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As we know, the founding work of modern advertising is Propaganda, written by Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, who used the discoveries of the psychology of the depths of our minds to put our unconscious at the service of the manipulation of crowds destined to become docile compulsive consumers. The title says it all: we will lie, a little, a lot, passionately… to deceive the customer. Any good seducer knows that he (she) must lie to his (her) victim and use words deviated from their original meaning to trick his (her) prey and catch him (her) in his (her) trap. Let’s see some examples of these semantic hijackings which (is it a coincidence?) are used both in advertising and by devious politicians.


Since illusory technocratic promises are the stock in trade of those who want to make people believe that infinite growth is possible, it is not surprising to find scientific terms in profusion in advertisements. Obviously, the key word is « artificial intelligence ». Any automation driven by a computer process of a 3‑line command written in 2 minutes by a novice programmer is a marvel of artificial intelligence. Everything becomes smart in our lives, and we poor humans, faced with these increasingly autonomous mechanisms, become more and more dependent and unable to do anything.

Besides electronics, molecular biology is also successful and that’s why we keep hearing that this or that idea is  » part of my/our DNA « . You don’t need to know the formula and function of deoxyribonucleic acid to impress the hillbilly who will be convinced that he is facing a brilliant thinker. This appeal to DNA is all the more inappropriate since it is used to qualify acquired cultural traits, whereas the code written in our chromosomes is the very source of the most intangible facts of nature, our genetic heritage that nothing can ever change.

In advertising, a more subliminal translation of the deification of science is that, in order to sell you a detergent, a toothpaste or any other banal product, a lady or a gentleman in a white coat pronounces the advertising bullshit and, from the height of his knowledge, imposes his doctrines…


While true ecology would require us to limit our consumption, the success of « green » ideas is obviously being taken over by merchants. The images of sublime natural landscapes are generally used as a backdrop to promote the purchase of objects (especially cars) that will live in hyper-polluted environments, each one uglier than the next. This is the basis of greenwashing advertising, but as far as misused words are concerned, we find these days the misuse of the term ecosystem. As soon as 2 or 3 elements interact, we talk about the ecosystem of this or that, even if it is far from the complexity (often incomprehensible to the most discerning human mind) of a natural ecosystem.

After the (unfortunately very successful) hijacking of sustainable development («  sustainable organization  ») into  » growth that lasts « , the recuperators are attacking the word « transition ». In the idea of the initiators (Rob Hopkins around 2005), it was the (rather imminent) transition from the productivist era to the ecological era after the shocks due to climate change and the oil shortage (suffered or voluntary). Today, any small superficial change has become a transition (this works especially with the adjective energy when, for example, one pushes — or forces — to buy a new electric car instead of the thermal vehicle which was still working very well and which will become a waste of more).

I just discovered a formula in an economic text that amazed me:  » Transition plan for growth levels « . Refusing the notion of degrowth (an ordered and organized withdrawal), seeing the recession coming (a rout in the disorder that will affect the weak and spare the powerful), the devotees of the faith in ever more will try to sell the idea that the stop of growth (already underway) is planned by them and is only a transition, a plateau, before the resumption of the ascent of the infinite staircase towards… ?

In the same vein, « resilience », which used to mean a voluntary change of lifestyle allowing for survival in the perspective of a future traumatic shock (individual or societal), has become, in the mouths of international, UN or European luminaries, an adaptation to austerity measures that will be imposed on the poorest populations so that the richest can continue to enrich themselves even more.


As an appetizer for the next « Fils de pub » column, which will accompany the « Feminisms » dossier of the Kairos n°45 and which will approach the publicities which despise the women and consider them, at best, as supports of ignition of the intermingled desires of sex and consumption, let us speak about the men who, them also, succumb to the publicities promising them the beauty… with blows of plastic surgery. For males, rather than promising to remove wrinkles, lift breasts or shave the nose, what is fashionable is to plant a Samson-like head of hair. While a fashion is to shave the head to have a virile look, some, for round sums (several thousands of euros), are transplanted hair implants supposed to give them (re) charm. It is apparently painful but since  » you have to suffer to be beautiful « , the advertisement is there to encourage you to… to take a trip to Istanbul, which has become the world’s center for cranial gardening. Combining low cost airlines and low cost hair (50 cents for a hair transplant compared to 1.5 to 2€ in France), the klashkops, as they say in Brussels, will be able to refill their heads: (Istan)boul against the billiard ball (it’s the final fall…).

Alain Adriaens

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