"Advertising is the very essence of democracy." — Anton Chekhov
I came across that quote because of my least-favourite form of marketing: using Twitter to follow individuals, then unfollowing them, hoping that they followed you back. (It's pretty much the equivalent of a pump-and-dump scheme, but that's for another blog post.) Trying to find the source, I also came across a more recent author who said the same thing, but I was unable to find the original context.
Out of context, it's very hard to figure out what Chekhov was implying. Was this said in a positive light? Was it about how one of democracy's flaws is that public opinion is easily swayed by advertising? Is it saying advertising is bad? Or is it good?
The borderline anarchist in me seems to think it's mostly about large-scale democracy. It's hard to argue that democracy is truly the choice of the masses if the politicians vying for your vote can use advertising to change how they are seen in public light, especially if different candidates have different amounts of resources to contribute to the adverts.
With more research, I also learned that the modern advertising as we know it is strongly rooted in trying to sway public opinion during WWII. It's nice to know the leaders of our democratic countries are always looking out for the best of the peo— oh wait, never mind.
I suppose in the end, one just has to remember that we should be careful that advertising doesn't subtly change your thoughts on the product or it's competitors. Any press it good press, just like how forcing yourself to smile can make you happier (and vice versa).
This is especially evident in recent years, where advertising is allowed to directly discredit competition. I hate it. One example I see a lot is billboards saying that a certain brand of car is boring. That's it. Nothing telling my why their brand is better, or giving any quantifiable information. Just that they aren't boring. It's even worse now that it's election time!
As I neared the end of my travels down the rat-hole, I came across another quote, and I'll leave it here.
"Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket." — George Orwell