A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan.Â Five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday,Â I present one of McLuhanâ€™s observations and talk about its relevance today.Â 300 ideas. 300 days.Â 300 posts.
Marshall McLuhan (1977, age 66). Â What is advertising selling?
As I was saying yesterday, much of what people take for granted about advertising simply isnâ€™t true.Â For example, a common assumption as I point out in the City as Classroom is that advertising is â€śintended to sell products.â€ťÂ To test this simply look at actual advertisements and ask yourself what the reader of the ad is actually being sold.Â My guess is that whatever it is most of the time it isnâ€™t a product.
Me (June 2010, age 57)Â Â Letâ€™s take a closer look
This is an appealing, counter-intuitive idea.Â But if advertising isnâ€™t intended to sell a product what is it intended to do?Â Here are some possibilities.Â It can be intended to explain how a product works, who uses the product, why you should admire the firm that produces the product, why you should buy another product, why you should feel confident that you made a wise decision in buying a product you have already bought, or why you should buy that product sometime in the future.
But letâ€™s put Marshall McLuhanâ€™s idea to the test.Â Consider the ads from the opening pages of The New Yorker I talked about in last Fridayâ€™s blog. The 16 ads that appear in the opening pages (inside cover to The Talk of the Town) of the May 10, 2010 issue:
Vanguard investment fund
AT&T cell phone service
Novel by Isabel Allende
Novel by Marilynne Robinson
New Yorker cartoon collection (The Graduation Collection)
Tiffanny & Co. jewelry
Oil and natural gas exploration
New Yorker cartoon bank
New Yorker T shirts
New Yorker cover prints
Chamber music concert at Lincoln center
Vintage golf photos
The magazine industry
U.S. Trust asset management
Of these, none actually ask for the sale â€“ buy now and youâ€™ll get a second one for half price!Â But indirectly all but one are clearly trying to get someone, somewhere to buy a product or service.Â The exception would seem to be the ad promoting viability ofÂ â€śthe magazine industryâ€ť which could be an indirect pitch on the part of the publishers of the New Yorker to its readers, not to cancel their subscriptions despite the access the internet allows to the content publications such as the new Yorker provide.
What do you think?Â Are ads intended to sell a product?Â Is Marshall McLuhan wrong on this one?
Cordially, Marshall and Me
Reading for this post
Marshall McLuhan, Kathryn Hutchon, and Eric McLuhan, City as Classroom:Â Understanding Language and Media,Â 1977,Â Â pp. 157.