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Already in ordinary times, advertising constantly flirts with bad taste and incorrectness. But, for the last 2 months, his practices have become frankly indecent. The inability of the dominant media to change their practices has led to a shocking discrepancy between the anxiety-provoking information spouted continuously and the totally irrelevant advertising inserts. On the radio media, for example, we are told that what is happening is  » unprecedented « , that we are experiencing an  » extraordinary  » crisis « We are bombarded with frightening news… and then, suddenly, the news stops and we are praised for products that we will not be able to buy because we are confined, the shops are closed and, for many, we are aware that we will have to tighten our belts following the financial difficulties that the social crisis will cause.

Even more than usual, one can judge the feelings of journalists and commentators according to the way they introduce these inappropriate brackets: are they pauses (in the flow of negativity?) or, more in line with reality, advertising, advertising, for consumption that should be kept active to facilitate the « post-recovery » which is the objective already announced by the productivists that nothing seems to be able to divert from their only obsession, growth.


Let’s not be misleading. Street billboards have stopped pushing us to impossible and useless purchases. In three languages («  #jesuischezmoi « , « #flattenthe curve « , « #blijfinuwkot »), they repeat the good advice we are told everywhere and all the time. Some communes go further and sometimes give information on how to get social help or how to help the survival of small local businesses (which, alas, will perish by the hundreds while supermarkets and especially e‑commerce have increasing profits that make them exult).

Finally, lollipops, Morris columns and other planimeters will have been a bit useful for a while, before they are dismantled in the lean period that awaits the majority of the population in the coming times (unless we want to increase consumerist frustrations). We could keep some of these devices for cultural information and for city maps, those that don’t interfere too much with pedestrian traffic, which will become more numerous once we have carried out policies to discourage automobile traffic, which the months of confinement have proven we can largely do without. The most eco-friendly cities have thus partially started such space liberation policies.

But the consumerist beast is not dead and already advertisements are trying to surf on the new realities. With often more than idle jokes, they try to communicate with the confined, assure them of their solidarity by buying full pages in the big newspapers. It is assumed that they benefit from the favorable rates that are granted to advertisements that are in line with the news, in the commercial logic of give and take and reciprocal support between advertising and editorial.

And, of course, since we are all wearing a new piece of clothing that  » looks like a nose in the middle of our face « , we should have known that the adverts would rush in and engrave their messages on it. Sandwich men and sandwich women will walk towards you, hiding their smiles, but wearing their favorite brand…


The unscrupulousness of the advertising world and its harmful effects are not new and the reading of a brilliant file, already old, demonstrates the truth of its first chapter entitled  » Advertising seriously harms the health of the environment ».

Since 1992 (28 years!) the journalEcologie & Politique(1) has welcomed in its pages almost all those who, in the French-speaking world (and also many from elsewhere), have become aware of the radical change of course imposed on our societies by the overcoming of natural limits(2). In December 2009, the n°39, entitledEcologie critique de la pub(3), coordinated by Michael Löwy and Estienne Rodary, showed how advertising is an essential engine of the ecological destruction of the planet. It is distressing to note that, 10 years later, their unquestionable findings are still confronted by the same advertising frenzy.

Under the leadership of Löwy, this sociologist, Marxist philosopher and eco-socialist, one would expect an in-depth analysis of the advertising mirage. And we are not disappointed: from the  » fetishism of the commodity  » from Marx to Jean Baudrillard («  There is today around us a kind of fantastic evidence of consumption which constitutes a kind of fundamental mutation in the ecology of the human species.  »), Orwell or Nietzsche («  No matter how well one enunciates his wisdom with the sound of a bell, the merchants on the square will cover the sound with the jingle of their big money »), one realizes that all the great thinkers have denounced the horrors of the reification of the world under the capitalist regime, made possible by advertising.

In a chapter entitled  » car boredom  » Matthew Paterson shows how the omnipresence of the car is a cultural construction, in which advertising plays a central role. In a hopefully somewhat prescient way, he sees the growing presence of car ads as a good sign, for  » it is at the moment when hegemonic ideologies are in danger that they must reconstitute their power wherever possible .

Other chapters show how Sao Paulo managed to get rid of the advertisements that were invading the urban space and literally hiding the city. On the other hand, in Mexico City, real estate advertising has succeeded in eliminating all nature. We also discover how the scientific trivialization of educational magazines for youth enunciates a false discourse that has the effect that  » the ecological cause has been transformed into a varnish intended to reinforce economic action with a lot of publicity « .

Löwy and Rodary pay homage to Thorstein Veblen who, more than a century ago, called for « a new way of thinking ». torid individuals of the culture of conspicuous consumption  » and ask:  » How to free the public from the culture of « fashion » which imposes the rapid obsolescence of increasingly ephemeral products, without attacking the advertising brainwashing? « They urge us to « take action » and say things that sound like they were written for a time when a pandemic is making us question the kind of society we want to live in. Their conclusion is totally in line with the ideas of the most political degrowthists:  » Rather than proposing to individuals to ‘reduce their lifestyle’ or ‘reduce their consumption’ — an approach In order to achieve this, we need to create the conditions for people to gradually rediscover their real needs and to change their consumption patterns in a qualitative way, for example by choosing culture, education, health or housing, rather than buying new gadgets and new goods of decreasing utility. The suppression of advertising harassment is a necessary condition « .

Alain Adriaens

Notes et références
  2. L’auteur de ces lignes a eu l’honneur de publier, dans le n° 8 — automne 1993, l’article « Les Lois des hommes et de la nature » avec François Ost, alors doyen des Facultés universitaires Saint-Louis et aujourd’hui président de la Fondation pour les générations futures.
  3. En accès libre sur Cairn Info :–1.htm

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