Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Evils of Advertizing

My alma mater has only last week started blaring rock music in between plays at football games. Football at Notre Dame is sacred, and it is strange that they are playing with this ritual (adding music and a jumbo-tron, which is under consideration, is the football equivalent of Vatican II reforms). There are mixed reactions to it. From what I hear, the music on the loudspeakers is competing with the marching bands' music (USC also had their band there last week), and it makes the announcements impossible to hear. At the very least they need to coordinate the sound system better. But the bigger issue is that if (when) they get the jumbo-tron, it will be paid for by a corporate sponsor, who will expect to have commercials played on the screen.  ND people were actually saying that the ND stadium was said to be one of the quietest in the country, so something had to be done. Apparently, ND is slow to add music and a giant screen; I guess tradition was important.  Some say the stadium was quiet because students only make up a small portion of the stadium (capacity 80,795; it was expanded from just over 59,000 when I was a student there; there are just under 12,000 students, of which only 8371 are undergrads. Students used to make up almost 20% of the stadium, but now they are less than 15% of the audience).  Professional sports events are now dominated by giant TVs and sound systems.  I guess the game itself is not exciting enough, and we need to be stimulated by music and ads. Of course, it is the ads that pay for this, and can bring in more money. From the commercial point of view, if you don't do this, you are leaving money on the table.

The issue of advertising's effect on society is addressed by a very interesting column by George Monbiot entitled Sucking Out Our Brains Through Our Eyes.  He notes that advertizing pays for his salary, especially as the sales of physical copies of newspapers decline, and newspapers rely more and more on ad revenue from online websites. Bloggers rely on ads too. But it is having a pernicious effect on our culture, making us more and more extrinsic in our value orientation, rather than intrinsic.
People with a strong set of intrinsic values place most weight on their relationships with family, friends and community. They have a sense of self-acceptance and a concern for other people and the environment. People with largely extrinsic values are driven by a desire for status, wealth and power over others. They tend to be image-conscious, to have a strong desire to conform to social norms and to possess less concern for other people or the planet. They are also more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression and to report low levels of satisfaction with their lives.

Monbiot ruminates on how dependent he is on advertizing for his income. I'm guilty too, in that I enjoy the free content on websites ("free" websites are made possible by ads, of course).  If people were more aware of how ads distort their thinking, they might be more careful. But research has found that everyone overestimates their ability to discount advertising.  It really is insidious.  And it is about to enter the Notre Dame stadium, which is practically sacred ground.  There really is no place safe from advertizing. How many years before there are corporate logos (aside from the jersey manufacturers) on players' uniforms?

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