As a teenager, I believed advertising was from the D E V I L.
You see, my adolescence took place in a Calvinist, south Mississippi household that did not believe in – oh, how did we put it? – “delighting in earthly pleasures.”
If it pleased the senses, it was a doorway for evil influence that, once opened, could not be closed. No dancing. No secular music or media. No SALT, y’all.
It was the period of my life that would eventually mold me into the accomplished heathen I am today, obviously.
But before that metamorphosis, I was taught – and sincerely believed for a time – that Advertising was Satan’s most effective and beloved weapon in a modern war for control of human souls. Because, I was taught, it created and encouraged desire.
Calvinist beliefs about the fight between good & evil on earth influenced more than just my childhood. They are deeply entrenched in American ideology and psychology. (That picture you may have in your head of the early Pilgrims/Puritans? Yeah, they were Calvinists). And they’ve organically made their way into our conceptions of marketing.
Advertising as an industry is marked by this moral stigma. Many of us associate it with emotional manipulation and exploitative capitalism. Even, and perhaps especially, those who depend upon it most. A great many of the small businesses that come to me for Facebook & Instagram ads will express some measure of shame about it.
The word advertise, though, was born some 350+ years before ol’ John Calvin in French (advertir, 12c), and wouldn’t be suited up for war until much later. In and of itself, the word is pretty straightforward. Its Latin literally means “to turn (vertere) toward (-ad).”
For hundreds of years, advertise simply meant ‘to bring attention to.’ That’s what it means, too, when it enters the English lexicon in the mid-1450s.
And technically, it still does.
If we create something, it follows that we’ll need to let folks know it exists.
And what it has to offer those who want or need it.
Moral value, I propose, should be ascribed to HOW – not THAT – we go about it.
Hey, even the biblical God wasn’t shy about encouraging his influencers. “Let them shout from the mountaintops.” (Isaiah 42, Bible).
The need to promote ( –pro –movere, ‘move forward’) our work does not deserve the cultural stigma we attach to the act of doing it poorly or dangerously.
In separating the two, we restore both agency and responsibility to a necessary and inevitable part of doing business.
That’s the word, nerd.