Black Ops Advertising: Hiding in Plain Sight

The New York Times: “The realization that something you thought to be ‘real’ is actually an advertisement is an increasingly common, if unsettling, sensation. Mara Einstein calls it ‘content confusion,’ and if her book, Black Ops Advertising, is right, we’re in for even more such trickery, indeed a possible future where nearly everything becomes hidden commercial propaganda of one form or another. She forecasts the potential of a ‘world where there is no real content: Everything we experience is some form of sales pitch’.”

“Content that doubles as brand advertising is not exactly new. In the 1980s, The Transformers and G.I. Joe were popular children’s cartoons but also advertisements, and so of course was the much beloved Mickey Mouse Club back in the 1960s … The difference, Einstein argues, lies in how much effort is going toward the dark arts. It is, she suggests, for one simple reason: that we, the public, are so good at avoiding or ignoring traditional advertising. We are fickle fish, cynical creatures who have already been hooked so many times that the simpler lures no longer work.”

“Einstein too quickly discards the most important remedy for advertising’s abuses: paying for content. A broader historical view can remind us that ad-supported media competes with paid media (like HBO, film, books). Those who don’t want to live in a world constantly trying to trick us into watching ads may have the most impact by voting with their dollars and starving the beast of the attention it needs to survive. Paying for things … strikes at the heart of the business model, and indeed a partial revolt is already underway, as suggested by the popularity of advertising-free subscription services like Netflix.”


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