Friday, October 25, 2013

Much Ado About Almost Nothing

This is a repost of an entry from the first LaMarotte originally published on July 27, 2009. I revive it now, with an update of the numbers, to support another posting which follows this one.

The Gross Domestic Product in 2008 was $14,264.6 billion (all right, that’s $14.3 trillion). GDP is the sum total of all economic activities in the United States. In that same year total expenditures on advertising amounted to $141.7 billion. With calculator in hand we can determine that advertising is just a sliver under 1 percent of GDP (0.99%).

[Corresponding values for 2012? Here they are: GDP $16,244.6 billion ($16.2 trillion), Advertising $139.5 billion, and advertising as a percent of GDP still only a hair of the total GDP, less than 1 percent (0.86%).]

I was led to make this calculation because today’s Business Day, the business section of the New York Times, perhaps coincidentally, was crowded with stories about advertising or closely related subjects. Stories dealt with (1) curbing commercials, (2) measuring responses to advertising messages, (3) late night TV programming battles (featuring ratings), (4) a TV morning show, (5) the role of giveaways in marketing, (6) NPR activities on the Internet,  (7) a technology convention being used as an advertising medium, (8) promotion of investing by using cartoons,  (9) a trademark battle between brands, and (10) a user-designed magazine and user-designed ads. Other stories were closely linked to the communications field: (a) iPhone, (b) Amazon and the Kindle, (c) a wireless acquisition, (d) Twitter, (e) the digital divide (African Americans are less represented on the Internet),  and (f) a story about the Gannett news organization. Only a single story, about toxic assets, even hinted at the fact that 99.01 percent of the economy [in 2008] might be doing something other than worrying about advertising or the media. I hasten to add here that the New York Times’ coverage of business is usually more diverse.

Since advertising is intrinsically linked with communications, it is visible because it has to be, intrusive because, well, it has to be, and therefore its presence is artificially exaggerated by its very function. We’re barely aware of the rest of the economy—unless some part of it fails us.

Our ways of perception have evolved so that we notice change above all—any deviation from the normal, ordinary, and habitual. Advertising exploits this aspect of our natural design. Our communications media, similarly, can only prosper when they’re seen. Both commercial and regular media therefore attempt to grasp our attention. The two ways to do so are by tempting or by shocking us. The relentless auction that modern life has become therefore produces a highly distorted sense of reality—sex and violence everywhere. But we see virtually none of that unless we’re in contact with media. Interesting. In the chart I’ve inserted, what we see is “All the Rest.” What we see on the media, writ very large, is the little sliver that I’ve labeled “Advertising.” Inverted impressions.

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