Yeah well, that's all a myth, according to Terry O'Reilly. The ad man and host of the insanely intriguing Age of Persuasion on CBC Radio burst our bubbles when he was asked about that concept at the Plaza Theatre on Sunday. According to O'Reilly, the advertising business is fueled by panic-driven deadlines and nobody has the time to dream up sexy little subliminal images to inject into the ads they produce.
Which is a shame, but the near-full house at the Plaza was certainly not disappointed by anything else he had to say. Focusing primarily on three chapters from his and Mike Tennant's new book The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture, O'Reilly kept us mesmerized, as we munched our box lunches, by just how vulnerable we really are to the power of clever advertising.
The power of advertising really lies primarily in how it has insinuated itself into our psyches. Ads have become so ubiquitous, appearing on everything from the space station to condoms, that they are in danger of becoming invisible in the clutter. As O'Reilly puts it, advertising is the only industry which simultaneously creates the problem as it tries to solve it.
Touching on everything from the ability of smell to bypass the thought process entirely and go directly for the limbic system, to the power of the word to rebrand a company and manufacture loyalty, right through to the unwritten contract that an advertiser must fulfill to provide something in exchange for our time, Terry O'Reilly demonstrated to a rapt audience just why The Age of Persuasion (the show about advertising on our national ad-free radio station) is such an enormous hit.
O'Reilly's reading was cleverly paired with one by Gordon Laird, a local investigative reporter, reading from his treatise The Price of a Bargain: The Quest for Cheap and the Death of Globalization. Laird presented his premise that pervasive price cutting, demonstrated most profoundly in the big box phenomenon of Walmart, and the endless sprouting of local dollar stores, is the most powerful economic force at work in today's marketplace. Flanked by the visual presentation of big box communities and freight container cities in the port of Los Angeles, along with images of social upheaval in China, Laird made a compelling argument against the dangers of the quest for ever cheaper goods, even tying in the example of what is perhaps the most disturbing quest for cheap on the planet - the squandering of high quality natural gas to extract low quality bitumen from the Alberta Tar Sands.
With our economy hopelessly dependent upon cheap transportation, cheap labour, out of control consumer credit, and dwindling resources, Laird's convincing argument that this reality is unsustainable hit awfully close to home. Yet he was surprisingly funny for someone tackling such disturbing questions.
My only complaint with the event was the unfathomably large number of toddlers in attendance. I have nothing against children; they are delicious. But I have no idea why so many parents thought that a two hour lecture series about advertising and economics would be a good place to bring a two-year old. No wonder they squawked all the time. It wasn't a Robert Munsch reading, people!
Restless toddlers aside, attending these readings was a great way to spend a Sunday lunch in Kensington. Kudos to Pages Books and their next-door neighbour, the Plaza Theatre, for marrying their resources to open this event to a larger audience than could be housed at the tiny book store. I, for one, was certainly cheered to hear that this was the first in a planned series of readings, to be held the first Sunday of the month throughout the winter.
Based on this inaugural event, the series should be a huge success. You really should go.