Regarding our debt to advertising

What-is-online-advertising (2)


More than half a century ago, when I was a would-be junior executive at an advertising agency in Chicago, a cynical copywriter with whom I worked opined that it was our job to persuade people to buy things they neither wanted nor needed.

It was a joke, but it had a ring of truth. And on that very same day, by great coincidence, I first heard Bob Dylan sing this lyric:

Advertising signs that con you/Into thinking you’re the one/That can do what’s never been done/That can win what’s never been won/Meantime life outside goes on/All around you — Bob Dylan

Ah, yes, we all complain about advertising. So much of it is insipid or manipulative or downright dishonest. And there seems to be way too much of it. Everywhere you turn these days, the hucksters are in your face.

But let’s look at the bright side. For every prevarication the advertisers peddle, there’s a ton of useful information they’re making available to us by picking up the tab for its dissemination.

In my case, almost every dollar I’ve ever made has come from advertising. I spent my entire journalism career in advertiser-supported media — newspapers, radio and television. Even in retirement, this blogging gig brings me a modest stipend paid by advertisers.

In  an essay of a few years ago, journalist Ezra Klein explained how advertising revolutionized the newspaper business and has become ever more indispensable in modern society:

One of the most mind-bending facts of our information culture is that almost every major medium of information supports itself by advertising.

Radio? Advertisers. Magazines? Advertisers. Television? Advertisers. Google? Advertisers. Facebook? Advertisers. Twitter? Advertisers. Perhaps the only major exceptions to this rule are books, which are supported by sales, and Wikipedia, which is supported largely through donations.

From an economic standpoint, most information is simply a vehicle for advertising. We see the advertising as a distraction. But so far as the media company’s bottom line goes, the advertising is the point. Without the advertising, the information wouldn’t exist. So the history of information, in the U.S. at least, is the history of platforms that could support advertising.

So, like everyone else, I’ll complain every now and then about advertising. But I won’t forget my debt to the industry. None of us should.

What would you do if my blog wasn’t available to entertain you? Whom do you think pays me to write this stuff?


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