Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The advertising-fiction nexus

I've long argued that genre fiction and advertisements are essentially the same, that they rely on the same emotional hooks to function, that reading one prepares you to be more deeply affected by the other, and it all gives enough pleasing stimuli to keep one satisfied with the whole system. So I don't think it's at all strange or coincidental that James Patterson, the author of a series of inexplicable best-sellers, was once CEO of J. Wlater Thompson, one of America's largest advertising agencies.

Usually I stress the ways in which corporations, advertisers, etc. use confusion (or asymmetrical information, for the jargon-minded) as their weapon (think of cell-phone pricing schemes) so that you are worried about something that you can't pin down and you don't know what you are getting for what you're paying or even have a means to compare prices and find out what the best deal is. But another strategy is soothing simplicity, where motives are made to seem much more simple and much more easily analyzed than they really are, leading to false deductions, a faith in conventional wisdom misapprehended as one's own reasoning, and a lulling sense that common sense is unerring. It is this species that Patterson's fiction and ad copy have in common.

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