Ag­gres­sive ad­ver­tis­ing is bad for us – we must fight back like Syd­ney

The Guardian Australia - - Opinion - Owen Jones

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.

Pho­to­graph: James D Morgan/Getty Im­ages

Protesters hold plac­ards next to the Syd­ney Opera House after an ad for the Ever­est Cuphorse race was pro­jected on to it.

Pho­to­graph: Paul Braven/EPA

Protesters at the Syd­ney Opera House.

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