Saturday, October 17, 2009

Narrative and Advertising is Valuable, Useful, Dangerous, and Necessary

A recent addition to the TED talks was a discussion of advertising by Rory Sutherland. Most humans living in the first world media sphere have grown up with a background skepticism about both advertising and the people that perpetrate the campaigns. The skepticism tells us that these messages and people are trying to manipulate us, but if anyone is entirely honest with themselves, this skepticism hasn't really stopped us from being manipulated (my mouth still waters with anticipation and desire every time I see a refreshing sprite commercial, because its more visceral than our rational skepticism.) A fact not taken into account by people skeptical of advertising is that this seedy manipulation adds value to our world. Now, if I wrote that last sentences differently I doubt I would get much of a backlash, and this just goes to prove the point. Narratives, advertising -- framing - how things are viewed -- all add value to our world because they relate and orient us to the objects and then 'us and objects' to our world in a particular way - for better or worse.

In his hilarious talk, Rory Sutherland argues that we will need to rely more on advertising in a world where we must use less natural resources, because the narrative will have to make up the value difference. Furthermore, he believes it should be combined with choice shaping behavioral economics to help us curve the individual consumption habit towards a better world. Any thoughts about this being dangerous is really obvious, but these techniques are nothing new to admen and should be seriously considered for use by green activists and their ilk.

Sutherland's talk also reminded me of a talk by Chuck Palahniuk on YouTube where he speaks about our often overlooked relationship to narratives, and the power inherent in meta-narrative creation.

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