That’s okay for the Super Bowl, but what about the rest of the year? Do you tune out commercials on the telly to get your Tweet on? Here’s some data in sweet eye candy, infographic form for marketers wanting to be in the know. Hashtag Awesome.
Modern advertising-driven mass media is a collaboration between companies that must communicate their brand and their product, agencies producing the advertising, media conglomerates that mix this advertising with the entertainment, and audiences that consume the mixture, accept the brand, and buy the product.
Globalization has led to considerable consolidation among ad agencies and media companies that deliver mass media messages to the audience. Well known agencies such as Ogilvy & Mather, Young & Rubicam, BBDO, DDB, McCann Erickson and many others have been rolled up into a handful of global holding companies.
And most of the world’s media distribution is in the hands of nine, mostly U.S.-based, media conglomerates. As of 2008, The Walt Disney Company is the world’s largest media company, with News Corporation, Viacom and Time Warner ranking second, third and fourth respectively.
This concentration of media assets into ever fewer hands is seen as anti-competitive and even antidemocratic by opponents. While proponents of media consolidation argue it’s the inevitable result of globalization and the capitalist nature of the marketplace.
Ethical implications aside, consolidation of the mass media system promotes our advertising-driven, mass-market culture. Companies can more effectively tell us about their products. We agree to listen as long as they’re paying for the free entertainment we want. It’s a cozy little arrangement we’ve all grown up with.
Indoctrination into our product-hungry consumer culture starts as soon as babies can watch television. Critics on both sides of the Atlantic have blasted the BBC’s Teletubbies for intentionally targeting children less than a year old. Studies show preschoolers watch about 400 commercials a week. Kids are learning about our market-driven media before they even learn to read.
The PBS show Sesame Street spoofs the commercial system by having their shows fictitiously sponsored by letters and numbers. This lighthearted leveraging of children’s existing media-literacy helps elevate “the letter H and the number 5″ to the level of a major corporation—a lesson not even lost on a six-year old.
If the purpose of advertising is to shape the public mind, then institutional religions are among the world’s most effective and well-established advertisers. Architects, painters and sculptors were commissioned to create great cathedrals that imparted the majesty and eternal nature of God to the masses. Cathedrals featured stained-glass windows to draw people in for the sermons. Art was intended to grab the attention of consumers—just like today.
Frescoes were like primitive televisions showing the mostly illiterate masses stories from the bible. If frescoes were one-hour dramas, then the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was a major nine-part mini-series. “Now we look at it as great art,” says David Schwartz, president of Praxis advertising and design, “but in its day it was propaganda, which is essentially advertising.”
Of course the Catholic Church has a goal somewhat loftier than selling Star Wars action figures. It’s in the business of saving souls and doing the work of God. But the art and culture that became intertwined with the Church’s mission can stand on its own—indeed the works of Botticelli, DiVinci and Michelangelo, to name a few, have become anchor tenants in the Pantheon of Western aesthetics
The famous Renaissance artists were indeed that—famous. While they were sponsored by the Church and publicly credited, modern artists anonymously create commercials and advertising for corporate patrons. Does that mean the work of Ogilvy and Bernbach is less important than the work of Bellini and Titan? Many people would argue that modern advertising is not art at all—instead just banal and crass attempts to persuade the masses to buy a product.
But wasn’t that exactly the reason for Michelangelo’s commission?
The patrons have changed. Corporate capitalism has usurped Roman Catholicism as the major underwriter of art du jour. But, nonetheless, it is art. It pervades our culture and invades our thoughts. It is the velvet glove that sometimes cloaks the iron fist of propaganda. We, as consumers of both products and information, have learned to filter out the blatant misstatements and flat-out lies.
And the creators of modern corporate art know this as well. That’s why so much of the advertising we love doesn’t even mention the product specs. Advertisers build brands for us to worship—replacement icons of our secular consumerist society.