/** */ So. What's It Like Being A Roach? | Adland

So. What's It Like Being A Roach?

According to Naomi Watts, author of "No Logo", (excerpt here) consumers are like roaches. They've been sprayed so much, they're beginning to develop immunities. Can't argue with that. How else to explain the emergence of alternative branding tactics of every ilk, everything from experiential marketing to product placement to television programming developed around brands.


Watts made her roach comment on the special 90-minute documentary on PBS called The Persuaders.

If those of us in advertising and marketing felt like bathroom fungus before, this show makes us look all but indistinguishable from that gelatinous alien ooze in Dreamcatchers. What is it with these people like Watts?

They just can never seem to get it through their heads, there is nothing fundamentally unethical about attempting to sell somebody something. Doesn't matter if the something is a roll of toilet paper or a political candidate. But still, the Naomi Watts crowd sees evil in creating desire. It's just not there, Naomi. Just like it wasn't there when you people were off on your subliminal advertising thing. Remember the uproar over the ice cubes in the whiskey glass? Yeah, okay. Like somebody's going to actually spell out s-e-x in a bunch of ice cubes. Like it would matter even if they did.

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Anonymous Adgrunt's picture
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caffeinegoddess's picture

I'm sure Ms. Watts doesn't see evil in persuading people to purchase her book.

ernieschenck's picture

Yeah, that's true. Kind of like Adbusters with the sneakers and the rest of the junk they're pushing now. What is it with these people? Pretty hard to respect somebody who thinks they can straddle both sides of the fence like this and we're not going to see it. Please.

AnonymousCoward's picture

I don't know where you've been, but last time I checked we advertisers and marketers were only slightly ahead of lawyers in the public opinion polls. Advertising is no longer straightforward and honest. It's Psy-Ops. It's war for the minds of consumers. No, there is nothing fundamentally unethical about attempting to sell somebody something. However we've reached the edges of what we can sell honestly. We no longer sell toilet paper and political candidates, we sell emotions and experiences. We sell consumers products wrapped up with promises of life altering experiences and ultimate truth. We don't sell things, we sell pretty boxes.

We are gelatinous alien ooze and they are cockroaches. Fix it or get used to it.

ernieschenck's picture

Yeah, I guess it is Psy-Ops. But so what? It's all just gone to a different level on the branding evolutionary scale. I mean, you could have said the same thing about what Doyle Dane unleashed on consumers in the 60's. Lemon? Think small? Next to what had been the norm in advertising up to that point, Bill Bernbach must have seemed like Machiavelli incarnate. Yeah, we sell emotions and experiences. Dishonest? I don't think so. But that's just my opinion.

AnonymousCoward's picture

I really don't think that Naomi Watts suggests that there is evil everywhere. My reading finds she has a greater point to make and simplifying her arguments to 'advertisers/advertising is evil' makes us look short-sighted and defensive.

And while I'm on the topic of over-simplification, attacking Ms. Watts by suggesting that 'there is nothing fundamentally unethical about attempting to sell somebody something' is similar to suggesting that there is nothing wrong with selling automatic weapons...being willfully blind to the inherent value (or lack therof) of an item/project/service or the eventually use of the item to be able to claim moral high ground is embarassing.

As professionals in a position to influence others we have moral and ethical responsibilities. We're uber quick to point out the moral and ethical responsibilities of everyone else like our slow-paying clients, our abusive bosses, egotistical directors, weaselly producers, and the list goes on.

Read No Logo It has lots negative to say but its more a critique of retail and marketing culture and practices and offers some insight and positive options.

Be carefull about defending 'us'. lots of us are slimy - or have been - or will be.

ernieschenck's picture

Certainly we have moral and ethical responsibiltities. But with some obvious exceptions, are we not discussing a pretty subjective thing here? To you, it might be unethical to work on a firearm account. To someone else, it might not be. I myself would never have anything to do with tobacco.

Some people are pretty upset about stuff like branded content. Not fair is what I'm hearing. When it was a straight up TV spot, they say, at least consumers knew they were being sold to. Now there's all this stealthy business going on and oh woe is us they don't know where it's coming from anymore.

Is that unethical to you? Is it immoral? Sorry, but it isn't to me. Whether it troubles some of us or not, our job here is to create desire. If we can do that with a 30 second spot, brilliant. If we can't and if an internet film or something is now better suited to that job, even more brilliant.

What can I say. I don't see the slime there.

Dabitch's picture

What's with the Watts? Did Klein get so oversaturated they need to reposition and relaunch the brand? I liked Klein, it was more Kutting edge than the watered down Watts. ;)

Andreas-Udd's picture

Be serious girl. :)

AnonymousCoward's picture

hey ernieschenck, i think your most recent comments are right on the money.

