Maturation of marketing and branding practices over the past 25 years or so has led to increasingly intrusive demands for our attention in order to make a brand impression. As the Communications Revolution of the 90s expanded the media available for advertising, advertising expenditures grew and a media event without advertising and/or sponsorship became unthinkable. This table shows data for the years 2002-2003 indicating the greatest increases in media that existed only modestly 25 years ago. Further, stunts such as tattoos on foreheads (here and here), printing on eggs , and ads on stairs are indications that there is no space beyond the reach of advertisers in their desperation to raise their messages above the din that the deluge of advertising has created.
It is problematical, to say the least, that we can’t escape advertising. Anyone with a whit of understanding knows that TV networks aren’t selling shows to advertisers. Instead, shows attract viewers, and it’s viewers who are being sold to advertisers. While we make modest attempts to protect children from cigarette and alcohol advertising on TV (which isn’t working), the ads themselves and the ubiquity of product placement in programming guarantee, according to this website, that children as young as two — before they can even read — recognize two-thirds of popular brand logos. Parents who plunk their kids down in front of the TV are effectively selling out their kids to advertisers.
One new practice that functions as a harbinger of doom is the placement of advertising in textbooks. Apologists offer that the upside of this practice is that students will soon be able to get textbooks for free when advertising and sponsorship replaces the revenue normally derived from sales. That rationalization is, of course, a sign that the battle is already lost. Economic utility (grooming pliant young consumers right in the schools) won out long ago (see here and here) over the broad educational ideal of instilling in young minds a love of learning. Another example of children’s education being sold out to commercial interests is the sponsored field trip — to stores. The pretense may be instruction in health, hygiene, safety, or history, but the underlying motivation of sponsors is selling.
One might hope adults are less vulnerable to advertising than the young. However, when our reality from birth is informed by the influence of advertisers, what hope is there really that we can form our ideas objectively and without the undue influence of those with a commercial agenda? Once coopted as a child, do adults really break free and operate independently? If the example of the SUV, marketed and sold to us as a desirable vehicle to own and operate, despite significant drawbacks, that answer has to be “no.”