A few years ago, I thought I had everything a person could want. The advertising agency I had founded was growing strong, and now had more than 100 employees spread across three branches. I had been invited to join a prestigious network of CEOs, who were all under 45 while their companies made at least U$12 million a year. I had an incredible wife by my side and my five children were healthy and doing well at school.
I had everything I believed a man could possibly want. But I wasn’t happy.
At that point, I had spent more than 20 years working in advertising agencies. I began my working life as a graphic designer, and a few years later, I left my job to create my own company. Thanks to luck and what I learned while working in some top-notch marketing agencies, my business grew fast.
As a young designer creating logos and designing ads, I believed my job was to create beautiful business cards, logos and magazine pages. But after a few years, I began to learn that at its essence, all successful marketing and advertising campaign consists of making people feel inadequate about their current choices, so we could convince them that they will feel better once they buy a product or service.
The main goal of all marketing efforts is to convince people that the solution to all problems can be solved by paying for something: buying a vacation trip, buying mood changers like antidepressants or alcohol, paying for fancy restaurants, new cell phones.
The goal is also to make people believe that consumption is a symbol of success in itself. To believe that if someone has a bigger house, he is more successful even if he doesn’t spend most of his day in it. If someone gives his son a new bicycle, he is somehow a better father. If anyone has a better car, he would be a more successful person, even if that car would mainly place him in traffic to take him to spend his days as a modern slave in an office.
Basically, it’s like working at Austin Power’s Dr. Evil HQ.
Also, as we know, at ad agencies, advertising is the tax that a client pays for not be remarkable. If a product, service, or company were truly special or necessary, word-of-mouth would do all the work. That’s precisely why you don’t see advertising campaigns asking you to use electricity, eat vegetables, or drink water. But you can’t spend a day without being bombarded by ads telling you to buy things you don’t need, to pay for something you could find cheaper, better, or healthier. The bottom line is that if something is being advertised, you really don’t need it, and is probably a lie or, at best, an exaggeration.
Some experienced marketing people I’ve met all these years know they are preying on people’s insecurities to make money. They know that they are helping to create the worst world. But not because they are eminently bad, but because they are also victims of the system of which they themselves are agents. They are both perpetrators and victims. They believe that if they didn’t do what they do, they wouldn’t have all the stuff they believe they need.
And many are good heart people just repeating other people’s evil tactics, still unaware of the consequences of their life choices to our world and others.
If an advertising campaign doesn’t make a young poor girl feel insecure, she won’t feel that she needs to ask her parents to buy the same brand of shoes as all the other girls at her school. If someone doesn’t find his daily life tedious and monotonous, he has little reason to buy an expensive car. If a woman doesn’t become jealous of the skin of some Hollywood celebrity or her daughters’ friends, she will have no reason for buying makeup, cosmetic surgery, or botox injections. If an executive isn’t feeling somehow inferior to his colleagues, he won’t spend $10,000 to showcase a watch whose only practical function is to tell him the exact same time that is already stamped on the front of his cell phone, on his dashboard car, and in the corner of his computer screen. Companies feed on insecure people.
As Tyler Durden summed up in the movie Fight Club, the function of advertising is to make people chase cars and clothes, working jobs they hate so they can buy shit they don’t need. Undermining people’s self-esteem is the first rule of marketing. And the second rule is the same as in Fight Club: You do not talk about it.
This meant that my job was basically 50% making people feel bad and 50% taking their money and giving it to some big company. And it was probably the reason I was becoming 100% unhappy about it.
QUOTE I’M THINKING ABOUT:
“It did what all ads are supposed to do: create an anxiety relievable by purchase.”
― David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest