Total Persuasion Awareness
This story from the Times, on the increasing prevalence of advertising, is disturbing.
Marketers used to try their hardest to reach people at home, when they were watching TV or reading newspapers or magazines. But consumers’ viewing and reading habits are so scattershot now that many advertisers say the best way to reach time-pressed consumers is to try to catch their eye at literally every turn.
“We never know where the consumer is going to be at any point in time, so we have to find a way to be everywhere,” said Linda Kaplan Thaler, chief executive
at the Kaplan Thaler Group, a New York ad agency. ‘Ubiquity is the new exclusivity.‘
Gosh, I wish I were smart enough to know for sure what Ms. Thaler means there. But it puts me in mind of the TIA program out of DARPA.
Sure, there are big differences between information gathering by the government and persuasion by private parties. (Putting aside the possibility of pervasive domestic propaganda, which to date has not be a large part of the war-on-terror arsenal.) While I understand Dan’s concerns about the TIA, that program at the very least was justified by its civic purpose. Not so with the world sketched by the Times. A community where you can’t open your eyes without being persuaded to buy a good that your innate preferences don’t command is simply a bad thing. (Filler’s Skadden post notwithstanding.)
In part because almost all outdoor advertising is a “bad”, thrust upon unwilling consumers, instead of a good that complements their ultimate purchases. More here. It is usually merely persuasive, and thus doesn’t contain new stimulus (or information) after the first encounter. More here. Over time, these two factors mean that outdoor advertising will become even more spectacular to engage our interest, while the sphere of noncommercial space wanes.
In a world where advertising will soon come tattoed on your food, the obvious question is whether law can stop the spiral toward TPA. I have doubts. Obviously, trends that would reduce the government’s power to bargain on behalf of citizens and regulate noncommercial civic spaces ought to be resisted. (Here, I’m thinking of the move to fully protect commercial speech under the first amendment.) But, on a deeper level, I think we need to think harder about what is wrong with persuasive advertising in public. That, in turn, requires us to revisit the question of what “fraud” means given new insights about the fluid nature of preferences. Anyone who is doing work in this area should feel free to drop me a line!