John Singleton, These Thoughts are Genuine (Kensington, NSW: Blake & Batcheler, 1971), pp. 29-32.
The following is an address by John Singleton, during a debate, “Advertising is Immoral,” held during the 1969 Seminar of the A.A.N.A.’s Victorian Branch on October 30.
I want to talk to you today about an advertising agency with an idea to sell.
We shall call the agency Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. (You can see that long agency names are nothing new.)
This was a communication group that existed long before any discussions about the morality or otherwise of advertising.
One day a young man had an idea and he came into the agency to discuss it. The prospect’s name was Jesus Christ and His product was called Christianity.
The prospect had a few good ideas to make His product noticeable in the market place; amongst them was the claim that He was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of a virgin.
Fortunately, however, the agency studied the market and informed Jesus that there was nothing really new in either His product or His idea of the Immaculate Conception.
In fact, it had all been done before and none too successfully by a number of other entrepreneurs. (This is reported very graphically in Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough.)
They suggested that it would be wiser to see what the consumer wanted and present a product to them which satisfied that want.
Thus they went out into the market places in the test country of Palestine and they found a market of slaves who wanted freedom and forgiveness above all else.
It was not possible to create such a product.
They could, of course, mislead the consumer. They could sell a freedom product once. But it would not work and the consumer would not buy it again. So the agency looked further and recommended a way around the problem.
They recommended a great product benefit and christened it Eternal Life. Now here was a great product plus. Something that would appeal not to the small and unprofitable market of Toorak and Bellevue Hill, but something that would sell to the mass market in the enslaved Roman Empire and in Palestine, in particular.
The consumer could be given something he and she wanted. Freedom and forgiveness. And they could not be disillusioned by the product promise because they had to die to be born again.
It was a marketing Masterstroke, which is probably where the phrase came from.
Now Jesus was smart enough to know that having a good idea didn’t matter a damn unless people knew about it, were informed about it, were sold.
So Jesus got together a team of sales representatives and being aware that status is often more important than traditional remuneration he called them apostles and sold them the concept of personal poverty.
He had a team of 12 apostles (originally 13 but that turned out to be very unlucky) and 72 disciples.
And this was just to sell the idea in Palestine.
That’s roughly the same proportion of reps to population that Avon has today.
And Jesus didn’t just have numbers. He had positive methods too.
Once, before He was crucified by the people who thought His behaviour immoral, He sent all His disciples and all His apostles around to do a huge door-to-door campaign.
And His methods were harsh.
He told His reps that if anyone shut the door on them they should wipe the dust from their feet from that doorstep and never return.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica people might be criticised for their sales methods from time to time but can you imagine what would happen if they went around depriving people of the right to Eternal Life?
It only took Jesus three years to get a pretty good business going.
But then, as we have mentioned, He passed away; not without a struggle, and it was left for His sales reps to take over where He had left off. They were none too enthusiastic and went underground. So Jesus flashed back and gave His team the Gift of Tongues at Pentecost.
This meant that Peter and other disciples and apostles could then speak in their native Aramaic tongue and be understood by people of other races who heard in their own tongue.
It was the beginning of international communications and the advertising agency then became known as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (hyphen) McCann Erickson.
Things still weren’t easy.
Paul went to Rome and got beheaded. Peter went to Rome to see what happened to Paul and was crucified upside down.
So you can see what a brave man the Pope must be.
But the product was established and successful and not only the product but its advertising remains today in every hotel and motel in the western world.
People actually buy the advertising in book form and when that happens the product has to be a good one.
Now the point to all this is obviously that advertising is neither good nor bad. Neither moral nor immoral.
Advertising is an information tool, to spread the news, the Gospel if you like, of new products to the people.
If the product has been developed to satisfy an economic or emotional want, then the consumer will buy it.
If it achieves neither of these objects, then the consumer will reject it like she will reject nine out of 10 new products put on the supermarket shelves this year.
It is just that the recent publicity regarding brainwashing, subliminal advertising and motivational research has intensified the fear that infallible means have now been developed whereby one man can control another’s behaviour or even the behaviour of large numbers of human beings.
This spectre of “manipulation” and “hidden persuasion” has stalked all the lands that man has ever inhabited.
Nightmare Alice in the L’il Abner comic strip personifies the fear.
Black Magic is found among most non-literate peoples. And the fear of it persists.
In the ancient times people were said to be possessed of the Devil and in our own time we have gone back to witches and warlocks.
Our fears are now more scientific.
In the decades following World War I we were very excited about the power of propaganda.
We came close to believing that if it were possible to get a story in the newspapers or on the radio people would automatically believe it and act on it.
It didn’t take us long to find out that after a very short time people became so suspicious of propaganda that they would hardly believe the births, deaths and marriages.
But today the fear persists that we, the consumer, can be manipulated without even knowing it by appeals to deep unconscious motives.
Accounts of brainwashing and similar phenomena indicate that with a considerable expenditure of effort, careful control of man’s environment (which includes isolating him and getting him into a state of fatigue), good intuitive psychological insight, and a great deal of patience, it is possible to change the belief of a large proportion of one’s victims.
There is even some threat in the offing that the use of drugs and of electrodes planted in the brain may make such procedures more effective.
But consider how remote this is from the notion of controlling a large society via psychological techniques.
The 1984 society is just not viable. Social science has taught us at least as much about the necessity of permitting initiative as it has taught us about directing behaviour.
Advertising is a tool of information. It is the good news or the Gospel about a product.
Advertising encourages initiative and competition.
May I suggest the critics of advertising also read the Parable of the Talents.
The Bible has something to say about that too.
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