The competitive monetisation of absolutely everything is destroying our planet, our mental health, our rights, our relationships, our self-esteem.
And yet it’s everywhere, we can’t escape from digital advertising, every second person works in marketing, how are we meant to resist this?
And what is it doing to us?
A massive proportion of professional life in this country has become dedicated to marketing, targeted advertising, campaigns, digital marketing, PR hooks, clickbait, paid content, influencer strategies, and so much more. And it’s all there to boost someone’s profit margins at our expense – financially, emotionally, environmentally.
Wasn’t the big idea of free-market capitalism supposed to rest on the invisible hand of the market dictating which products succeed? Supply and demand, healthy competition and the people will inevitably choose the best product and that product will succeed, that’s capitalism, folks!
Now there’s a new hand and it’s a bunch of digital marketing directors figuring out how best to manipulate public opinion and exploit cash and clicks out of us all.
It doesn’t matter which t-shirt is the comfiest, most flattering, or best quality, you’ll sell the most if you target your ads correctly or if you can pay Molly Mae to wear one on her story.
Instead of making money off being a musician, now you have to hire a marketing team, probably a social media manager, some digital marketing and SEO on the side, creative direction, campaign strategy, instead of just being able to make a record and make enough to live comfortably. You have to buy publicity, you have to buy your way into magazine features, it doesn’t matter anymore if your art is actually good or not.
We’re all coming to terms with the fact that jobs and managers fucking suck. But if you want to break free and make a nice wholesome independent living by pouring soy candles in your own kitchen or becoming a food writer, it’s unlikely you’ll survive unless you heavily invest in publicity and marketing. You can’t just be innocently self-sufficient you’ll just have to outsource your exploitative side to a PR professional on Fiverr.
Selling superfluous stuff for a living requires a lot of preying on our insecurities (have you been Googling why you’re getting acne flare ups? Get ready for an onslaught of targeted ads for magic ointments that will cure you for £75 per 100ml). The industry also rests on intrusive analysis of our private lives to the point where if you’ve been going to your local big Tesco a lot, you’ll get targeted ads on Instagram from Sainsbury’s telling you how they price-match.
We keep being told that social media is destroying our mental health and our attention spans. The dominant theory is that we see too many of our friends having seemingly polished and glorious lifestyles and that makes us feel sad, apparently. What if instead it’s the steep monetisation of every feed and platform that’s really hurting us. Once again, free-market capitalism is the problem.
Most of us started our social media journey on Facebook, which used to be an almost unbearable amount of updates on mundane things people are doing with their days. But now your news feed is just a load of paid and boosted content which you never signed up to see in the first place. You wade through six hundred videos of hair transformations and food hacks who pay to be there so they can make money from the advertising space, you get streams of targeted adverts usually fr products you’ve looked at already and obviously not bought for a reason. The only people still posting any real or actual things on there are ancient relatives and neighbourhood-watch groups.
Instagram is the same, it’s just a load of paid content from accounts you don’t even follow. If you want your pictures to show up on your followers’ feeds, you need to pay. Now the same brains have bought WhatsApp, it won’t be long until we have to see adverts on there.
Twitter has cleverly avoided this onslaught to the algorithm by limiting individual capacity to pay for boosted content. Still, every viral Tweet gets some company underneath it paying the OP for their product to be added to the thread.
Literally everything has become advertising space. Everything is a marketing platform.
You know how it’s really annoying when you’re looking for a recipe and they tell you their life story before you get to it? That’s because of digital marketing, to get a higher search ranking for your blog post it needs to have over 1,000 words and a low bounce rate (meaning people don’t click off it quickly). Adding your extra words at the top which also take ages for visitors to scroll through equals a quick algorithm hack.
In 2020, on average, UK businesses spent 62% of their budgets on digital advertising. If you’re trying to sell something, you can’t survive without it anymore. If you’re trying to be a conscious consumer, how can you hope to “shop ethically” if 62% of the profits get re-invested into the marketing industry?
For the rest of us, simply by being online, we’re exposed to constant and complex advertising strategies everywhere we look. It’s on every website, news feed, all your inboxes. In 2018, 81% of advertisers used social media, 78% used web marketing, and 69% used email. Around 86% of marketers use content marketing, which means churning out photos, articles, videos, podcasts which all subtly point towards whatever you’re trying to sell. A ton of white noise trying to make people spend time on your website or see your product in action or hear your track or comment on your posts. Anything to get you some exposure. Content strategies never try to post anything that actually benefits the audience or adds something positive to the viewer’s life. Even those wholesome-looking feel-good campaigns like Dove skincare or that perfume called something sickening like Our Imperfections Make Us Perfect, they don’t want you to feel good they just want your money.
A lot of social media is not social media anymore. It’s just a virtual magazine where 80% of the pages are filled with adverts. Nowadays we all miss actually being able to see what our friends and vague acquaintances are up to. Instead we’ve ended up with never-ending sales pitches constantly in our faces.
The main point is that marketing is quite simply exploitation. The industry revolves around trying to get as much money as possible out of the unsuspecting public. They mine our data with no ethical concerns, and use it to coerce clicks and sales and conversions.
It’s sales tactics, scamming, con artistry, trickery, unsolicited sales pitches while you’re just trying to catch up on your friends’ lives. It’s warping any shopping experience into an untrustworthy space where you have no idea which thing is actually what it says it is. It makes sellers price their products according to how much someone will pay for it, not how much it’s actually worth. It maintains profit margins above all else as the ultimate measure of success. It’s a vehicle for capitalism to prey on our vulnerabilities, our insecurities, to make us click on their adverts. It’s a system entirely dedicated to making money for people who already have enough to invest with. It’s fucking disingenuous and exploitative.
How can we fight back?
The engines of digital marketing are difficult to even locate, let alone resist. The prime movers are the likes of Google and Meta. The marketing strategies are filled with such complex subtleties that we hardly even notice it.
We can make little personal adjustments, like deleting Facebook, downloading adblocker, or controling our cookies, anything to try and push back against the neverending pillaging of our personal data and interests. But what can we do en masse? Storm the Urban Outfitters marketing headquarters? Campaign against all paid content? Educate ourselves and stay aware? Protest against influencers? Boycotts? Spending strikes?
We could try to reclaim social media back to being a social space. Start oversharing our daily lives again, make posts every day not twice a year. We could collectively refuse to join these exploitative workforces which are unfortunately becoming the most popular grad scheme in the country and soon every single job will be in marketing and we’ll all just be a massive web of miserable people marketing things to each other.
In any case, we must continue to fight against profit-oriented, exploitative industries, in any way we can.
We didn’t choose any of this, we should be able to navigate the digitisation of society without being left completely open and vulnerable to unregulated marketing.
Image by greyweed, published under CC BY 2.0.