I used to think those 30-second advertisements have no effect on our independent ability to make decisions; they just inform us of the availability of the products.
Unfortunately, that’s not true.
They don’t just tell us about products, but are intelligently designed to make us buy them. Companies would not have spent over 500 billion dollars a year if they think advertising does not work. And they are everywhere, whether we notice them or not.
One of my favourite shows when I was in Australia was the Gruen series. They show, in a very entertaining way, how sophisticated the techniques that arm the advertising industry. The title itself comes from the Gruen Transfer. It is a psychological phenomenon that is exploited when shopping malls are designed. It makes you stay longer, slightly disoriented, and leads you to buy things you don’t need.
Even children and teenagers are not spared. By sharing their locations and activities on social media, those data become gold mines for targeted advertising. This is on top of thousands of exposures embedded in the kid shows they watch.
Advertisements can be good
One thing needs to be emphasised: advertisements per se are not insidious. In a way, they are like guests who visit our homes and tell their stories to our families. Even commercial adverts, when done well, can carry beautiful messages.
We ourselves do it to one another in our daily conversations. For example, our senior students or work colleagues would sincerely share their stories and advice, and unconsciously advertise to us what they believe success is, and how to get it. We then do the same to our own circle of influence.
In fact, this article that you are reading can be thought of as an advert that brings your attention to how powerful and widespread adverts are.
Independence from advertisements
We may never achieve a complete independence from advertisements, and since they can also be vehicles for positive messages, we might not even want to. However, just as we would never let random visitors to go into our homes and talk to our families, we also have to be selective on what we allow to enter our minds:
1.Never underestimate the power of advertising
Just being aware of the psychological dynamics that occur when you encounter an advert makes you less susceptible to it. Realise that even when you feel you choose to buy or do something, those choices might have been made for you.
2. Build a firewall
Just like for your computer, build a system that strictly select what enters your mind. How do you go about this is up to you. For instance, if your paid TV service comes with incessant barrage of adverts, consider watching the shows somewhere online where you can have less of them.
3. Have “mini digital Ramadan”
Consider having short periods when you are fasting from all things digital. It may seem unimaginable at first (because of FOMO, for example), so start small — maybe just half-a-day every weekend. Use that time to be with nature.
4. Leave less trails online
Learn and then teach your family how to keep themselves from being watched online. This gives advertisers less data to target your personal sense of insecurities. Otherwise, when your browsing pattern suggests you are addicted to, say, smartphones, more adverts will show up, telling that you are somehow not enough until you get that new phone.
5. Guard the two time windows
There are two time periods you want to guard the most: the first hour after you wake up, and the last hour before you sleep. Choose extremely carefully what you expose your mind to in these two periods. Guard these two like gates of a fortress.
6. Seek less from the outside
Spend time on continually improving your understanding of yourself. Don’t allow your value to be determined by external coordinates, that is, by other people’s references of what’s valuable in life. Deeply think about what beauty is to you, what self-worth means, or what success looks like.
Don’t just accept it when they make you feel too dark, too fat, or too short unless you buy their stuffs. The new car or house won’t add to your genuine worth as a man. Other people’s definitions of success might work for them, but even if you get what they have now, you might still feel empty. You have to seek your own.
Your decisions on what to think, what to own, and what to crave for determine your experience of Life. So protect your independence, and make it awfully hard for others, especially advertisers, to make those decisions for you.