Advertising is not Murder
Dr. Anglerfish or: How I stopped worrying and learned to love the ad
A ghost-like female anglerfish, with two males attached. Photo by Neil Bromhall.
Ruthless, cunning, deadly. In the darkness it waves its lure, hoping to draw its next meal.
It seeks to devour every available dollar. And while it does not deliver death, advertising can feel ruthless and invasive, inserting itself where we least expect it. And it is relentlessly hungry and on the prowl.
I long considered advertisement to be no less predatory than an angler fish.
The angler fish, for those who don’t know, is an especially cunning and conniving predator. Over time it has developed a long modified dorsal fin that serves as its own fishing rod, which it dangles in front of its mouth. In the dark of the ocean depths, the lure sits far enough away that the angler fish escapes detection.
The esca, a bioluminescent lure at the end of the fin, looks like food to other fish. When a suitably sized fish draws near to eat, the angler fish shoots forward and surrounds it with rows and rows of razor-sharp teeth.
Angler fish mating is just as disturbing. Females are generally larger, and when they encounter each other in the depths, the male draws near until they are touching. Then their bodies fuse together. Over time the male is slowly dissolved into the female, providing sperm and nourishment for the next generation of super predator angler fish.
How is advertising different?
The stealth. The lure. The sudden lunge. Enough about advertising, you say.
The angler fish and advertising do have a lot in common.
We know that advertisers do to great lengths to embed their product or a pitch in a show. Podcasts and vlogs are a growing target for advertising.
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In fact, a well-done ad in a podcast can engage listeners in a way that traditional advertising doesn’t. Podcast fans are far more likely to engage with an ad and buy the product, even forming small followings for just the ads themselves, as shown in this Reddit thread for ads from the Pod Save America political podcast.
The goal remains luring you in and getting you to engage.
Luckily, the goal with advertising is NOT to eat you for dinner.
In fact, good advertising aims not to be a predator, but to serve you up something that you needed, or to convince you that you need some product you have never seen before. That is, it aims for a more symbiotic goal.
It wants to absorb you.
Rats, that’s just like what happens to a male angler fish.
Advertising is not evil
I was raised by television.
Okay, that’s mildly hyperbolic. But in the morning, after my mom went to work, the TV came on til it was time to leave for school. When I got home from school, when I was younger, my instructions were to stay inside until she got home. The TV was my constant entertainment.
At night we watched the nightly news, Wheel of Fortune, and Jeopardy as we ate from TV trays.
At a young age as I sat on my stomach on the floor doing my homework, my mom asked me, “Why do you do that?”
“Do what?” I asked, craning around to look at her.
“You work during the show, and then you stop to watch the commercials.”
“The commercials are better,” was my explanation.
I still feel this way. Many television shows are formulaic and predictable. Commercials, though, can really surprise you.
Sure a show can tell part of a story in an hour. But a commercial can evoke the same emotions in 30 second.
I mean, are you kidding me with this two minute ad?
That is a piece of art.
Nothing against the TV shows, of course, but there’s 120 seconds of gold there.
Advertising is your friend, not your predator
In the end, however, the greatest desire of an advertiser is NOT to devour you.
They don’t WANT to waste your time.
There are a LOT of fish in the sea that the average advertiser couldn’t care less about.
Instead, creators of marketing media want to target the right fish, and engage them just long enough to show them how the product can meet their needs.
The instant ads that show up on your social media sidebar are the result of stealth and research that an angler fish would envy, if krill used Facebook.
Many television shows are formulaic and predictable. Commercials, though, can really surprise you.
Their goal is to ONLY show you ads that are useful to you. Yes, they have a LOT of ways to gather information about you. This WIRED article demonstrates the many invisible data points that are being tracked (and how to prevent this as much as possible.)
Marketers want to draw you in, but only if you will find their product or service useful.
They want To Serve Man.
Don’t hate the player, hate the game
So the next time you scroll through your feed and see an ad for something you just searched for on Google, remember this.
The advertisers are not angler fish. They are trying to give you something you want — something you may already be looking for.
Think of it not as a bother or an intrusion. It is a service.
And the commercials are works of art.
Writer. Editor. Content creator. Medium.com/@jackmjose