While large corporations have the resources to do large, cross-cutting messages, the profit motive severely limits how effective they can reasonably allow themselves to be. Ultimately, a corporation cannot take a strong stance unless they are confident that most of their customers already agree with that stance — to do otherwise would be suicidal — and so they are obliged to lag behind the rest of society, tending to be more conservative & to accept regressive ideas for longer simply out of fear of lost profits.

Of course, they can avoid the risk by micro-targetting advertising & making sure they always preach to the choir — but then, they can never have a positive social impact (and may actually have a net negative social impact).

In other words, the profit motive inherently conflicts with the arc of history. (Social progress depends upon upsetting the comfortable and comforting the upset — in other words, on sacrificing the favor of the powerful in order to redistribute power more equitably — and this means real negative impact on one’s power and wealth in the short term with no guarantee of greater power in the long term.)

Untargeted advertising, for now, does cross boundaries. But, untargeted advertising reaches fewer people than ever. Large events with huge audiences like the superb owl are the exception, not the rule: who even has a TV anymore, or a cable subscription, or purchases paper magazines?

It is possible, for someone with plenty of resources and an interest in social justice, to engineer targetted advertising intended to change the opinions of specific audiences — not by having a shared ad experience that poorly targets everyone & tries to make a social statement while also shilling for a product, but by addressing each niche in terms they understand.

Unfortunately, the only values shared across most of the world now are the ones that all advertising implicitly shares: the idea that money can be traded for happiness, and the idea that there is no alternative to a system based on the sale of labor.

Written by

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software. http://www.lord-enki.net

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