Technocrats are probably more adept at using and abusing any freedom or privilege than any other group in society. Such is the case with advertising advocacy (AA), the use of advertising to sell an idea rather than a product. It allows technocrats to communicate and control people with a very effective public vehicle designed for another purpose without clearly identifying themselves.
It is not a new issue but is more important now as people become aware of the number of communication vehicles that are used for other than the intended purpose. It is also true that some legislation exists to limit its impact, but the fact that most people don’t even know what it is, shows that their limitations are ineffective. (You can spot such a requirement because the word “Advertisement” is usually printed somewhere on the page.) AA is becoming central to the way the technocrats control the politicians through coercing the information going to the people. Just as the Internet begins to effectively bypass the control of information and ideas by the mainstream media, AA intrudes to buy space and time for coercion.
It is part of the larger conflict in society over control of free speech and devious ways of bypassing the fundamental freedom beyond the government. The focus of the Constitution was on government interference. The Founders took it so seriously that the second amendment allowed citizens to carry guns to defend against their own government attempts to limit free speech. But now, with the advent of social media and the bypassing of government controls on information, others in society are limiting people. For example, the battle over Google, Facebook, and Twitter, in determining what the public get to say or hear, is in the news because of clear political bias. A private company is deciding what people can hear, see, or say. The Facebook founder said they perverted the original intent of the website. This misuse is not new. Isn’t the point and beauty of a free society, the ability for all to use anything how they want? As with all these discussions today, false assumptions and misinterpretations are made and become the basis of the argument for diverting from the real issue.
First, a disclaimer; I am completely opposed to secrecy or privacy: all the Devil’s work is done in the darkness. The only reason you need secrecy or privacy is because you have something to hide or you want to deceive people. Privacy and secrecy revolve around information that society has identified as ‘embarrassing.’
An example of misdirection that completely misses the issue was Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr’s comment that you can’t shout fire in a crowded theater. Holmes is absolutely wrong and is arbitrarily limiting free speech. You either have free speech, or you don’t. It is an absolute because any limit means an individual is deciding what the rest of us can say. The Canadian government tried and abandoned the idea of putting a limit by identifying hate speech as unacceptable. It doesn’t take a great deal of thinking to know that people’s definition of hate varies considerably. Which one do you use?
What Holmes misses is the need for accountability for your actions. You can shout fire, but it is essential that society holds you accountable for the result. If there is a major failure in society in every country it is the failure to hold people, especially powerful people, accountable for actions and transgressions. Usually, they use claims of secrecy and privacy that they, or their lawyers, determine to avoid accountability. Look at what is happening in Washington right now as documents are withheld or released with arbitrary redactions. One area of lack of accountability is using a freedom and privilege in society for the wrong reason and in doing so removing another person’s choice.
A simple example of this involves buying a ticket to a concert to hear a person sing using their God-given talent. The person then uses the stage to inflict their political views on the audience. Society provided the stage for the person to sing – nothing else. Accountability could involve withholding payment to the performer.
If freedom truly existed, then any person in the audience must have the right to go on the stage and present their countervailing view. This was the idea behind some legislation created to offset the advantage to those who could afford to use and abuse AA. It said that anybody using AA had to pay for advertising by someone who held a different view but couldn’t afford to compete. For example, Figure 1 shows an advertisement by the footwear giant Adidas.
On the surface, it is a commendable goal to provide for orphans in Africa. However, why do Adidas tell us they are doing it? Simple, to improve their image and sell more shoes. Real altruism is not known; it is not done for personal gain, but that is what Adidas is doing. Besides, what if I don’t agree with giving money to orphans in this way? What if I don’t agree with the dependencies it creates and believe there are better ways to do it if you must? How often do we learn about money not reaching its target, or if it does, it is a fraction of the amount given? The Adidas approach is more egregious because it borders on emotional blackmail.
While I was writing this article, as if to underscore my point, another athletic shoe company put their corporate foot in it. The headline reads, “Nike’s Kaepernick Ad Cost The Company Over $4 Billion So Far.” The ad in question and its advocacy message is shown in Figure 2.
I do not advocate for legislation to stop AA. In any form, it is a restriction of free speech. Fortunately, beyond the AA implications, the marketplace is a controlling factor. The backlash was primarily the use of AA, but it is the financial cost that will stop or limit the practice Here is what the Nike article says:
If the public backlash against other corporate brand names who have taken a vocal political stance is any indication, Nike faces considerably more pressure: companies from Dick’s (which saw a sharp decline in sales after it stopped selling guns), to ESPN, to Papa John’s, to Twitter and Facebook, to In-N-Out burger, have all seen an angry customer backlash – from either the left or the right – once these corporations entered the political arena, resulting in a hit to the top line, and ultimately, the shareholders’ pocket.
The message is loud and clear in all these cases, shut up and sing or shut up and sell your product. Do not abuse the privileges the people bestow. The key to everything is education. Unlike parents in the jungle, we do not prepare our students for the urban jungle. We have lost control of the education system so that it is now a system of indoctrination. The best approach is to promote a healthy skepticism and here is a classic example. The following ideas are attributed to Buddha.
- Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.
- Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumoured by many.
- Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books.
- Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.
- Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.
- But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.
Apparently, it is not what he actually wrote. However, after reading the original, I determined, using healthy skepticism, that it is a good approximation of how I think people should consider behaving so as not to be taken in by AA.