What are ads (potentially) good for?

Tags: English, technology, opinions
Created on Wed, 26 Nov 2014

When I was small, I've always hated the ads on TV that would interrupt my favorite movie or show. And they would do this 5 times in an hour, sometimes for so long that I would forget what I was watching. I didn't see the point of them at all. Well, unless I wanted to go pee - and I actually thought for quite a while that this is the reason for ads.

Then someone told me that this is how the channels are supporting themselves and that without the ads, TV would not exist. I thought this is stupid.

But as I grew up, I accepted the fact. I still hated them though and me and my family would have the desperate "Argh!" whenever we heard the famous jingle of the ad block beginning. And they would of course do it in the most interesting part of the movie. This is supposed to be entertaining?!

Are all ads evil though? Isn't there some value in them? I would like to spend some time to rethink the advertisement model in the world.

To start of, I believe the model is currently very corrupt and generally accepted as evil. To help us understand what are the underlying causes of ads, let's get way back to human history, before mass media.

The begining

People wanted things because they needed them to survive or to improve one's well being. For example, they exchanged their chicken eggs for cow's milk with people who they trusted. A person, call him Jeremy from Brothertown, may become really popular that his cow's milk is the best, so people would understand that from word of mouth.

Jeremy wants to let more people know how special care he takes of his cows so that they produce the great milk they have. Word of mouth still plays big role, but people who have great reputation might want to expand even further, let even more people know about his great cows' milk. Jeremy is thinking all good - he wants people to benefit from the great things he does. How does one do that? He gives some extra delicious milk for free to some other people to promote it, to spread the news. "Jeremy from Brothertown has the best cows' milk!".

This is good - Jeremy gets more clients, more people are happy because they found a better product.

Modern days

As society moved to monetary system and information about products exploded, people found it harder and harder to make a choice of who to exchange goods with, who to trust.

This is not to say Jeremy could not turn evil in the old days. He could of course give people free milk to spread the news, even if he doesn't have good reputation. But with a tribe or village of 100 or even 1000 people, this would quickly turn itself around and nobody would trust Jeremy anymore. With the globalization and explosion of information, today it's easier to make false claims than when groups of people lived in a smaller social circles.

Flash-forward to today. While businesses still benefit from spreading the news about their products, some of them might not be so benevolent. Take Alice's small flower shop. She advertises in the local newspaper, putting in people's mind every time they need flowers, they would go there. Alice finds clients, people find flowers quickly. All looks good.

But what if Alice decides to double the prices so she could pay for her advertisements. People would still go there because of imperfect information, but they would pay more than they should. They might not know that, as Alice understands her market well better than any individual who is not in the flower's business. In a sense, we could rationalize that people pay the extra bit for the saved time of research. But we can already feel that something is not right.

Say Alice not only increases her price per flower, but in order to get greater profit, she also lowers the quality of flowers. She doesn't take that much care of them, doesn't work as hard, get inferior cheaper soils and chemicals and as a result the flowers go bad quicker. Customers will eventually be unhappy, but because of imperfect information and brainwashing, people would still go there believing they are the ones who don't take good care. I mean, look at all the advertisement - a lot of people might be buying them, something is wrong with me. Alice makes a lot of profit.

Take another scenario. Politicians spend millions of taxpayers money just a month before the elections to boost their visibility and penetrate people's mind. Wouldn't it be great if instead of that, they were just doing their best over the 4-year term and when elections come, people vote based on the summary of the politician has been doing in his time in office? If someone is doing well, all the time, why would he spent millions just before elections to brainwash their citizens? Especially in developing countries where the mass media is flawed by corruption, this gives an unfair advantage to people with tons of money rather than people who actually have great ideas.

So what?

Ads have devolved. We are constantly bombarded with fake advertisement, false claims, propaganda, brainwashing. Advertisers believe their users to be monkeys, they go for cheap tricks like showing a sexy (half-) naked woman (sexism, anyone?) which has nothing to do initially with beer, showing happy, smiling people looking down at you, the miserable middle-man; going for people's basic instincts like fear, guilt, shame. And this is everywhere - billboards, newspapers, magazines, TV... Internet. Ads on the Internet are by far I think the worst of them all - agencies go for making everything possible to force users click on something ridiculous that they never wanted or cared about, interrupting their videos or reading articles for "message from our sponsors". Not even mentioning the creepy following and intrusion of personal life.

But is it possible to support business without advertisement? Is the Internet and society going to survive without ads at all? I mean, Google is in the advertising business, and they are "not evil" right?

Some ads potentially could be good. Ads that just boost the visibility of the product, letting people know that this thing exists, that this product or service may improve one's life - are good. But who needs ads about Coca-Cola 5 times a day? Who doesn't know about it? And even if somebody doesn't, why do we have to constantly be reminded about it in an obtrusive way, interrupting our daily lives.

I mean, never, in my life have I woken up in the morning thinking "Oh my God, today I am going to see a bunch of ads that would interrupt the things I actually want to do!". I would like to get the useful information about the products without having to see posters and TV spots and having AdBlock run everywhere and people arguing that the Internet will not survive without the ads.

The Solution?

First of, I believe there are many other models of how individuals and companies can make money. As a beginner, if you do something good, people will come even if you don't want them to.

But the Internet has so many free stuff, it can't possibly be the case that could work if it wasn't for ads - Wikipedia has proved that good things happen without ads. I believe humanity as a whole is not that evil. If you do something good, people will support you to continue doing it. People are not afraid of paying for things that they find useful. And the fact of our modern society is - if you don't do something that people want for the price they want to pay - someone else will. They will do it cheaper or for free, they would get people to like them and trust them, and you my greedy friend, will go out of business. Eventually if people like your product or service, they would help you stay in the shape because they care about you. You essentially become their friend - and, I believe, people like helping their friends, they won't let their friends die. Of course, people are selfish, people do want to be better off, but people also like to keep some people closer than others, someone to call a friend. "A guy needs somebody-to be near him. A guy goes nuts if he ain't got nobody. Don't make no difference who the guy is, long's he's with you. I tell ya, I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an' he gets sick" (from "Of Mice and Men").

Think of your best friend or best friends. Wouldn't you do anything for them? There is a famous anecdote which I turned into a saying of myself.

A guy calls his best friend at 3 a.m. telling him that he just killed a man. The friend answers without hesitation - "Where should I bring the shovels"?

I call these friends shovel-friends. I don't ask them questions, I support them unquestionably and I trust them this much that if I was in this situation as in the anecdote, I would do the same and figure out the consequences later.

On a more realistic basis, friends help friends - if you want to build something cool, friends will come and support you. They will give you the resources and help. With the modern technology and globalization this has never been easier. Crowdfunding is one way. If you already have people who liked what you have build so far and tell them (even as a company entity) "Hey, you know, I have this great new crazy idea that it just might work. But I need your help - could you spare a dollar this month to help me try things out?". If you have hundreds of thousands of people who you make happy every single day because of the things you do, if they trust you, if they spend good time you do, if you make them laugh or be curious about the world; if you spend more time on people's good qualities - curiosity, altruism, trust - they would respond with the same.

Go for their bad qualities like fear and making them feel stupid - and they will hate you. And even if you win in the short term by forcing them to look, listen and interact with things they don't want to, in the long run - are you increasing the love in the Universe? Are these people going to help you tomorrow when you need a shovel-buddy?

Think about it...