No Feelings, Only Numbers

Written by Holly Kristina Goldstein

In Larry Page’s Economist article “The Ultimate Marketing Machine” he comments on the monetary waste generated by decades of funding advertising on television, in magazines, newspapers and on the radio via the assumption that merely the presence of ads will promote product consumption. Page declares that conventional advertising methods often, “send messages that reach the wrong audience or none at all” and that the antidote to this misguided energy is click-funded advertising and its counterparts all of which grew out of a post-Google, capitalist culture. It is relevant, I believe, to note that Page is male, as are all of the professionals cited in his article. All of the statistics used are of hard numbers of clicks and dollars earned as opposed to a survey of the psychological effects of advertising on the people viewing the ads.

Page’s assumption that all effects of consumerism can be measured in ads clicked or product sold is inherent to the patriarchal nature of the advertising world and its disregard for the subconscious and emotional war it rages on the consumer’s self-esteem because of the perpetual treatment and portrayal of humans (particularly women) as objects to be consumed. I say disregard, but I think what I actually mean is rampant opportunism. The advertising industry takes advantage of the social constructs revolving around beauty, normalcy and whiteness to instigate feelings of inferiority and inadequacy in consumers so they will, as a result, buy more product in order to meet those standards. Page’s thought process in particular is patriarchal because of the linear structure of his research, which is understandable from a male perspective because men are conditioned to approach life with a direct plan as far as what they are supposed to be rather than taking the time to branch out of the tangible realms.

This critique is enhanced by Susan Douglas‘s thoughts in Narcissism as Liberation and Jean Killbourne‘s Killing Us Softly series. No, the far-reach of traditional advertising techniques–the kind that we are always the passive objects of– cannot be easily counted and quantified as Page may prefer, but as Killbourne states it is inherent in the development of many a psychological disorders among young women and girls internationally today. These effects take route over a number of years, embedding themselves into the standards a young women holds herself to as she grows up. Many cosmetic companies abide by the “get them when they’re young” philosophy believing that a teenage girl will pick a brand and stick with it for life. The only way to sustain income on that model then is to create an unhealthy codependency on the products and to reenforce a woman’s self-objectification. As male objectification in the media is a fairly new practice, it makes sense that Page had never been in a position where he felt at the very least physically inadequate because of the advertising industry and didn’t think that those psychological effects were a valid statistic to include in his study.

And if you want to see some examples of those old fashioned ads that Page said didn’t work:


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