeping democracy alive’. What they really mean is – How do we continue to create stupid consumers who will buy whatever our advertisers are selling?

People always optimize for the rewards they are getting. If a newspaper’s only source of revenue is advertising then it optimizes for stupid, gullible people likely to easily buy things they are told to buy.

It’s not always going to be an Invisible War

Most of the things that are good for us are driven by people who aren’t very practical – they’re trying to fight against advertisers and the manipulators without respecting things like Money, Perception, and Influence.

However, this has begun to change in small and big ways – Warren Buffet and Bill Gates donating tens of billions instead of token charity payments, scale based companies rising up, the brutal competition on the Internet, the world becoming a smaller place, non-profits like Craigslist and Wikipedia taking off.

Most of all its people becoming smarter and helping other people become smarter and fighting against manipulation and influence. The death of newspapers and struggles of the old guard are just symptoms – The Real War is going to be Advertising and Influence Vs the Internet. Where ‘the Internet’ is you and me and every person who’s slowly stepping out of an advertising and manipulation induced haze.

There’ll come a time within the next 40 to 50 years when the thought that people were able to freely manipulate us will sound comical. When even the smartest companies won’t be able to exploit basic human responses the way advertising and social games now do. It may sound crazy until you look back 50 years and realize that this advertising driven world we live in didn’t exist.

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