Advertising and its role in a free society

David Davis

This in today’s Torygraph worries me. Advertising follows what people want, it does not lead or influence, because it can’t. I know. I earned lots of money there once. (I have hit “publish bymistake becasue the phone rang. I will add (not “ad”)  to this later.)

My old friend Brian Micklethwait wrote a piece about 20 years ago called “There should be more advertising”. The thrust of it was about the restricted professions such as opticians and solicitors, who were, it seemed, “not allowed to advertise”. This of course was a cover-up for artificially-high professional fees, coupled with proper socialist-centrally-planned- restraint of information about who was good and who was crap.

The problem with advertising is, as someone says, I think “Dr Johnson”,  it allows “peddlers of manufactures” to “speak well of themselves”. I think this does not fit in with the belief-system of “Anglosocialism”. This is an emergent term coined first I think by Ian B of Counting Cats. This meme as I understand it arises from the Christian-derived and excessive zeal of those in an economically-emergent liberal England in the late18th/early-19th century. These people, being the first real “middle class” to be able to emerge fully from under the murderous carapace of Platonist absolutism, were free to not only promote their idea of private charity and largesse towards “the poor” as one means of rendering poverty and want hideous and terminated, as if it was something they’d decided they ought to do out of free will, given by God to them (as it is.)

But they sadly took it further: they also went so far as to confer on it the status of a moral obligation and therefore a “Devoir”. Their God was “A Just and Terrible Go, but without the “Strongly-developed Sense Of Humour” of mine.

“The English word “Duty” or “Obligation” is not strong enough in meaning, by contrast to the inherent degree of (seriously imperative) obligation in the French word.

This entire attitude colours their view of transactions which involve any sort of personal gratification, pleasure or outcome which does not involve a feeling of guilt at their own delight. (To be continued…)


  1. I don’t have a moral problem with advertising so much. But it does worry me that people can actually be influenced by it – it shows how little we run on truth, logic, reality and how brain-washable we are with the right images.
    What hope is there for the human race with that as our basis for making decisions?

  2. Advertising, as I learned when working in it and around people in it for about 16 years, and then running a business, is how good products get to succeed and sell lots, and how bad ones get quickly garotted.

    In the early 1970s, the “Big Brewers” such as Watneys, Ind Coope, Courage, Guinness and the rest, all decided that the way forward was “lager”. the consumer was “going to buy lagers” and “going to buy them now”. I remember it clearly. The pages of “Campaign” were loaded, month in month out, with big spreads about things like “JWT, McCanns, Y&R ‘to pitch for £5M Carlsberg Bonanza’, and so on. Or “New Watneys lager brand in shock award to WCRS boutique”. (I made those up but you get the drift.)

    £5 million was, then, an astonishingly large quantity of advertising money. Agencies probably even deployed “promitional girls” at pitches, for that kind of single-brand-spend. And not long after that, it was still more than the entire yearly sales and marketing budget for the whole Beecham OTC medicines division, turning over about £80 million. To put it into perspective, the whole Heath Government probably only spent about £10 million a year, and that mostly on Forces Recruitment!

    Anyway, the lagers! Vast and expensively creative ad-campaigns appeared. Giant 64-sheet posters of sexy girls, with the odd glass of foaming lager here and there, greeted one on the Paddington Flyover and elsewhere. etc etc etc.

    And for what? The brewers all lost a packet. Most of the stuff got poured down the drains. What drinkers really wanted at the time was real ale. And in time they got it, but several years later. No amount of spend would deflect them towards what the big breweries wanted to sell at the time, and in their hubris thought they could.

    Lagers only finally took off when enough comsumers had been abroad, found the actual ones, and decided they liked them enough to buy them in pubs for each other and in supermarkets (also just taking off then) for themselves.

    Advertising cannot lead: it can only follow.

