Eroding our minds

I said that I thought “there’s something irresponsible about making money from advertising”.

Matt Weber was right to point out that although people hate the idea of targeted ads, they can be genuinely useful. Though I don’t think a very large proportion of the available advertising real estate offers the possibility for really great targeting.

[Of course, good advertising can be an art form in itself. And by funding most of our software and reading materials, advertising adds tremendous value to our lives.]

But even on the internet, most advertising still feels as though it’s about increasing our familiarity with the brand.

Think of advertising in terms of cognitive fluency, i.e. how easy we find something to process. There are lots of ways to make something fluent – make it easy to read, easy to pronounce, write it in a simple font, or in high contrast.

Things that are fluent (easy to process) get processed faster. We tend to like fluent things better, find fluent statements more valid. We think companies with fluent names are more valuable.

Advertisers have (implicitly) known this for a long time. By incessantly dinging our minds with an advert over and over, we are gently having that brand branded upon our minds, making it easier to process, more familiar, and making us unwittingly and unjustifiedly like it more. Like the banks of a river worn smooth by the ceaseless flow, advertising erodes our minds.

If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.

One thought on “Eroding our minds

  1. Strong words from a man providing a free vocabulary-learning service. 😉

    It's a fair point, though. And it's certainly not clear to me that incentives and technology will ever align in such a way that sparse, narrowly targeted ads will actually improve on constant, broad-beam exposure as an advertising strategy.

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