Modern Marketing and the Commercialization of Public Space

How many advertisements do you think you see in a day? (WOULD YOU BELIEVE 3000?) What proportion of those seep into your consciousness and shape what you do with your money and therefore with your life? If an organization had the capability to bombard you with messages urging you to buy particular brands and to do so without raising your hackles, would you be comfortable permitting them to do so day after day after day with minimal regulatory disncentives.

We are urged to see commercial speech as but another needed voice in a full-throated marketplace of ideas.  But such a metaphorical confabulation should not be permitted to stand in the way of legal restictions on the expansion of advertisements into what has hitherto been public space, i.e., space not for sale because it is a natural resource shared by all the way a public park is a place of repose and recreation for anyone who wishes to use it. When the profit motive is permitted to ration that space to anyone who has the money to buy a portion of it, we have permitted business firms to bore into our minds without permission, interrupting the privacy we require to imagine and reflect while being free from the torrent of pleas to shop.

Mark Bartholomew’s Adcreep:The Case against Modern Marketing bemoans the lack of legal response to the capture of public space by commerical enterprises. My favorite examples of this invasion of privacy are (1) U.S. Post Office stamps featuring Colonel Sanders to provide a boost for the revenue needs of the postal service, (2) advertisements on the surface of supermarket eggs, and (3)taking cakes in bar urinals.

The point here is that we might be on guard when hearing and on TV, radio, or pamphlet. But we are much less alert when advertisers invade our parks, elevators, movie experiences, and gas station pumps.  In brief, advertisers are more skilled, better financed, and purposive than a consumer who, while watching a movie, sees 8 Apple devices per hour.

On a larger scale this activity is but one more exhibit in Kent Greenfield’s masterful The Myth of Choice and a vivid illustration of what Debra Satz means when she writes Why Some Things Should Not Be for Sale: The Moral Limits of Markets.

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