    More than 80% of ALL new products have always failed, fail now, and will fail. Most new products are CV-enhancement-exercises for “brand development managers” with too much graduate-hubris and too much power. In interviews, you were asked “well, what I really want to know is how many NPD projects have you been involved in or actually managed?” (It showed you had “drive”…)

    I always recommended to clients to remember the 80%, and to launch things slowly and progressively, without mega national TV fanfare, even for fmcg brands.

    I was often criticised for saying things like:-

    “Ask not if there is a gap in the market for X: rather, ask if there is a market in the gap – (or is the gap there because there is no market?)”

    I adduced the example of Jimmy Goldsmith’s “NOW!” magazine (anyone remember that?) I said of it:-
    “Now! spotted a gap in the market, and fell smartly to its death through the same gap”.

    I had “no drive”, you see.

    Advertising is necessary and not sufficient characteristic of a free society, where information is available about all sorts of things, and individuals make up their own minds. What mostly stuck out on trips to Communist lands was the total absence of paid-for advertising – the only producer, and client, was the state, rather like what’s beginning to happen now here.

  3. Thank you. An interesting insight into the realities of advertising!

    Yes, advertising does contribute a lot in colour and life to otherwise drab situations. And if advertising is the natural result of the free market at work it is all part of something quite delightful.
    I did travel from Austria through Hungary and Yugoslavia and back into Greece a decade or three ago and was very struck by the absence of that colour in the peoples’ paradises.

    It still worries me that “imaging” has such a powerful influence (Che Guevara cool) and that people are led by it, but yes, I agree people also know and respond to the truth, like the Great British Public turning away from iDave now that he has blown his EU cool.

  4. I’m sure it does, but I guess that some companies themselves miss this role, when they create the most dull TV ads, just for the sake of raising their profit.

  5. To TV Ads:

    What are TV ads for?

    Are they entertainment? Or are they a tool for trying to make a profit.

    Is a company under obligation to make an “eyecatching” or entertaining ad, just for entertainment? Yes, ad-people would ike that, for it’s those that win “awards”.

    Yes, Procter and Gamble ads can often be termed, sadly by some, as “The Marketing Strategy set to music”. But _THAT IS WHAT ADs ARE SUPPOSED TO BE!_

  6. David, thanks for the mention 🙂

    My basic contention as regards “anglosocialism” is an attempt to more realistically define what “western” or anglosphere values are. We tend to seek some unified philosophy, so we might say “western values are liberalism, freedom, individualism, etc”. But I think we can better define (in very broad terms) anglosphere values as a constant struggle between two opposing forces. The first of them is what we call “liberalism”; individualism, privacy, “do that which is not expressly prohibited” etc. The other is an authoritarian moral collectivism, which ends up with New Labour and Red Tories. (As an aside, the interesting point is that one would expect a two party system to represent each value system in one of the parties, but it doesn’t- instead (here and in the USA) it manifests as a “radical party” and a “reluctant party”.)

    The thing about the authoritarian collectivism of the anglosphere is that it is not marxist, which is a continental thing. Marxism is, like capitalist/liberalism an economic philosophy; it applies an economic analysis to explain the world. The struggle between liberalism and communism is thus an economic argument and, while we disagree about everything, at least we are arguing in the same terms. That is, it is a debate about which system will produce more tractors, and why.

    Anglo-socialism is not an economic philosophy, it is a moral(ist) philosophy descended from certain christian philosophies. It is not historically determinist (as marxism is) nor dialactically materialist, nor does it require class struggle and the overthrow of the capitalist class.

    A key point- spotted long before me by Paul Gottfried- is that even those who call themselves “marxists” in our sphere are not marxists. If Marx were resurrected and went to a meeting of “marxists” today, he’d be baffled. None of his programme would be discussed, instead he’d find himself listening to stuff about gay rights and polar bears. These people may think of themselves as marxists, but they are merely using some quasi-marxist argumentation and technic to implement a moral agenda. Marx would object to the brothel-keeper expropriating surplus value from his workers; anglosocialists don’t care about the economics, they want to shut the brothel because it’s immoral.

