Noam Chomsky on Advertising

By Juan Bello – Co-founder at Porter (Fast, no-code marketing reporting)

I recently watched “Requiem for the American Dream”, a documentary by Noam Chomsky, perhaps the greatest intellectual alive, who speaks about wealth distribution, political and economic power, and how the richest become richer and the poorest only lose.

What really called my attention is his perspective on advertising, seeing it as the antagonist; the tool to influence the mass to make people buy what they don’t need.

I have seen this shared perspective with many individuals I have been glad to be surrounded by. However, what I have experienced as a marketer is truly different: marketing —and advertising—help to create value through products and services. Of course, depending on the product or service you’re trying to market.

The 3 ideas that Chomsky mentions towards advertising are:

1. Advertising is meant to fabricate consumers.

The PR and advertising industry were developed in the freest countries [Great Britain and the US].

It quickly became very clear that it wasn’t going to be very easy to control the population by force —too much freedom had been won.

(…) It was understood and expressed that you have to control them [the people] by the control of beliefs and attitudes. And the best way to do this is by “fabricating consumers.”

2. Measurement of a decent life

[Internet and Television] present you what the proper life would be, what kind of gadgets you should have.

You spend your time and effort gaining those things which you don’t need, you don’t want, and maybe you will throw them away…

But that’s the measure of a decent life.

3. Advertising create uninformed consumers

If you have taken an economics course, you know that markets are based on “informed consumers making rational choices.”

Well, if we had a market system like that, a market system, then a television ad of, say, General Motors, putting up information, saying, “Here’s what we have for sale.”

That’s not what an ad for a car is.

An ad for a car is a football hero, and actress, a car doing some crazy thing like going up a mountain or something.

The point [of advertising] is to create uninformed consumers who will make irrational choices —and for politics, it works in the same way.

Activism as the cure

Chomsky, at the end of the documentary, also offers some guidelines of what an ideal society would be —or what people should do.

“The way things change is by people working all the time; working in their communities, their workplace, or wherever they happen to be. And they’re building the basis for popular movements, which are going to make changes. That’s the way everything has happened in History.”

“The activists are the people who have created the rights we enjoy.”

Activism. People gathering together to fight for the rights, even those rights that haven’t been proclaimed as rights. That’s how Chomsky proposes the change we need. It is not necessarily about gathering in a place, roaming words against The System, but our daily actions towards a common goal — a common need for change.

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