How Ads Manipulate Us All
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How Ads Manipulate Us All

There's no escaping them.

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How Ads Manipulate Us All
Netflix: Black Mirror

In episode two of the British science-fiction anthology series Black Mirror, entitled “Fifteen Million Merits”, Bingham Madsen (played by Daniel Kaluuya) lives in an enclosed society. Citizens spend their days on stationary bikes, peddling furiously for merits—a form of currency used to buy food, goods, and entertainment. Bing lives a room made of screens. Periodically, these screens fill with advertisements for game shows, and contests, and porn. If Bing wants to stop an ad, he must pay a substantial fee of merits. (If he shuts his eyes, the ad will simply pause until he opens them again.) At one point in the episode, Bing’s account is drained and he is unable to escape a particularly upsetting ad.

In our own society, advertisements are everywhere. Think about how many ads you encounter in a single day (ex. while driving, listening to the radio, watching Hulu, listening to Spotify, opening your mail, checking your email, watching YouTube). It’s nearly impossible to separate desired content from undesirable content. Perhaps, you’re able to splurge on an ad-free subscription to Hulu, or upgrade to a premium account on Spotify. If so, you occupy a privileged position. Not everyone can afford to “opt out,” so to speak. Nevertheless, even if you’re able to cut back on the amount of advertisements you’re exposed to, a large number of ads still reach you.

Recently, after appreciating the sheer number of ads I’m forced to watch on a daily basis to consume my desired content, I began to contemplate how these advertisements might be affecting my psyche. Many ads, I realized, prey primarily on our insecurities. Oh, you don’t have this? Well you need it! If you’re going to be thin/well-liked/successful/beautiful. A great many start by convincing you of your inadequacy—of your ordinariness or general lacking—before moving on to why their product will help cure you.

Of course, I don’t need Biore pore strips (I don’t get blackheads), but their ad on Spotify intimates that one cannot appear in a photo without having used them. Of course, I don’t need Taco Bell’s shredded chicken wraps (I’m vegetarian), but their ad on Spotify appears to mock “overly ambitious dinners”.

I began to consider how these ads (which I cannot escape, even as a privileged individual, who can afford to pay for their censure) psychologically trick us, castrate us, and reinforce societal ideals we may not even agree with. I began to consider how ads are designed with these purposes in mind. Companies spend millions of dollars on experts and focus groups, in the hopes that their advertisement will break past the mind-numbing barrage of other advertisements and exert enough influence on us to convince us to spend our hard-earned money.

Who protects the public’s self-esteem? Their sanity? Their welfare? Surely advertisements affect us in ways we cannot know or quantify, by way of being so pervasive in our day-to-day lives. Why isn't there an option to "opt out"?


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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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