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  • Bob Hoffman


Before we get started, let's acknowledge that "The Existential Adman" is the worst title for an essay in the history of online jabbering. If this thing gets five hits it'll be a miracle. But we soldier on unafraid...

Why do we care about marketing or advertising? Is there anything in it worthy of our attention and concern? These are the existential questions that we hope to answer in this post.

Let's start with a wide shot and then cut to the extreme close-up. The wide shot is this: Is there anything anywhere worth caring about?

To contemplate this we need to get a sense of our place in the universe. We hear a lot of awe-inspiring horseshit from pop-TV gasbags about the 100's of billions of stars in a galaxy and the hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe. This gives us the impression that the universe is teeming with stuff.

In fact, the universe is the emptiest thing you can imagine. Only 0.000000000000000000004 percent of the universe contains any matter. The universe has less actual substance to it than a social media pitch deck.

Our planet is not even a speck of dust on a galactic scale. On a universal scale it essentially doesn't exist. Still worried about whether your socks match?

The next depressing reality concerns our species. Our planet has been around for about 4 billion years. We humans have been here for about 300,000 years. So what portion of the Earth's life have we been a part of? The answer again is a decimal point and a lot of zeroes, -- .00008 to be exact.

In other words, our stay here at The Planet Earth Inn and Suites has been quite a short one and, sadly, promises not to last very much longer. The chances of us blowing ourselves up, melting ourselves, or poisoning ourselves seem to be growing daily.

So the question is, if we are so insignificant and so temporary does anything really matter? This philosopher believes that no, nothing really matters. But in order to live an orderly life we have to pretend it matters. If we don't pretend things matter, we're all likely to wind up in the gutter drugged up and filthy. You remember college, right?

Next we get to marketing and advertising. In light of all this meaninglessness and nothingness how can anyone take this stuff seriously? Well, first of course, there's the money. We gotta pay for Netflix somehow. But let's be honest. There's something fascinating about what we do that transcends payday. Studying this stuff helps us strip away some of the fanciful notions of human rectitude, and more often than not exposes the depth of human vanity to those of us who are willing to recognize it.

Of course there are those in our business who, despite all evidence to the contrary, believe that peoples' purchasing habits are motivated by high-minded principles and not by utter self-absorption and narcissism. But to those of us with feet planted firmly here on Earth, marketing and advertising present a unique lens through which we can view human behavior in a way that is not always evident in other lines of endeavor.

And now for the existential answers: Does this stuff mean anything? No. Is it interesting? Yes.


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