“Advertising is the art of arresting human intelligence just long enough to get money from it.” (Chuck Blore of advertising firm Chuck Blroe & Don Ruchman, Inc., quoted in The Media Monopoly, by Ben H. Bagdikian, p. 185)
Mass media is a natural way for companies to let a large number of people know about their products. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that idea of reaching large groups of people with products they might want or need. I do have some concerns with the influence exerted by advertising methods and techniques that entice, shape and even create consumerism, turning luxuries into necessities and distorting our view of reality.
Media companies (at least in the US, but to a smaller extent in countries that subsidize their media) are heavily dependent upon advertising to keep the doors open. It’s their primary revenue source. Yes, there are audience-supported media that do not utilize advertising, but the influence there is similar. The revenue source largely controls the medium. If something is reported that the advertiser (or paying subscriber) doesn’t like the medium risks the loss of revenue. If a television network is heavily reliant on advertising by Monsanto, they’re going to shy away from covering a story about bad practices by Monsanto.
As a result, the mainstream media is largely driven by market forces.
But it’s also important to realize that a medium must sell advertising to an audience in order for that advertising to be effective. So the medium must sell the audience to the corporations in order to sell advertising. So you have a situation where the audience is both a product and the consumer of a product. There is tremendous pressure on media companies to change content and to shape content based on the demographics of the audience. The content of media is less important than the type of person being targeted by the ads that support the media.
In Bagdikian’s book The Media Monopoly, he looked at magazine advertising and news content in several countries. He noted:
“The influence of advertising on magazines reached a point where editors began selecting articles not only on the basis of their expected interest for readers but for their influence on advertisements. Serious articles were not always the best support for ads. An article that put the reader in an analytical frame of mind did not encourage the reader to take seriously an ad that depended on fantasy or promoted a trivial product. An article on genuine social suffering might interrupt the “buying” mood on which most ads for luxuries depend. The next step, seen often in mid-twentieth century magazines, was commissioning articles solely to attract readers who were good prospects to buy products advertised in the magazine. After that came the magazine phenomenon of the 1970s — creating magazines for an identifiable special audience and selling them to particular advertisers.” (page 138)
There is also the known manipulation of media images to promote certain mindsets to consumerism. I grew up when Saturday morning cartoons were funded by Mattel, where huge Transformers destroyed toy houses on the screen and when you ordered them, they turned out to be smaller than the houses. Models are manipulated to look prettier, sexier and skinnier. This leads to unrealistic expectations for reality that can have profound effects on our national psyche.
There are areas for concern however. Advertorials do exist. This is where news stories or editorials are often thinly-disguised product advertisements. Disney owns ABC and there have been allegations of hyping a movie under the guise of news coverage. Over the weekend, Brad and I watched a “news” story that covered the refurbishment of a local gym that sure seemed like an advertisement to us. Is it First Amendment protected speech when it comes from a public relations press release? Of course, we also must realize that special interests from the Sierra Club to the National Education Association also issue these press releases that become, in many cases, unfiltered “news” at the 6 o’clock hour.
I am not suggesting regulation of advertising, however. We are only as stupid and easily led as we allow ourselves to be. The risk of regulating advertising for the “good” of the public is that regulators never stop where they were originally asked to regulate. First it’s advertising, then its news and why not the editorial segment as well? We’ll address the unfairness of the “Fairness” Doctrine later in the series. What is needed is more consumer skepticism and the willingness to talk about media manipulation with our kids combined with the chutpah of the audience to realize that as the third leg of the advertiser-media-audience relationship, we have the power to demand truth in advertising and that advertising be separated from news coverage.
The problem is that we don’t even recognize when we’re being manipulated and we deny it when it’s pointed out. This is true whether it is corporate advertising influence news coverage on network and cable news channels or on PBS, where corporate sponsors exert a powerful influence on coverage, but because PBS is “commercial free” supporters will insist it is neutral and balanced.
Ha! That’s what I have to say about that. HA! And, no, this is not a rant against Bonnie Erbe. It’s a rant against people who thing she is a journalist or that her show presents news. It is an opinion program that presents a very narrow view of the world and the people in it. Okay, guys, take your eyes off her knees and the other chick’s cleavage.
Media manipulation is everywhere! And that’s why the idea of PBS presenting unbias news — HA!