Buy This: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Ads

I recently was visiting a friend who at the time was making use of the downloading site, Pirate Bay. One of us joked about how the advertisements the site displays, for the most part feature semi-nude women, often shaking their butts or breast in front of the camera, enticing us to click the link to whatever, pay-for porn, local hook-up or cheat-on-your-spouse site funded the ad. In addition to this were the more common and generally depressing ads, expected of such sites, like the start your own business or for profit college ads, clearly aimed at people who were not happy with their places in life.

It struck me as fascinating that a site like this, shamelessly operating outside the realm of general respectability, found these to be the most profitable advertisements to run. Rather than the more family friendly advertisements I see on Facebook or Google. It had me wondering then, granting that if advertising money from more conventional products successfully funds major websites like Facebook and Google, not to mention the various television networks, than how much money must the ads on pirate bay be generating for the various pay for porn sites and hook-up that advertise there?

I cannot imagine that large a portion of the population are actually buying products they see in these ads (or most internet ads for that matter), and some these ads of course take people to sites that are just funded by others ads themselves. The whole advertising game it seems to me would have to be a law of large numbers kind of operation, where if one delivers a the same pitch to a large enough number of people, only a small percentage will buy the product, but if the audience is big enough, that small percentage will be big enough to keep the business profitable.

It seems that renting out ad space in a high traffic website or public space is a huge cashcow, and I have to wonder if advertising money can be used to fund even more projects that have yet to be explored or if there is some upper limit to what is possible with this form of funding. Could one greatly supplement his or her income by displaying ads on his or her vehicle or front yard? If so what would happen if everyone did this (aside from making one’s neighborhood uglier)? Would it be possible to set up a business in which large numbers of people are paid to look at large numbers of ads?

If so would it be possible to have an entire economy built primarily on advertising, where most people primarily make money by displaying, producing or sharing content associated with advertisements? On some level it seems it would have to be the case that someone ultimately has to be buying a large number of products for advertising to work, but as of now it is apparently able to fund such a wide arrange of projects that a lack of buyer has not been an issue. We have not seen Facebook or Google or commercial television crash or be forced to change their business models due to a lack of responsiveness to advertisers. Even if most people buy only a small fraction of the products available to the system appears to remain intact.

Advertising and public relations have been a hugely profitable industry at least since the industrial revolution, giving me every reason to suspect we are more susceptible to advertising as well as other forms of propaganda than we would like to think
or at least a sizable enough portion of are to make it work. On some level this is a scary thought, as most of hate the idea that our thoughts may not be our own and that we may be being duped into buying products we otherwise do not want or need or into supporting causes we otherwise would not support.  I have to reject the notion that advertising has little to no discernible influence on the demand for a given product and that public relations have no impact on the way people view the world. I also will acknowledge that there is a very negative side to having the general population being constantly bombarded with messages to consume more and to express one’s self through the products one buys or to view the business who provide our favorite products in benevolent terms. I am the first to acknowledge that I do not completely understand the effects that such large scale pro-corporate and consumerist propaganda has on people in general. My understanding is that the average human American literally waste years of his or her life watching television commercials.

That said, while I tend to be of the mentality that advertisements are generally, crass, irritating and cynical obnoxious and generally unpleasant to have to look at, I do find their potential to as a source of funding for potentially countless projects to be fascinating a one I would like to see further explored. It seems that for to long we the ordinary people have been working for the advertisers, when perhaps we should be finding more ways to get them to work for us.

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