George Parker: Perception Is Reality?

George Parker is the perpetrator of adscam.typepad.com. Every week he shares his opinions on the advertising world with PSFK.

Probably one of the all time great ad lines, it’s even truer today than when it was originally written many years ago for Rolling Stone magazine, particularly in the way the media reports on the state of the economy, consumer attitudes and how ad agencies are trying to manipulate them. A recent Associated Press piece reporting on the retail trade says that “As shoppers start spending again, stores are tweaking their advertising and merchandise to accommodate them.” Apparently, cashmere is making a comeback and ridiculously expensive ladies bags are once again melting down those Platinum credit cards.

Yet at the same time, there are still millions of unemployed people out there, and in spite of master manipulation of the data, the unemployment rate is still hovering around ten percent, but as one wanker on MSNBC (Let’s hear it for Wall Street) put it the other day, “Well heck, that means ninety percent of the US population is still working, right?”

Don’t get me wrong here; this isn’t a political rant, ‘cos this bullshit happens whoever is in office. It’s merely a reflection on the power of persuasion, or propaganda when applied more forcefully. Remember the famous quote from Goebbels… “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” I am not suggesting that as communicators we lie (Well, not knowingly!) But we do persuade. The title of my last book The Ubiquitous Persuaders is an “homage” to the fifty year old Vance Packard classic, The Hidden Persuaders, which sold millions of copies because of its basic proposition that ad agencies were manipulating your mind and persuading you to buy unwanted junk thought the pernicious use of “subliminal” advertising. Most of the reasoning and examples given were pure bullshit, but people wanted to believe it, so they did. Vance must be spinning in his grave when he sees the amount and quantity of methods of persuasion we are now subjected to now.

Which brings me to the big question? With the growth of new media and social networking, we are constantly being told the consumer is now in charge, that they don’t want products pushed at them through traditional advertising, they want to be communicated with in the form of conversations, word of mouth, Twitter feeds, FaceBook friends etc, etc, etc. But, even though the nature of the communication media has changed, are they still being persuaded to buy tons of shit they don’t really need? Have the buyers of cashmere and fifteen hundred dollar Gucci bags become more sophisticated and selective in their buying habits, or merely more ubiquitous in the way they receive the messaging?

Has anything changed since that day two thousand years ago when mountains of ash from Mount Etna covered the walls of Pompeii? Walls that were covered in ads for everything from bologna to brothels. I don’t think so, but then I’m a fucking cynic, and I’ll leave you with my favorite Goebbels quote… “Intellectual activity is a danger to the building of character.” Sounds like my next book title.

George Parker is a guest columnist for psfk.com. He is the perpetrator of adscam.typepad.com, which is without doubt, one of the most foul and annoying, piss & vinegar ad blogs on the planet. He is the author of MadScam and his new book, The Ubiquitous Persuaders, which is currently setting the ether ablaze (and which you can order now on Amazon). He will continue to relentlessly promote the crap out of it until you are forced to stab yourself in the eyes with knitting needles.

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