An open letter to the Guardian’s George Monbiot


Dear George, With regard to your latest column in the Guardian (’Advertising is a poison that demeans even love blah blah blah’) I must pick you up on a few points.

You’re an extremely intelligent journalist and I admire the way you bang the drum on a lot of serious issues. But suggesting that the advertising industry is “the real enemy” among banks, big business, lobbyists and politicians is as crass as it is lazy.

And, by the way, if you think I’m just playing to the crowd, my usual constituency will have largely stopped reading this particular column already. After all, this isn’t the first time the ad industry has been associated with terms like ’evil’ and ’poison’.

Nor am I arguing against your contention that there are some annoying and just plain bad adverts out there. But all that other stuff that you argue is the fault of ’evil advertisers’ is just bobbins I’m afraid. You draw a causal link between the “power and pervasiveness” of advertising and how little the average household in the UK manages to save a year (£296 according to the latest government statistics). I think that figure probably has as much to do with soaring household utility and food bills, the rising cost of petrol and the wider economy, as it does with advertising.

You also attack advertisers for using morally redundant smoke-and-mirror methods of hooking customers and encouraging them to buy unwanted goods and services manipulation, neurobiology and so on. To a certain extent you’re right. Advertisers and marketers are pretty much trying to sell stuff. They have stuff to sell and to do that they have to put that stuff in front of their most likely customers and make it appealing to them. If that didn’t happen, we would lose the impetus for consumers to spend and the trigger for businesses to grow. I’m not sure what you see as the ideal here, George, and I’m no economist, but I think the woeful situation we (and the rest of the world) are in requires exactly the opposite to happen if we’re to get out of this rather dark place.

You seem to forget all the good work that goes into what you call advertising and I call marketing. The industry has cottoned on to the fact that irrelevant ads are always going to be annoying and is trying hard to make its work better targeted.

(This is something else you have a problem with. But really, George, if you don’t want helpful suggestions offering you stuff based on your Google searches then stop using Google to search for things.) Good branded content, sales promotions and loyalty schemes are offering far better entertainment, value and relevance than your column suggests. And regarding the ads? Whether they be in the press, on TV or online, if you don’t like them, just do as most people do. Ignore them.

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