This is a brief history of advertising.
People have always wanted to sell things, but they needed ways to tell people that their products were for sale. So they decided, back in history, to explain to consumers why the consumers should buy their products in little messages, sometimes with pictures. It was reasonable and rational. It made sense.
Then, in the early 20th century, a car company decided that it would sell a lifestyle rather than just a product. The ad, which was for a now-defunct car make, told its readers that if they bought the car, they would be living out an adventurous lifestyle, and who wouldn’t want to do that?
So the thing in advertising since then has been selling lifestyles. You buy Downy, you’re a caring mother. You buy Chevy, you’re an American man. You buy Bud Light, you’re a dedicated football fan. And that’s how companies have tried to get American people to buy their products—through the image.
But that’s no longer good enough.
At Saatchi & Saatchi, one of the largest (and, by the looks of their offices, most profitable) advertising firms in the country, we learned about the “lovemark.” This is the newest development in advertising genius, and can be defined as the emotional connection advertisers try to create between a consumer and a particular brand name. So no longer do you just buy Downy for the lifestyle; you love Downy and wouldn’t do laundry without it. The way it was explained, the lovemark sounds like a tremendous humanitarian effort to promote love and good feelings throughout the world. The Saatchi rep who told us about it seemed to believe that the lovemark would end hunger and war for dinner and save the rainforests for dessert. She told us that the lovemark, essentially, made advertising mean something greater than profiteering.
But when it comes down to it, the lovemark is just another way to manipulate consumers. And that’s why I would have to sell my soul before I would ever work for an advertising agency.
By definition, advertising is manipulation in order to make money; it has no other purpose. Some commercials pluck your heartstrings or make you laugh, but what they’re really doing is grabbing your attention and selling a brand. There is nothing greater, nothing more foundational, in the business.
In journalism, there are greater principles at stake to which journalists may strive. The same is true for the profession of law, politics, sometimes business, and the list goes on. But in advertising, I just don’t see it.