Shielding oneself from advertising
December 26, 2014 4:13 AM   Subscribe

I've recently become aware that as much I might be aware of advertising's intent, mentally screening out all the low-level emotional messages is impossible. How do you prevent advertising from reaching you?

Particular areas of personal interest (although all answers are appreciated):
- Screening advertising when actively searching for a particular product class (as opposed to it seeking you out) to better decide on features and not branding.
- Any ways of dealing with the amount of advertising boards in a metropolitan situation (although I suspect avoidance is the only real solution there).
posted by solarion to Society & Culture (16 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You can't stop all of it, but you can reduce it a lot.

Measures I use personally:

* Move to a small country town
* Have no broadcast TV
* Install Adblock Plus
* Block advertising servers at my LAN gateway
* Seek word-of-mouth recommendations when actively searching for a particular product class
* Treat brand recognition as a negative rather than a positive when searching for a particular product class
posted by flabdablet at 4:55 AM on December 26, 2014 [7 favorites]

Oh, and

* Prefer free software
posted by flabdablet at 4:56 AM on December 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

1. I use a site like The Wirecutter or Consumer Reports to find out what the general consensus is on products and their features. And I use an Ad Blocker sometimes (though, I feel guilty).
2. I live in a residential neighborhood in my city, and I carpool to work. So, there aren't a lot of ads around. I don't watch live TV; I use a DVR or Netflix. I read news and magazines on my Kindle where ads just don't look that good. Basically, I exist in a somewhat controlled environment.

I do #1 to actively avoid ads. For, #2, avoiding ads is more a side effect of my habits. I can't watch primetime live TV due to my schedule, and the train is cost-prohibitive on a daily basis. When I do take the train, it's full of ads which I sometimes find refreshing to look at, as I don't really see them regularly. It's a trade-off though. It's probably more environmentally friendly to take the train, and in general to share space with the rest of society.
posted by bluefly at 4:58 AM on December 26, 2014

I went to school for art and graphic design, and although it didn't net me a high-falutin' job, it definitely gave me the tools to deconstruct a lot of advertising. Knowing exactly why they've used the fonts, colors, words, compositions, sounds, and images that they do helps me to better sort through and put away the advertising when I notice it getting to me.

I'm not saying "get a BFA", but if part of why you find advertising so emotionally compelling is that you're drawn to it, a couple classes, books, or videos about art history and design would not be a bad way to spend some of your time.

As for the "screening" part of your question, I think it's once again a matter of knowledge. So for example, I recently needed to buy a small couch. You can't just type "loveseat" into google and not get bombarded with ads. So first I did a little research and thinking about things. What sort of fabric, what kind of frame, could i assemble it myself, how long did I want it to last - and what was my budget; how many of the things I needed conflicted with my budget? Ultimately I did end up typing "loveseat" into google, but only to see what would be thrown at me, to see where the baseline would be. It was just part of the knowledge gathering process. After that, it was really easy to ignore ads for shiny pretty couches that I knew were wrong for me. Admittedly this whole thing takes energy, but I'm also not stuck with a crappy couch that will break in three years or something so overpriced but in a colorful fabric, or whatever I might have fallen for. My buyer's remorse is at a tremendous low.

Everybody is victim to the pressures of advertising. I know I am. But I also know myself pretty well, and if I've just walked past an ad for a cheeseburger and I go "hrmm, I'm hungry... for beef patties!" then I'm quick now to acknowledge that thought as coming from outside myself and let it pass through me. I try not to feel any guilt about having had the thought in the first place, which I think is what gets a lot of people. (Particularly among women, there's this double layer of guilt where you feel bad because the ad wants you to feel ugly and need the product, and then you feel bad because you've allowed the ad to make you feel bad! ARGH!)

I guess part of not letting it "reach" me is to, in fact, allow it to reach me, but not convince me of anything because I know how and why it's doing what it's doing. And when it still succeeds (I totally had a cheeseburger two weeks ago, it was awesome) I don't feel duped or manipulated, I just feel self aware. Writing it out like this makes me sound really self-centered, and I guess I am, but a lot of ads try to speak directly to you so maybe being self-centered helps with the mental pushback!
posted by Mizu at 5:08 AM on December 26, 2014 [9 favorites]

I'm frugal bordering on miserly, which creates a strong presumption that I'm not buying any given thing. When I do buy something, then, it's gotta be a good value.
posted by jpe at 5:12 AM on December 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

I use StartPage instead of Google. Dorky name, but it works quite well.
posted by Too-Ticky at 5:20 AM on December 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

In a similar way to Mizu, I have a degree in marketing, but what really innoculated me the most (and ultimately, subconsciously, probably decided me on not going straight into the agency world, although I do work on the outskirts, so I'm probably still going to hell) - where was I?

