Our modern consumer culture bombards us with unwanted messages constantly. It’s hard to pin down a realistic number, but a quick Google search returns a number anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 ads served to us in a single day. Even on the low end of that estimate, that is 1.5 million ads per year! This is absolutely insane, and quite frankly, a bit disgusting. In 2019, advertisers spent a combined $240 billion trying to get you to buy stuff.
I like how Banksy, the famous street artist, puts it. His justification for why he should be able to deface public advertising with no repercussions:
People are taking the piss out of you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are The Advertisers and they are laughing at you.
If you want to learn how to be happy with “enough”, advertising is one of many obstacles to overcome on your journey. It’s like having a voice in the back of your head you’re not in control of. You may have “needs” that are not needs at all. How do you know that the desire for whatever consumer purchase you have in mind came from you and not from the mind of some advertising executive in NY? How many car commercials did you sit through during the last football game you watched? Human psychology (yes, yours too) is unfortunately easily manipulated. If it didn’t work, they wouldn’t do it.
Advertisers aren’t all to blame. Absolutely, work on your self-control. But you don’t tell an alcoholic to JUST work on their self-control and leave the beer sitting in the fridge. Removing the trigger altogether might just be the best way to start.
Advertising is absolutely everywhere and it seems almost impossible for us to avoid. Well, because it’s designed that way. But here’s the reality. Despite that $240 billion budget I mentioned above, and despite Banksy’s (correct) assertion that they butt into your life, it is still YOU that gives your consent to be advertised to.
“So far TV was the most popular medium chosen by advertisers in the United States, given its widespread reach and long standing reputation for accountability. In 2019, TV advertising spending in the U.S. reached 70 billion U.S. dollars.” – Statista
“In 2017, an average U.S. consumer spent 238 minutes (3h 58min) daily watching TV.” – Statista
So sure, advertisers are spending a lot of money to insert ads in between your TV shows, but nobody forced you to sit down and watch it in the first place.
First things first, cancel your cable bill. The average cable package in 2020 is around $220 per month. And the networks still get to serve you ads on top of that! What are you even paying for?
Get a basic internet package (pretty much a necessity these days) and a streaming subscription if you absolutely must (I pay about $90 per month total for internet and Netflix). Netflix doesn’t serve ads outside of some pretty obvious product placement from time to time, and previews of their own upcoming shows. So even if you really enjoy watching something after you put the kids to bed (as my wife and I do), you don’t have to sit through roughly 15 minutes of advertising per hour.
This can obviously open up a much deeper conversation about how to spend our time more wisely, and whether you need TV at all, but that’s a post for another day.
In 2019, advertisers spent roughly $87 billion on mobile ads. But that’s because Americans spend an average of almost 3 hours per day on their mobile phones. Advertisers are spending money there because they know you’re already looking at it.
Delete your Social Media accounts
This could be an entire other post (a whole book even), but one of the best things you can do for your mental health, and avoid a metric crap-ton of advertising…delete your social media accounts. I’m aware that I am firmly in the minority on this one, especially amongst my late 20’s & early 30’s peers, but social media serves no purpose in my life. Not only do you get all of the benefits of avoiding social media that I’m sure you’ve heard before, BUT you also don’t let them advertise to you.
Facebook alone made $28 Billion in ad revenue in Q2 of 2021.
Unsubscribe from emails (and avoid signing up in the first place)
Any time I receive an email in my inbox from a retailer, the first thing I do is scroll to the bottom and promptly hit “unsubscribe”. There’s no reason you need to see the 25% off reminders from the GAP just because you bought jeans there two years ago.
Make this a habit and your inbox will be free and clear from clutter for a long time to come. You probably don’t even realize all the junk emails you delete every day because you see the name and just delete it. Or worse, how many you briefly read through before realizing it’s a junk email. Remove that mental (and digital) clutter from your life asap.
Also, if you’re ever purchasing something from a retail store in person and they ask for your email, you can always politely decline. That’s all they are doing with your email, adding it to a mailing list. Unfortunately it’s almost impossible to buy anything online without giving up your email address. Although I have heard some people have separate inboxes exactly for that purpose. Seems like more work to me, but could be helpful.
Use an Adblocker
I haven’t personally found much use for this since I don’t do much web browsing, but there are many free and highly rated Adblockers available for both desktop and mobile that can help prevent advertisers from following you across the web.
Most mail I personally receive these days is very practical. Mostly paper bills (go paperless where you can). It wasn’t always this way. It’s been some time since I’ve gotten one, but I used to receive a lot of paper catalogs. Who cares about the newest and latest President’s Day sales at Macy’s?
A few years ago, I made a point of unsubscribing from every catalog and junk mailer I received until they eventually stopped (there were maybe 3 or 4 that had made their way to my mailbox every few months for years).
The two organizations I used to help eliminate almost all of my junk mail are DMAchoice and Catalog Choice. They are both reputable and well-known, and will help get your information off of catalog mailing lists. Save the environment, and avoid those ads.
And while you’re at it, go register your home and cell phone numbers with the National Do Not Call Registry. You’re welcome.
Hopefully you found these tips helpful and can enact a few of them today and start removing unwanted advertising from your life. If you’d like to actually receive a useful email for once, plug your info in the contact form below so you can receive email updates whenever I post something new. Thanks for reading!