A World Without Advertising

For some, the prospect sounds appealing, utopian even. But allow me to paint a more complete, and perhaps disturbing, picture for you to contemplate.

I was having lunch with a close friend on Thanksgiving, who mentioned that, lo and behold, there are still those who believe advertising doesn’t work – or hasn’t been proven to work. I then recalled how a few years ago the city of Sao Paolo outlawed outdoor advertising, hoping to create a more beautiful and less cluttered visual landscape – to mixed results. This led to a discussion of what would happen if there were no such thing as advertising, and given my particular mental disposition, I decided to take this to a Mad Max like conclusion.

First, let’s define advertising in its most ancient, eternal sense:

Communication designed to attract a specific set of audiences and differentiate one’s offering from the many others they could choose from, in order to encourage or induce transactions that are to the benefit of the author of said communication, and generally also to the intended recipient of the communication as well. 

Or, put bluntly, advertising says “Choose me” to the right audiences, so one can survive and flourish. Defined this way (the proper way, in my opinion), then we must include all forms of communication that plants and animals have been using for eons to do exactly the above. Mating season plumage on birds is advertising. The big horns on male big horn sheep are advertising. Mating displays of all kinds are advertising. Flowers, whose colour, shape and scents are designed to attract certain species of insects and/or birds, are the advertising tool of the plant it belongs to.

A world without advertising is a world without flowers. With less colour, less drama. And that’s just the superficial view. Although I’m no evolutionary biologist, I would suspect that as various populations become less discerning about choice of mate, and plant species lose the power to attract animals who facilitate their reproduction, many species would dwindle or die out.

A human world with no brands, no differentiating messages and symbols. Just products. With purely functional labels. There would be no sense of the values, emotions or intentions behind the products. The world would look and feel essentially like a very large warehouse of generic things. Things, not ideas.

Even tools like Tinder and eHarmony would vanish. Because they are all forms of advertising. Where the ‘purveyor’ is crafting and sending specific messages in the hopes of attracting the right audiences. “Choose me” and here’s why. All that would be gone.

When we got done painting this dystopia, we were thoroughly horrified. And of course, we are as biased as can be. My friend and I love advertising, and feel it performs an absolutely essential function, albeit one that must be used with integrity. We hope after reading this post, you too will speak up the next time you hear someone dismissing advertising in a cavalier manner. “Let’s imagine a world without advertising,” you’ll say. And then proceed to open, or blow, their mind.