The rhetoric course that my English 101 prof in college more or less taught instead of teaching what he was supposed to - if you start parsing advertising messages and notice/look for things like:

- what they actually claim for the product, as opposed to the surrounding imagery (in many cases, nothing)
- the implied claims for the product, which are conveyed by the visuals, music, etc. (buy a greeting card and have a happy family in a nice house that loves you, instead of the one you've got)
- the counter-claims or things they have to insert to comply with the letter of the law. Drug side effects are the most obvious example, but if you have HDTV and a DVR, freeze the frame on some of those walls of text they throw up for about 1/2 a second and really read them...

(and in the spirit of that - the side effects of following my advice may include: being boring at parties; becoming a bit of an asshole generally when you point things out in conversation; and never looking at pop music and Christmas music lyrics the same. It's a marshmallow world? Really? That's terrifying.)

Also, it may be helpful to think about the fact that it's really not as good at mind control as the William Gibsons of the world would have you think. Bazillions have been spent on products that flopped.

TL;DR - I'd rather armor my brain with counter-knowledge than try to plug my ears and eyes before walking into the street.
posted by randomkeystrike at 5:43 AM on December 26, 2014 [6 favorites]

Advertising is a deeply integral part of consumer culture that cannot be avoided.

For example. Your car is old and unreliable. You decide to purchase a new one. You hire a professional, independent researcher to produce an unbiased document detailing only the differentiating features of current models from Brands A, B, and C. After an in depth cost / benefit analysis and a good nights sleep, you decide on Brand C and congratulate yourself on being so rational. But there's a few things you missed.

First, the features of the cars themselves are really market tested advertisements. Heated leather seats, surround sound, LED headlights.. etc. That have little to do with your goal of reliable travel from point A to point B. The products themselves are designed by marketing teams to sway you towards their brand.

Second, you wouldn't need a car at all if you lived and worked in a walkable community. The structure of modern society is an advertisement designed to sell you cars.

There is only one solution to avoid being swayed by advertisements.

Stop participating consumer culture.

Someone mentioned Consumer Reports as a source of unbiased information about products. But it is biased. It is biased towards consumption of commercial products. The whole magazine is really an advertisement to sell you stuff you don't need.

The question itself of which commercial laundry detergent performs best subtly and deviously implies that *only* commercial products are worthy of consideration. Obscuring the fact that you can mix up your own laundry detergent quickly and easily from cheap, generic raw materials, (borax, sodium carbonate and soap). You may even find that it outperforms commercial products.

Almost anything you truly need can be found second hand, hand made locally or easily produced on your own.

Advertising has no effect on someone who is content with what they have.
posted by j03 at 6:50 AM on December 26, 2014 [15 favorites]

Advertising is a deeply integral part of consumer culture that cannot be avoided.

For example. Your car is old and unreliable. You decide to purchase a new one... there's a few things you missed.

Yeah. Mostly you're gonna miss the $10,000 your new car drops in value as soon as you drive it off the lot.

I have never bought a new car. Can't see the point.

I'd rather armor my brain with counter-knowledge than try to plug my ears and eyes before walking into the street.

I've often seen these courses of action presented as alternatives. They're not. Doing both works better than either alone - defence in depth applied to the relentless cultural malware onslaught that is modern marketing.
posted by flabdablet at 7:02 AM on December 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

There is only one solution to avoid being swayed by advertisements.
Stop participating consumer culture.

This is indeed the only solution but to do it literally would be to isolate yourself from the world. The universe is a stage for product placement. What you need to do instead is to become immune to advertising's messages. In brief, what j03 says above: be content with what you have, or more to the point, be content with who you are. Since you will not be able to do this perfectly, you then need to be content with your imperfection.

Without becoming paranoid about it, become aware that you are continually bombarded by demands to be different from who you are. Most of these are not directly from corporations but from others under their sway or under the hypnosis of the culture in general. Everything you know has a built in bias, including that 1 + 1 = 2 but bias by itself isn't a problem if you aren't attached to it(in the Buddhist sense) or identified with it (In the psychological sense.) Even this comment is infused with my biases--it is an advertisement for them.
They say "when you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him," but you needn't become a murderer, for then you are enslaved by the anti-Buddha.

Or, we can go with W. C. Fields' version: "You can't cheat an honest man." Advertising works by appealing to your own discontent. (Or to use flabdablet's version, malware can take hold because there are no non-trivial bug-free programs.) So learn to know who you are--your cravings, your weaknesses, your fears, and avoid opportunities for their exploitation. And forgive yourself when you fail at this.

You will be told to accept certain political views (or else you're a bad person/citizen/member of the community. ) You will be favorited when you post the right things on metafilter. You will be told that behaving in certain ways is mentally unhealthy. Etc. Be aware of the nature of the influences around you. You will get hooked into stuff. The real superpower you'll need is the agility to extract yourself without drama from it afterwards when you become aware of it.