I was responding to what seemed a little like a defensive, and uninformed jab at Klein (yes, i missed that too) . Also I happen to think that a little outside evaluation keeps us honest. And articulate. which breeds respect and communication. which is really what we do. your initial post appeared as a poor commercial for your real product (your more lucid and on-point opinion posted later)

If you were just goofing, my apologies. There are plenty of chicken-littles raging against the ad-machine who deserve to be slapped down with as much derision and sarcasm as we're capable of. But Naomi Klein is not one of them. She's an insider with some real insight. If nothing else, her books are instant how-to's in an industry full of cock-sure 19yearolds (and enough 50yearolds) who throw all the keyworkds around but don't really know what a 'brand' is. Making our job about a million times more difficult.

and the slime is there. its in every commercial enterprise. and our industry has a history of swimming in it, so it behooves us to strive for higher personal standards of ethical and professional behavior.

ernieschenck's picture

Okay, maybe I was too hard on Naomi. (And my apologies to Naomi Watts for the screw-up. Sincere mea culpas). But it does irritate me when we're made out to be some sort of sociological deviants hellbent on mind control or whatever other rubbish these anti-brand activists seem to believe we're into. Is there an ongoing battle between Madison Avenue and Main Street? Of course. But for critics to suggest that you and I are some sort of corporate evildoers sitting around all day dreaming up scurrilous new ways of manipulating consumers, I think that's pushing it a bit. Manipulating, sure. Scurrilous? Far from it.

caffeinegoddess's picture

Sweet talk, captivate, attract, influence, incite, arouse interest, saw, guide, impress, inspire- but manipulate? That word has such negative connotations- it's like brainwashing and I don't think advertising could ever manipulate the public to think something different about a product, in most cases at least. You can scream from the hilltops that Brand X is fantastic but if it doesn't do what it's supposed to do or do it well, it's going to end up in the trash bin. If I buy Lynx becuase I think it's going to get me girls, and I try it and it doesn't, then I'm going to turn from it for that purpose. You can make all the claims you want- emotional or rational- but you better deliver on it.

I think sometimes people give advertising credit for being more powerful than it actually is. If it was indeed as powerful and dangerous as some people make it out to be, everyone would be flocking to buy Hummers or Macs or iPods. The fact that advertising only targets people who are already willing to consider buying or using Brand X proves that you can't convience people to go on a consuming binge, just because you put an ad on TV. Not only that but consumers can be fickle. If there's not enough to make them brand loyal, they'll buy items based on price or even just bounce around because they feel like it.

Naomi Klein (heh I missed too that when I first replied), also isn't an insider- she's a journalist. But I do agree that views from outsiders are important to keep advertising messages from going around in circles and to keep companies and ad agencies from talking to themselves. And in a way, because we are all consumers, we're all insiders in advertising.

Andreas-Udd's picture

To paraphrase something I saw in that Persuaders program, we do actually manipulate, if ever so slightly.

When it was called "Estate Tax" nobody cared. When it was called "Death Tax" everyone suddenly hated it. Death Tax is an honest description of what the tax really is. Isn't that using our skills for good though? So where do we define good and evil? Absolutely that is subjective, we are in total agreement there.
I'm not going to get into the usual cigarette vs firearms straw man. That's not the point when Klein calls people roaches being sprayed with more ads. The point is the clutter our industry causes which is bad for our industry in the end. Dabitch has been ranting about this for years, someone please pay pay attention. We are shooting ourselves in the foot and I know of no other industry that does that to itself. Do you?

By the way ernieschenck, I swear I have suits at my office that are like manipulating vampires that dream up getting more eyeballs on their ads by tattooing the insides of people eyelids. I'm pleased to hear you haven't met any of that sort.

Dabitch's picture

About the poorly executed Watts joke, I thought Ms Klein had gotten married or something, and that I had missed the news. Seriously.

I dig that you post here ernieschenck , in some cases I agree so much with you I might be your siamese twin like in this piece that I plugged before: No Ad Student Left Behind, in this one.. Not so much.
Or rather, the underlying idea that selling something isn't bad I do agree with, it's just the part of comparing Kleins ideas on ad oversaturation in the public landscape (and how big name corporations affect the world), to a crackpot theory perputated by a con-artist (Vicary) that ripped off both Madison Ave and countless college students to this day that I find is... well there's a disconnect there for me. ;) [About Vicary: In 1958 he disappeared, leaving no bank accounts, no clothes in his closet, and no forwarding address.]

It's alright to be bugged by Ms Klein if you wish, the No Logo publishers (in various countries) are the only ones to flat out refuse (in a very polite way) to send us a copy that we could lotto away to adgrunts here like we used to do. Snobbier than Luke Sullivan, Kesselskramer, Jim Aitchison, St. Lukes' Creative company, Graphis, 72 dpi and a few more I cant be bothered to search for right now? anyway... ;) I don't hold a grudge at all... :P Nope... *whistles*

AnonymousCoward's picture

since this is becoming about semantics, i would argue Naomi is more insider than not. As I understand, she's worked in advertising, and is married to Avi Lewis -who, for the non-Canadian literate, is a TV guy (now on his own, last with the CBC, but originally with MuchMusic) and, as his very involved and conscious partner, she has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. In the way of honest disclosure, I came from the MuchMusic fold too - in house design and advertising. But as you nicely lay out in your post, this fact is really moot - the result is worthwile and the goal ultimately the same.

ernieschenck's picture

Hey, dab, sorry to hear about those snobby ad guy authors. I swear to you now in front of the world when my book comes out next year, I will happily give you several copies to lotto away!

AnonymousCoward's picture

Slight correction: it is actually David Lubars (who now works at BBDO) who is the author of this famous quote. Though you'd like to know. :-)