Advertising is Warfare

“We don’t understand information movement and image-making as warfare at all—we call this advertising. Actually, Madison Avenue is a major military operation, vastly aggressive, and out to conquer empires, territories, within the human heart…the human spirit”. – Marshall McLuhan

We look back at those advertising days through Mad Men. McLuhan saw this time as if he were from the future, but he was one of the few who was living in the present.


3 thoughts on “Advertising is Warfare

  1. I have made my living since 2002 writing advertisements. So I CAN appreciate there is some validity to the metaphor that “conquering territories” in the human heart and human spirit is as a military campaign.

    And yet,
    one could equally say that falling in love
    conquers territories in the heart and the spirit.

    Falling in love is not anything at all
    like winning or losing a military campaign …
    … at lease not in MY experience.

    I know that advertising
    is an easy target for scorn and criticism,
    but that is because so much of it is TERRIBLE,
    aggressive, misleading, and worst of all, intrusive.

    For me,
    when I have written a great ad
    (a rare and fulfilling experience)
    that ad does three things.

    1. Discovers a deep and sincere desire
    within the potential client, and then
    expresses it clearly and simply.

    2. Uncovers THE most relevant benefit
    that a potential client will receive
    when they use the good or service being advertised.

    3. Connect the sincere desire with the relevant benefit.
    Use emotionally appropriate language to deepen the
    connection between benefit and desire.
    This MUST ring true, because our skeptical modern selves
    have developed near perfect pitch when it comes advertisements.

    Perhaps … but no one wants to be conquered.

    But I say that genteel courtship and loving seduction
    are far, far more likely to succeed,
    especially since McLuhan correctly described
    the field of play as the human heart and the human spirit.


  2. McLuhan was always provocative. His words were probes to receive response and create dialogue in order to generate insight. Seems like these words touched off something here,and I agree with your excellent comment.

    Military? Remember he was talking to an audience in the 50s and 60s. Was he anti-war? I have no idea.
    But I do know he was engaged in understanding culture at a very deep level.

    In his early book, The Mechanical Bride, he analyzed advertising as “folklore of the industrial age.” And it is not accidental that the ad men were the first to get what he was talking about. Through them he became prominent outside of the academic realms, and we heard the slogans “the medium is the message” and “global village”.

    You really got the quote here: the field of play is the human heart and the human spirit.

  3. I think everything done in the 50’s had to be compared with war. However in our times we do know this dog eat dog world couldnt be more evident than in our ads.

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