Don’t Let the Advertising Lullaby Put You to Sleep
“The whole purpose of advertising is to lull you to sleep.”
That’s what the late, great comedian George Carlin used to claim as part of a set he called his “advertising lullaby.” The lullaby is a hugely entertaining laundry list of advertising’s shallow claims, slogans, jingles and qualifiers like “No cash? No problem. No kidding, no fuss.” It’s designed to display what Carlin called “America’s most profitable business…bullshit.” And it’s a lullaby that sadly still resonates more than 20 years later.
Today, advertisements, and now social media, have become even more closely intertwined with our lives, surrounding us with a complex web of influences of which we are often unaware. To get us to purchase even more things that we don’t need, these two powerful forces often prey on our insecurities and vulnerabilities. Through carefully crafted messages, they’re able to tap into emotions and exploit our needs. And they purposefully aim for those needs lower down on Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs, even when those needs have little to do with the goods or services being peddled. A “Find Your Beach” Corona commercial, for example, seduces you with a picture of paradise. But it really just wants you to buy a six pack.
This is a popular technique in advertising—to tap into our insecurities through aspirational images. These images often depict people with perfect bodies, beautiful faces, and expensive possessions. And if that makes you feel inadequate about your life, well, it’s supposed to do that. It’s designed to do just that—to convince us that by buying certain products or services, we can be just like these beautiful people.
Another way that advertising and social media play on our insecurities is by appealing to our need for validation. We live in a society where “likes” and “shares” are currency, and companies take advantage of this by creating campaigns that focus on the idea of “fitting in” or “being cool.” This type of messaging encourages us to purchase products or services in order to gain the approval of our peers. It can also exploit our fear of missing out, or FOMO. By creating campaigns that focus on limited-time offers, exclusive discounts, and other “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunities, they can convince us that we’re missing out on something great if we don’t act fast. “Act now, order today, send no money, offer good while supplies last,” as Carlin would put it.
Advertising is based on classic misdirection. And whatever the ads themselves may say, those behind them don’t actually want you to address Maslow’s self-actualization level or to acquire what might actually improve your well-being. They don’t want us educating or bettering ourselves. Why? Because more educated consumers are less likely to buy their brand of bullshit. The “big wealthy business interests,” as Carlin puts it in another famous bit, “don’t want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that. That doesn’t help them.”
So we must be vigilant. Be purposeful. Don’t let others on social media or corporate boardrooms prey on your insecurities, or make you feel like you need their approval. Don’t let the advertising lullaby put you to sleep.