On Advertising

Touting your trade has been a necessary part of human life since language began and probably before. People handing out leaflets with simple information about gigs or products is fine. I don’t see anything wrong with Google Ad-sense, because it’s discrete, purely informative and doesn’t try to trick you. It even tries to be relevant to what you actually need.  This post is about ads which deliberately mislead people.

People think that adverts don’t affect them. Everyone I speak to says “Oh I don’t think I would buy something because of an advert.”. But most ads work subliminally. Like this one:

  • Trick No. 1. Subconscious symbollism. Many adverts contain phallic symbols. Long thin things with some sort of fluid coming out of the top, long thin things going through holes. This page shows some really obvious examples. Check out the sprinkler between the woman’s legs in the Nokia ad. Perhaps the grass is a symbol of youth and growth? In the bag advert, there are the two round bags and then the book with the nobby thing on top and then the pot with brushy things coming out of it.

    People say – well that’s not what I think of when I look at it – but that’s the whole point of it – they wouldn’t show pornographic pictures – they show seemingly innocent pictures which access your subconscious. Freud wrote about how dreams reveal the importance of symbolism in the human subconscious. Advertisers know all about it. It’s not just phallic imagery that gets used. Images of freedom are also common: like birds, sailing boats, skiing etc…

    There are 2 examples of subconscious symbollism in this one from a popular British magazine – the hair and the 2 round oranges next to the big green column shaped shampoo bottle with the liquid right next to it.

    Woman Squeezing Hair
    Please send me more if you find them…

  • Another trick is to make you want something a lot and then show their product, so that you transpose your desire onto that product. It’s the same old trick over and over again. Something really desireable, but which you know you can’t have like a sexy woman or man (not many people have a supermodel girlfriend), or a young couple in love, humour, laughter, cosiness food, love, cute well behaved children – whatever the people they’re targeting most want.
    Here are some particularly amusing examples of this particular one (they are Italian sock packets).

  • Playing on your base fears or desires – fear and insecurity – insurance salesmen describing worst case scenarios – what if something goes wrong on holiday – what if your children die etc…
    e.g. Adverts for houses play on the desire for a secure, stable environment (and a 200k mortgage??)
  • Play on a deep fear of missing out or being left out. Limited offer, only for the next week.
  • Bombardment. A mere awareness of a name is enough to make you choose a product. You might not know anything particular about Ford but because you’ve heard of it, you’d rather buy one than a Vectron.
  • Take over a respected source which appears to be unbiased – e.g. pay a tv program or a newspaper to review their product.
  • Creating spurious associations in your mind – e.g. between cigarettes and sportiness by sponsoring sport.
  • Blatant absurd lies – if you look at it for more than 2 seconds.
    Here’s an example. “Currys – always cutting prices” (this is a real slogan). If that was true, then pretty soon they’d be giving things away free. Then after that, they’d be paying you to take things away. Things like “we only care about YOU” are blatant lies
  • Capitalising on curiosity. Presenting you with something that you have to think about a lot to understand. That way you spend 1 minute thinking about something associated with a product and it sticks in your mind.
  • Perhaps the most ironic technique of them all. The “As individual as YOU are” technique. This is somewhat related to the “stand out from the crowd” technique (see below) as it plays on people’s desire to feel special. The basic technique is to emphasise the ego of the person being targeted – to play to people’s sense of self-importance. There are so many ads with YOU in capital letters, or emphasised in the voiceover “Made for YOU”, “Designed around YOU”, “As soft as YOUR skin” etc…. etc… (If I am the target customer, then who else would it be designed around???? If it means me individually then how do they know how individual I am.).

Advertising is often targetted at specific groups – here are some of the techniques I have noticed:

Comes from:

1. Teenagers/young people – “stand out from the crowd” – buy the same product as everyone else we’re hoping to persuade with this ad. Be an individual, flout convention, assert your freedom, be a rebel – ( and do what we want you to do along with as many other people as possible) .

Other teenager tricks are – no fear – buy a snowboard and you won’t be afraid any more. Be accepted by a group of good-looking peers.

2. People with families – security – happy children, familiar not too close to the bone jokes etc…
3. Young children – the worst as they are psychologically defenceless and yet very good at controlling parent purse-strings. I’m not sure what techniques they use – friendly cartoon types like Ronald McDonald and of course they put the sweets at the counter in the supermarket.
I have also noticed a lot of adverts talking about things which seem to be woefully lacking in most people I meet. “Live life to the full” “The excitement of the open road” – buy a 4WD and cruise around London at 4mph. “Pure emotion” – I heard this morning on the radio – I can’t remember but it was probably advertising a car or a shampoo or something. It seems that if you appeal to a person’s deepest feelings of inadequacy they won’t notice that what you are saying is utterly absurd.

