Aggressive advertising is bad for us – we must fight back like Sydney
Australia is the gambling capital of the developed world: its citizens lose far more per capita on this addictive habit than those of any other industrialised nation; a fifth of the world’s poker machines are based there. The consequences can be life-ruining. Almost 200,000 Australians are afflicted by problem gambling: from placing unbearable stress on relationships to financial hardship to mental distress. Indeed, it is estimated that there are more than 400 suicides linked to gambling a year.
Little wonder, then, that the decision to project the barrier draw for the Everest horse race on to the Sydney Opera House has provoked such backlash with protesters using torches to interfere with the projection, yelling: “Not for sale.” After all, this is a public building being used to advertise an industry that already has an excessive hold over Australia.
Here is a fightback against the pernicious consequences of advertising that we can all learn from. In Britain, my friend Matt Zarb-Cousin has helped to lead an inspiring campaign against big gambling. He notes that 61,000 11- to 16-year-olds are either at risk of developing a gambling addiction or already have one; that 370,000 of these children gamble, beginning at an average age of 12; and that 80% of children have seen a gambling advert.
The libertarian right complain about the interfering nanny state, infantilising a public who can make their own decisions, thank you very much. The problem is that more than £21bn would not have been spent on advertising in 2016 if it didn’t demonstrably work, and those targeted include infants. Think of what advertising does. Its emphasis on perfect-looking men and women has a damaging impact on body image, particularly when it comes to younger women; it transforms public space, such as the Sydney Opera House, into enormous billboards for private profit; and it promotes products that damage the health of the individual and lead to spiralling NHS costs that we all pay for. Indeed, it is estimated that children can watch as many as 12 junk-food adverts an hour while watching certain popular TV programmes. It can even lead to press censorship: take the principled Peter Oborne, who resigned from the Daily Telegraph asserting it failed to properly cover a scandal involving HSBC because of an advertising contract with the bank.
So-called viral advertising and branding means there is no escape from rampant commercialism: it’s there, intruding into every aspect of our lives.
Advertising is bad for our health, but also the health of society. It drives the most aggressive values of late capitalism into every sphere of our existence. That is why the Sydney protesters may have opened another battleground in the struggle against a social order that prioritises profit over humanity.
Protesters hold placards next to the Sydney Opera House after an ad for the Everest Cuphorse race was projected on to it.
Protesters at the Sydney Opera House.