This psychological case for advertising…

Advertising “The other day I saw and very thoroughly enjoyed a popular play called It Pays to Advertise; which is all about a young business man who tries to break up the soap monopoly of his father, a more old-fashioned business man, by the wildest application of American theories of the psychology of advertising. One thing that struck me as rather interesting about it was this. It was quite good comedy to give the old man and the young man our sympathy in turn. It was quite good farce to make the old man and the young man each alternately look a fool. But nobody seemed to feel what I felt to be the most outstanding and obvious points of folly. They scoffed at the old man because he was old; because he was old-fashioned; because he himself was healthy enough to scoff at the monkey tricks of their mad advertisements. But nobody really criticized him for having made a corner, for which he might once have stood in a pillory. Nobody seemed to have enough instinct for independence and human dignity to be irritated at the idea that one purse-proud old man could prevent us all from having an ordinary human commodity if he chose. And as with the old man, so it was with the young man. He had been taught by his American friend that advertisement can hypnotize the human brain; that people are dragged by a deadly fascination into the doors of a shop as into the mouth of a snake; that the subconscious is captured and the will paralysed by repetition; that we are all made to move like mechanical dolls when a Yankee advertiser says, “Do It Now.” But it never seemed to occur to anybody to resent this. Nobody seemed sufficiently alive to be annoyed. The young man was made game of because he was poor; because he was bankrupt; because he was driven to the shifts of bankruptcy; and so on. But he did not seem to know he was something much worse than a swindler, a sorcerer. He did not know he was by his own boast a mesmerist and a mystagogue; a destroyer of reason and will; an enemy of truth and liberty.

I think such people exaggerate the extent to which it pays to advertise; even if there is only the devil to pay. But in one sense this psychological case for advertising is of great practical importance to any programme of reform. The American advertisers have got hold of the wrong end of the stick; but it is a stick that can be used to beat something else besides their own absurd big drum. It is a stick that can be used also to beat their own absurd business philosophy. They are always telling us that the success of modern commerce depends on creating an atmosphere, on manufacturing a mentality, on assuming a point of view. In short, they insist that their commerce is not merely commercial, or even economic or political, but purely psychological. I hope they will go on saying it; for then some day everybody may suddenly see that it is true.”

-G. K. Chesterton, The Bluff of the Big Shop, Some Aspects of Big Business,  The Outline of Sanity, 1927

Read the rest of the book online: The Outline of Sanity (1927)

Read the rest of the book online: Utopia of Usurers (1917)

Read the lecture: The Outline of Sanity (Ahlquist )

Author’s note:

Was Chesterton right about psychology and advertising?  The advertising industry currently spends 12 billion a year in marketing.  In the film “Food Inc” not only is the safety of our food supply examined, but included is an examination behind the marketing of processed foods.  Highlighted in the film is a 1960’s business presentation for advertisers marketing food to young children and emphasizing the psychology behind it. The ethics are discussed but never acted upon to the consumer’s benefit.  Witness a recent article in The New York Times: The Right to Sell Kids Junk

Today we flash forward to the recent developments in Big Data and its support of marketing through data mining the preferences of people through social media and web site tracking.  Here is what the world’s global purveyors of “sell” have to say…

“What we have is a data glut.” – Vernon Vinge

“The world is one big data problem.” – Andrew McAfee

“Data really powers everything that we do.” – Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn

“Big data is at the foundation of all of the megatrends that are happening today, from social to mobile to the cloud to gaming.” – Chris Lynch, ex-Vertica CEO

“I keep saying that the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians, and I’m not kidding.” – Hal Varian, chief economist at Google

“We chose it because we deal with huge amounts of data. Besides, it sounds really cool.” – Larry Page, founder of Google

For more quotes on how marketers see the use of data as a psychological boon to marketing check out these quotes on Forbes and Spinnakr (The Science of Digital Marketing)

Update 9/26/2014:

BreakPoint ministries has just published a post entitled “Deadly Standard Options” about the recent Lexus commercial that unabashedly  “tells viewers that the “F” series will provoke lust, unleash wrath, incite envy, and elicit pride.”  To act upon a vice must now (as discovered through their advertising department’s research no doubt) be considered the openly cool thing to do.  You can follow the conversation here on BreakPoint’s Facebook post 


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