And do use adblock too.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:47 AM on December 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

I also use Adblock Plus and it's pretty amazing how much my online experience varies from my friends. You can disable it on specific websites, which I've only done for MetaFilter and a couple of blogs that I'm loyal to. In public, I just don't see them anymore,I'm think because I've tried so hard to be less materialistic as I get older. Downsizing after kids left the nest was a big help, as I never want to have that much stuff again.

So I guess if you 're determined to not buy anything, you just don't notice the ads as much.
posted by raisingsand at 8:02 AM on December 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Someone mentioned Consumer Reports as a source of unbiased information about products. But it is biased. It is biased towards consumption of commercial products. The whole magazine is really an advertisement to sell you stuff you don't need.

The OP mentions that they are already actively searching for a product, presumably a commercial one. All review sites are biased, but if you are already shopping for something, they help shorten the time spent shopping, and subjecting yourself to consumer ads. But, everybody is different.
posted by bluefly at 8:14 AM on December 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

In recent years, I have mostly lived without a TV. It's also been a few years since I read any print magazines. I spend a good bit of my time on sites like MetaFilter, which is mostly text. If you are logged in to MetaFilter, advertising is fairly minimal.

I spent a lot of my life deconstructing myself and the messages I grew up with, whether those messages were from people I knew personally or from media/society generally. This has included exercises like reading those tacky "stars without makeup" articles in order to deprogram myself from this crazy idea that anyone can look gorgeous and perfect all the time, if only you will buy our product/believe the crap we are brainwashing you with. Not even millionaire stars whose millions depend on them looking good actually look that gorgeous every single minute of every single day. They just don't.

So one of the things I am keenly aware of: Most of the fashion industry is about making a buck, not about making women more physically comfortable or giving them better lives. That fact, combined with my understanding that the idea that you, too, can look like this is essentially a life, has helped me change my focus with regards to what traits I value in products whose purchases are especially vulnerable to this type of brain washing.

The other thing I do: I get feedback from folks who are smart and knowledgeable as an antidote to the media brainwashing. I am good at figuring out who is especially in the know about some subject and I ask them or read their blog or whatever and I value their opinion more highly than the opinion of a marketing campaign whose primary goal is to milk me for money, not enhance my life.

And after I have done whatever I am going to do to inoculate myself from media bias, if I ultimately conclude that the popular thing actually looks like the best thing for me at this time, I get down off my high horse and don't refuse to buy it based on "principle." Sometimes, the popular thing is popular because it actually works well, not just because of media brainwashing efforts. (This can be especially true in situations where the popularity is part of the value -- for example, a networking platform has more value if you can reach All The Peoples with it. The more obscure thing may be superior in every other way, but its obscurity itself may be a downside.)
posted by Michele in California at 2:30 PM on December 26, 2014

Watching tv only through Netflix/Amazon Prime has been a great way to cut down on pervasive advertisement, so much so that my kids are flabbergasted by commercials when we watch something like the Oscars on broadcast tv. We also no longer read magazines, and we use Adblock on the computer.

But of course, ads come in so many more varieties now. I've found a couple of behavior tips that help me try to maintain control of my purchases.
- Don't buy anything you don't immediately need unless you have thought about the purchase for at least a day. I often get a very strong, irrational desire to buy something - a kindle was the last thing I can remember that had me in a consumer tizzy, but I've also found myself fixated on fruit bowls that seem vital to my life at the moment - but if I give it a day without acting on it, the emotional urge to buy usually goes away. If I still want to buy the thing after a week, I go on to the next step.
- Research the hell out of every big purchase you want to buy, while keeping in mind that online reviews and testimonials are often planted by marketers or written by brand-blinded people. Likewise, bloggers are often paid money or given free stuff in exchange for recommend products. I actually find AskMe to be a useful resource when looking for specific recommendations or for seeing if I actually need the product in the first place.
- Ad Detector is a browser extension that identifies paid advertising masquerading at content.
- If you see an ad for a product that you want online, know there is a good chance that that ad was targeted at you because of your browsing habits.
- And finally - and this one has helped a lot - I remember hearing someone on NPR saying that overeating might be a response to seeing food marketed to us so pervasively, whether through traditional ads or just store signs. Our bodies think we are hungrier than we are when we see food offered to us every five feet. Keep that theory in mind has helped me avoid food purchases outside the weekly grocery store trips.
posted by bibliowench at 3:03 PM on December 26, 2014

Response by poster: A brief comment to clarify:

There is only one solution to avoid being swayed by advertisements.
Stop participating consumer culture.

While this would be ideal, it's also a goal that I can't fully achieve. There are inevitably some things I cannot make myself and that I believe genuinely improve wellbeing (say, a computer, or a mattress that's highly supportive for my back). But I imagine drastically reducing their percieved number is what I'm trying for here. Thank you all.
posted by solarion at 5:00 PM on December 26, 2014

Adblock, no magazines, no TV.
posted by werkzeuger at 7:04 PM on December 26, 2014

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