    So we need to understand that anglosocialists are moralists, and our liberal economic arguments, honed to perfection in the battle against marxism, are largely useless against the current enemy, who are not marxists. Their objection to commerce and, in your post, advertising, are not economically based (though they may trot out an economic argument or two). They are based on a moral distaste for comfort and avarice. Anglosocialists believe that advertising is morally corrupting; that it encourages avarice in the population, who should be happy with the little they have rather than desiring more “fripperies”. They believe that the desire for nice clothes, bigger TVs or motor cars is morally depraved, a deliberate distraction by satanic corporations from the moral course in life- hugging trees and working very hard for little reward.

    Communists, wrong as they are, desire, like capitalists, economic growth and wealth creation. Anglosocialists despise immoral wealth and comfort, desire to prevent the enrichment of the poor and emancipation of the proleteriat, and hope for economic impoverishment, which is good for the soul. Their opposition to advertising is a campaign against what they perceive as moral corruption. It is that mad form of christianity which seeks holiness through mortification and self-denial. In English terms (and, that is what matters, for we are the wellspring), it is Cromwell’s theocracy recast into secular terms. (To an extent. Communism is atheist, but anglosocialists love to drape themselves in toga of religious virtue- the likes of Blair and Brown, waving their religiosity in our faces, are the anglosocialist type species.) We seem to need another Restoration.

  7. You brought Christianity into this, not me 🙂

    Insofar as this has anything to do with Jesus perhaps it would be a good idea to leave subsequent constructs out of it and go back to His actual words as recorded.
    Regarding morality, I like the situation in Matthew 20 where the owner of a vineyard hires workers early in the morning for a certain wage. Say one penny.
    The owner goes out several times during the day, finds more workers, and hires them. As evening approaches he hires some more.
    Night falls and he pays them, giving to the last hired one penny each. When he comes to those hired first thing he gives them a penny as well at which they freak: “Unfair, unfair.”
    And the owner says to them: “Is your eye evil because I am good?”

  8. Well, I brought it in because David brought it in in the original post 🙂

    But the thing is, trying to analyse the history of Europe without reference to Christianity is like trying to understand the Middle East while ignoring Islam. The history of Europe is the history of Christendom; the history European philosophy is, largely, the history of Christian philosophy. However secular or post-christian we may like to think we are, we are the product of a christian society.

    That doesn’t mean that fingering some elements of christianity as precursors to anglo-socialism is anti-christian. I think it largely comes down to two different approaches to being a christian. One can say that christianity is a religion of personal salvation, and the Bible and christian teachings are a moral guide for individuals who have free will to choose or reject them- or one can say that it is a religio-political system which should be imposed collectively, like sharia. The former interpretation favours liberal society, the latter favours authoritarian society. Much of the history of christendom is a struggle between these two perspectives, IMV.

  9. Ian, having been a adman myself, and a not-totally-unsuccessful one, I’d like to talk with you further about this matter, with a view possibly to a Formal Post by you here.

    John, Jesus Christ says that St Matthew said that the vineyard owner agreed one penny, even with the first guys for the total of labour. Would Jesus Christ really want the owner to go back on his contract, either to the first guys or the last guys? Ad if I was the owner, and it was the end of the day and I’d not done, I’d be sh*****g myself to get it done, and I’d offer a penny for any old layabouts outside who could come in on short order!

  10. Yes. He agreed one penny and that was fine by the first guys.
    But then the last employed also received a penny, so the first employed got mad.
    We can negotiate a position but having agreed to it can we change it because someone else got more (or the same for less work?)
    We can try, I guess, we can try anything, and that is cool.
    But the point is that it is not the money they are so much concerned about, as envy as to what the others got.
    A problem with Rhodesia was that it could be seen that some were better off, and they were mainly white.
    Now that everybody is starving more equally is that better?

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