Advertising is everywhere in the economy of attention
When the american comedian announced that he would not broadcast his television program "about nothing" in its ninth year, the new york times considered the news so important that it put it on its front page. Seinfeld’s show is the most popular on american television. Its demise threatens the profits of the nbc network and its owners, the giant general electric company. Just one reason why: for the last show, nbc charged $2 million for each 30-second spot.
What will mr. Seinfeld do next? This is an important question for the media. The gifted writer-actor-producer is rumored to be considering opening his own advertising agency. Obviously, he sees television the way i have for a long time: the commercials are more interesting than the shows. If that’s the case, why work yourself to exhaustion to produce half-hour shows every week when you can get just as much attention with a few 30-second spots that you conveniently produce??
Of course, it’s no coincidence that the commercials trump the shows. How else could a seller of soups, gasoline, or credit cards hold viewers’ attention long enough to figure out what is being sold?? This has always been a problem, but today, with every viewer holding a remote control to change channels at a moment’s notice, the prere on advertisers to hold attention is much greater, even though the products they are promoting are, by and large, no more interesting than in the past.
Advertising on television and in other media is now becoming a tiny but complete production, a story that attracts attention. But what does it draw attention to?? Naturally, to the actors, writers, producers and directors, as is the case with any program. Therefore, an advertisement on television, in the print media or on the internet feasts as a "pure" work of art that necessarily attracts attention to itself and its creators. The advertised products may become a necessary excuse to determine the form, but in reality they are completely accidental. In most of the advertisements, the product could be replaced by a competing one or even by something completely different, without changing much about them as an artistic whole.
The companies that pay for advertising do not have any rough alternatives. They have to find attention for their products if they want to sell something. Therefore, they are forced to constantly and strongly compete for attention with everyone and everything. Today you can find advertisements on fruit in the supermarket, or on t-shirts given away to potential customers. One encounters advertising when making a phone call from a public phone booth and not having any munitions, and everywhere one can think of. And of course, if there is more and more advertising, there must be more and more advertising for every product that is supposed to attract attention in all the fuss.
Therefore, the scope of work for the art of advertising agencies is becoming wider and wider, and there are more and more people helping them to produce advertising. Ironically, the semiotics and technology of advertising are becoming more and more obvious and available, especially when used on the internet. We can all now use the language and techniques of advertising to promote not products, but ourselves.
Norman mailer published a collection of essays in the mid-1960s under the title: "advertisements for myself". Because every form of expression needs to draw attention to itself and its creator(s) in order to be successful, it makes sense to think of the whole range of expressions, all exponentially growing demands on our attention, as advertisements – not for mass products, but for anyone seeking attention for themselves. We are now all wannabe norman mailers. And what is officially called advertising is just another means of getting it.
The reality of advertising as an art form in its own right is generally acknowledged in practice, even if this is not done explicitly. For example, american viewers are as interested in the commercials that air during the most popular shows as they are in the football super bowl each january. Later, the commercials become the subject of newspaper criticism, as do novels, films, concerts and art exhibitions. And, of course, there are prizes for interesting advertisements, such as the annual "cleos".
If seinfeld really opens his own agency, his commercials will surely be commented simply because they are his. At present, other advertising producers are not so well known to the general public. But the world wide web will change that in a short time. It will be as easy to create fan sites for advertising producers as for film directors or rock stars. The "authors" of advertising will become part of common cultural knowledge. This will shift our view of advertising more to the artistic expression of its producers, who are ostensibly commissioned by the companies paying for the advertising for their own purposes, but then turn into "mazene" just as they have become the mise-en-scène of art exhibitions or opera performances.
Inevitably, more and more of the money that goes into the purchase of an advertised product will end up in the hands of advertising artists, following the path of attention. This repeats the trend of an ever increasing share in the price of film or opera tickets, which goes to the leading stars as a tribute to their fans. Despite the firm determination of advertising producers to keep their products in our consciousness, it will increasingly come to the point where their products will only be incidental memory benefits that remind us of the stars associated with them through advertising.