A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan.  Five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, I present one of McLuhan’s observations and talk about its relevance today.  300 ideas. 300 days.  300 posts.

More on the truth about advertising.

Marshall McLuhan (1977, age 66).  What is advertising selling?

As I was saying yesterday, much of what people take for granted about advertising simply isn’t true.  For example, a common assumption as I point out in the City as Classroom is that advertising is “intended to sell products.”  To test this simply look at actual advertisements and ask yourself what the reader of the ad is actually being sold.  My guess is that whatever it is most of the time it isn’t a product.

Me (June 2010, age 57)   Let’s take a closer look

This is an appealing, counter-intuitive idea.  But if advertising isn’t intended to sell a product what is it intended to do?  Here are some possibilities.  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 let’s put Marshall McLuhan’s idea to the test.  Consider the ads from the opening pages of The New Yorker I talked about in last Friday’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

Continental airlines

New Yorker cartoon collection (The Graduation Collection)

Tiffanny & Co. jewelry

Oil and natural gas exploration

New Yorker cartoon bank

Hyatt hotels

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 – buy now and you’ll get a second one for half price!  But indirectly all but one are clearly trying to get someone, somewhere to buy a product or service.  The exception would seem to be the ad promoting viability of  “the magazine industry” 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?  Are ads intended to sell a product?  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:  Understanding Language and Media,  1977,   pp. 157.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, June 1st, 2010
Permalink 1970s and 80s, Business, Communication, Vol. 1 No Comments

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