From The Independent (UK): What that Nokia ad was really about
It was a PR nightmare. The launch was supposed to arrest the dramatic
decline of Nokia, once the world's biggest mobile phone maker, whose
share of the market has plummeted thanks to the launch of the iPhone.
Instead, the firm's advertising gurus risk joining greedy bankers,
expense-fiddling MPs, paedophile priests, dodgy journalists and
bribe-taking policemen in the dubious pantheon of professions whom the
public can no longer trust.
Many might think the advertising industry did not have so far to
fall. But in the past there were respectable arguments of advertising
apologia. "Advertising nourishes the consuming power of men," said
Winston Churchill. "It creates wants for a better standard of living …
It spurs individual exertion and greater production." It informs
consumers about new products and stimulates economic growth. And it
employs large numbers of people.
But even in those early days it had a more sinister aspect. The
economist J K Galbraith saw advertising as the creation of artificial
wants. Indeed, it tricks people into buying things they don't need and
shouldn't want. Vance Packard's 1957 book The Hidden Persuaders explored
the dark arts of motivational research, deep psychology and subliminal
The difference between information and persuasion was eloquently put
by the crime writer Dorothy L Sayers, who began her career as an
advertising copywriter. In one Lord Peter Wimsey story, set in an
advertising agency, the detective is instructed about an ad for
margarine. Write "Just as good as butter, but half the price," he is
told. In which case, he replies, what is the argument for butter? Butter
doesn't need an argument, he is told, because eating it is natural.
The creation of unnatural tastes is a specialism of the industry, as
anyone who remembers the 1980s carpet freshener Shake n' Vac will
recall. Until recently, there was no cultural tradition that conceived
of sticking a wedge of lime in the neck of a bottle of lager. The
practice was invented, according to Martin Lindstrom in Buyology, when
an advertiser placed a bet with a friend at a bar that he could make the
masses stick a slice of lime in a bottle of Corona.
There is a more metaphysical reservation. It is that manipulative
advertising overrides our autonomy. It does so with techniques that
influence us subconsciously on emotional rather than rational grounds.
The philosopher Kant would not have approved, for it robs us of our
rational judgement by underhand methods.
Regulators might complain that they remove misleading ads from the
public sphere. Indeed, the Advertising Standards Authority had a record
4,591 ads changed or withdrawn last year. But we all know adverts
persuade by form not content. The ad as entertainment has reached such
heights that I know of two junior school girls who rush to the TV as
soon as the adverts come on and turn away when the programme
However amusing or engaging ads may be, they never have that quality
of pure gift that genuine entertainment, or art, offers. The intent is
always to seduce, because their primary obligation is to serve the
financial interests of their sponsor. At their most subtle, they are not
selling the product so much as the association of that product with
something more intangible: svelte young bodies, taut and tanned, images
of glamour, success, vigour, power or prestige. Such ads bypass
conscious reasoning or cloud it with bogus emotional appeal.
Admen know that, though they deny it. That is why "creatives" who
sell alcohol or tobacco insist that their ads have little influence on
consumers – and then wink to their clients that they can influence
consumers strongly. And they play to something negative in our nature.
Psychologists call it the "margin of discontent"; it is the gap between
what we have and what we want.
Advertising increases the margin of discontent by making us feel
dissatisfied. The creation of unhappiness is at the heart of
advertising, for it plays on desires that cannot be sated. It offers
only an abundance of meaningless choices between variations of things
that we didn't need in the first place. A Buddhist master might suggest
that the correct response is to give up wanting.
Nokia's executives stressed, when their bogus video was rumbled, that
it was "never the company's intention to deceive anyone". They win
either way. The error has won them far more publicity than a
properly-shot advertisement ever could.