At just after 10pm Sydney time, on the opening day of the English Premier League I was sat sitting on the couch watching the team supposedly in crisis, Hull City leading 1-0 over the reigning champions Leicester City. The only reason that I am able to do this in a world where the market decides the price of everything and the value of nothing, is because someone else has paid for the cost of my entertainment. Mostly this time around it has been a fast food restaurant chain, a motor vehicle manufacturer, a health insurance company and an electrical goods company. Meanwhile, both teams have kit sponsors and there are changing adboards which line the sides of the pitch.
This sounds entirely unremarkable, until you consider the fact that the last time that I saw an English League fixture live on free-to-air television (not the FA Cup) was all the way back in 1992; which was longer ago than many of the players on the field were even alive. In short, I am as happy as Larry and it is all thanks to the wonderful thing known as advertising. I love it.
Well to be perfectly frank, I love the BBC licence even more and I love state run broadcasters because they are not driven by the need to spin a profit but if someone is going to pay for television to be made then it may as well be advertisers.
The story of advertising goes pretty much back to the beginnings of the consumer society. In the 1890s with the bright electric London Underground, advertisers took advantage of the large spaces on the walls on the other side of the railway tracks, to place billboards. Newspapers realised that they could sell space for graphics within their print space and trams and buses carried adboards while they were still being drawn by horses.
Of course it was only natural that the following inventions of radio, television and the internet would also carry advertising. I'm actually surprised that it took so long for sport to get on the advertising bandwagon, with motorsports finally carrying the colours of their sponsors in the 1960s and other sports like football, cricket and baseball only following on in the 1970s. The sport of cycling was incredibly canny, with advertisements and promotional material passing down the roads on events like Le Tour De France before the cyclists did, as early as the 1920s.
As a motorsport fan, advertising didn't just provide the means and ability to place names and colours in front of the public, it has literally coloured motor racing cars themselves. Some of the most iconic cars are instantly recognisable from the colour schemes which they carried. This includes the companies from related industries like Shell, Mobil, Valvoline and Gulf Oil but also includes those brands from the tobacco industry like Marlboro, John Player, Mild Seven and alcohol brands like Martini and Johnnie Walker who wanted to position themselves with a more glamorous status.
People often say that they don't like advertising but the simple fact of the matter is that in order to do stuff or get stuff done, you need to pay people to do it. In the late 1590s, Shakespeare's theatre company was one of the first in the world to charge admission prices to see their plays. Before that time, people voluntarily paid to see theatre productions, or rather didn't most of the time. If four hundred years ago, it wasn't economical to rely on the kindness of strangers to support a single playhouse, then to rely upon the general public to voluntarily provide the necessary resources to run something like a radio or television network, is the mark of naive madness. The entire rise of organised mass media, is predicated on the ability to raise funding either through compulsory means such as a radio or television licence, or the selling of advertising space in that media.
The commodity being sold when advertisers buy space in the media, isn't as most people presume the ability to put their messages in front of the public but the attention and mindspace of the public itself. Just like a motor car is supposed to be driven, or a gun is supposed to be fired, and advertisement is supposed to be seen or heard and a thing which fails to do its job, from an economic perspective at least, may as well be considered as nothing more than an art project.
It should go without saying that an advertisement is an investment in the mindspace of the general public and is made with the intention of collecting an increase by means of sales of goods and services, over and above the initial cost of that investment.
One can't deny that advertising itself is a shared cultural experience. Advertisments by their nature are designed to be memorable in order that you buy the thing being advertised and the thing about being memorable and being remembered by a great number of people, is the very stuff that a shared culture is built upon. "We're happy little vegemites", "not happy Jan!" and "Matter of fact, I’ve got it now" have all passed into the national psyche if not idiom. Then there are countless jingles and songs associated with advertising; which also form part of the shared cultural fabric of society.
From a purely selfish standpoint, I like it when other people pay for my stuff. In the case of radio and television, advertising is the means by which other people pay for my entertainment. Granted, radio and television is often provided by government and when properly funded often turns out to be quite excellent because it isn't constrained by the commercial motive to spin a profit but when it comes to things like sport, movies, drama and comedy, which are mostly also always commercial enterprises anyway, then advertising is the necessary and I think best way of ensuring the greatest possible access to a shared cultural experience, other than direct government funding.