Here are some more pictures in my collection:

The Odd Sock Problem and how to solve it

The problem of odd socks is one of the perennial problems of the modern world. But it is essentially solvable. The main source of the problem is of course that we have pairs of socks which are different color. If everyone had socks of only one color, the problem would simply not exist.
Enter the sock color exchange program.
Sock color homogeneity is essentially a solvable problem. Through co-operation, sharing and understanding, we can reach a state where the world is free of odd socks (is this a desireable state.)
For example – I need about 20 pairs of socks to get from one wash day to the next. I have about 10 pairs of burgandy socks and 10 pairs of black socks and various green and brown ones. If I could find someone who also had 10 pairs of burgandy socks and 10 pairs of black socks then all we need to do is swap black for red and we need never spend 10 minutes trying to find the right color sock again. Of course if you want to solve the problem of the green and brown ones too, you need to get more people together, but if you had enough people willing to swap socks, then you’d have at least 20 pairs of green ones between you and so you could club together and give those to one person.
If anyone is interested in exchanging different colors of socks, please email me on giles at gilestv.com

Why chain emails offering you $5000 a month can never work

This applies to any kind of pyramid selling and social viruses offering fantastic gains.

First Read this Story:
A king played chess so well that he decided if anyone could beat him at chess, he would grant the person any reasonable, but lavish wish. No one succeeded, until a poor old man showed up and beat the king. The poor man asked for nothing much, he wanted a grain of rice for the first square of the chess board, two grains for the second square, four grains for the third square and so on (each square doubling the previous one). The king thought it was a measly request, and granted it immediately.

If the man had asked for 1 for first, 2 for second, 3 for third, it would have been linear growth. He would have received a total of 2080 grains of rice for the 64 squares of the board (about 70 grams). Since the king had not taken Mathematics 101, and did not comprehend exponential growth, he then had to declare bankruptcy. If we do the counting, we find that while the 10th square needs a measly 512 grains and the 15th square needs 16,384 grains, which is about half a kilo, after this, the rice supply starts falling apart, as the 22nd square needs 69 kilos and the 30th square consumes 17,700 kilos. There is no point calculating what is needed for all the 64 squares, that number exceeds all the rice ever grown on the planet earth. Actually it is about 1000 times higher than the total number of atoms composing our planet.

Anyone who falls for one of these chain emails is falling for the same trick. To understand why, you need to understand the following facts:

*Key Fact 1.

The population of the world is (at the time of writing this) 6,204,270,232

( http://www.census.gov/cgi-bin/ipc/popclockw )

*Key Fact 2

Chain emails will either die out or reach the entire population of the world in a VERY SMALL number of steps (maximum 7).
If every person sends your email on to another 20 people and each one of these passes it on, then you will use up the entire world population in just 7 steps.
If you increase your success rate to 100 for each generation, that goes down to about 5 generations for the entire world population.

Try this for yourself at http://www.gilestv.com/misc/antichainmail.html

*Key Fact 3.

Only 15% of the world population is on the internet at the time of writing.

*Key Fact 4.

The “optimistic” figure of 7 generations assumes
a. That nobody will send your email to someone who has already had it, which is very unlikely, especially considering that you are most likely to share acquaintances with the people you send it to.
b. Everyone will send it on.
c. That you are the first person on the list and therefore that none of the world population has already been “used up”.

If you take these 2 factors into account the vast majority emails will either die or use up the entire world population in about 3 to 4 generations. You can be 100% mathematically certain that any email will use up the entire population of the world in 7 generations.

*Key Fact 5.

Any email which refers to the consequences of itself in phrases such as “Mr F.Twathead didn’t send this email on and he got run over by a bus” is bound to be lying – think about it.

So next time you get a chain email claiming that you can make $5000 a month from home – read it carefully. You will always notice 1 thing – you will only make money after about 5 “generations” have agreed to do the same thing. Looking at the facts above, that means that only the first guy who ever sent it will make any money. So next time you get one of those emails – bin it and send him this web page in return.


Today, after floating blissfully in amniotic fluid for approximately 9 months, although I’m not yet able to see it in these terms, a catastrophic event occurred.
First of all I get my first experience of solidity, which for someone who’s been floating in fluid for their whole life, is pretty hard and rocky, even though it’s only human flesh.
Second I’m very nervous about where I’m going to end up. I’ve only had a vague notion up to now, based on the noises I’ve been able to take in from the amnion. Is it going to be Calcutta or California?
Third as soon as I come out, I’m immediately tipped upside down and poked with cold metallic things which really doesn’t bode too well. Where was the maternal embrace I was expecting?
My first breath isn’t much of a party either. The air is seriously cold and my lungs feel like they’re burning.