So my grand experiment on not using this blog as a free billboard is coming to an end today. Did I learn anything from it? Oh yeah. Did I affect anything because of it? That’s a bit harder to gauge.
Let’s start with what I learned. Thing is, I cheated a little bit; I wound up having to drop the generic bit on my micro-blogging service because I realized I used that more as a direct communications tool than I initially thought. Most of my posts on that service had to be ‘branded up’ because they were recommendations to friends and so forth, and going generic would defeat the purpose of the message. I went as long as I could, and tried to keep things generic afterwards when they weren’t replies (such as the miniature painting progress), but that wound up being more or less a failure.
Although, I did realize that there’s a distinct difference between word-of-mouth support for a product or service, and false-grassroots “movements” in support of one. It’s probably unjustly cynical of me to presume malice or monetary impetus for anyone talking up something they like on the web or in real life, but sometimes it’s really hard to tell. In general, though, if someone makes a forum post about something cool they found, they’re not likely to be getting paid for it– particularly if it’s someone you know or trust. (We’ll set aside the issue of whether or not you can really “know” or “trust” someone you’ve only met online for now; I think everyone knows my stance on that, but as with everything it’s not a universal experience.)
Advertising in and of itself is not an evil thing; it’s just been so grossly misused and misapplied in modern society that it can get very overwhelming very quickly. To a certain extent I can sympathize with the views of folks like the Adbusters or their comrades in culture-jamming, even if I think they’re being just a tad bit too radical in their approach. It’s easy to say “f*** it all” and want to just withdraw from the commercial world altogether. Then again, that approach is dangerous as well.
Ads serve a twofold purpose. Their primary purpose in the world today is to garner sales for the product or service depicted in the ad (we’re assuming that the product or service actually is depicted in the ad– I’m looking at you, scuzzy pharmaceutical companies). However, their original purpose, and one which is more or less relegated to a side effect these days, is to inform the populace that a new product or service is available, and to tell the public about it. One can draw a distinction, then, between ads which serve primarily the first function– let’s call them “hypes” (as in Don’t Believe The)– and ads which primarily serve the second function– call those “dopes” (as in The Straight).
Hypes are everything negative associated with advertising. They’re glitzy, flashy, attention-grabbing or in some cases attention-arresting, and offer little to no substantive content. What content a hype may contain is either deceptive, misleading, or in some cases completely false. In computer terms, they’re viruses: they hijack a user’s computer for fairly small slices of time at a time to self-propagate and perform a detriment to the user.
Dopes are the more benign usage of advertising. They are detailed, specific, subtle or even understated, and tend to err on the side of the uncomfortable truth. A dope winds up being obviously an ad, but one that sometimes gets sought out by a consumer. In computer terms, they’re the documentation for some underused command-line arguments on a program: you don’t need it all the time, but when you do seek it out, it tries to present itself as the best solution to your problem, whether or not it actually is or you happen to have the problem it solves.
Modern ads can’t be so clearly and neatly divided into these two categories. How do you define, for example, a particularly pleasant earworm of a jingle? What about a dry, deadpan ad for a slimeball ambulance-chaser portraying himself as legit? Furthermore, the thought that pervasiveness equals success has caused most ads to shoot for viral status over being informative. Witness the titillating ads for a particular domain registrar that pop up every Super Bowl; how many average football watchers are going to give two rats’ asses what a web domain is? It gets worse in that hypes tend to be viral in a very literal sense, “infecting” consumers to the point that they themselves, either knowingly or unknowingly, start spewing hypes: commonly manifested as fanboyism.
I’ll freely admit to starting this month in anger and outrage, but the irritation was mostly with myself. It seems like I was constantly regurgitating the hype mill from some source or another without adding anything meaningful to the commentary. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that my decision on what to talk about and what I didn’t want to talk about was itself a form of commentary, and that most of the time, when I made a post about something commercial, I felt the need to make at least some brief (ha ha) remarks on it. A lot of my irritation was being directed at the aftermath of a few product revelations, or in some cases lack of revelations, that had been going on at the end of January, and as a result I found myself defending a position that wasn’t even mine to begin with. It turns out, though, that taking this month to reflect on my online activity and what I was posting did me a world of good.
It’s probably obvious by now that I’m going to start talking about commercial interests again starting tomorrow; I’ve already got the next three days’ worth of posts lined up, and that also includes two Game Clear notices (I’m skipping doing Save and Quit for those games). The thing is, though, you can count on the fact that all of what I discuss here is my genuine opinion. I’ve only been paid to promote something online once in my life, and I’ve made it abundantly clear what that thing was (also, my obligation to do so is probably long since expired) and didn’t proverbially pee in the well; so, honestly, this blog is what I actually believe. Warts and all, perceived fanboyism and all, it’s my opinion. I’ll try not to jump to the defense of companies in comments on other blogs, of course– if I see some flagrant stupidity or fanboyism, I still feel obligated to point out logical fallacies and inconsistencies at the very least– but I’m not going to censor myself just because I’m not being paid to promote something I genuinely like.
As a final little coda to this, remember that buyout plan I left open in the initial post? Yeah, nobody bit. I didn’t expect anyone to, of course, but it was worth a shot.