Advertising: The Logical Half-Truth

The advertiser’s mission is to blur correlation into causality. You see the image displaying and correlating to the wet dream it represents: the big house, beautiful wife, dutiful children, abundant pussy and marble countertops, electric tin openers and sexy cars, garden parties, friends, haters, trappings. The correlation is always there, just as you’ve known it. The trick is fooling you. Yes, the rich man has a Lexus and a trophy wife who poses well for snapshots in between slogging down Xanax and banging the pool boy. The correlation is there. The trick is fooling you into thinking the Lexus causes the lifestyle, the car manifests the money and the dimepiece, while the converse is just as likely. Or just as unlikely. The correlation – the image/premise you’re shown – is just the snapshot. There’s no logical validity to the resulting causal conclusion. The car doesn’t cause the snatch. The marijuana doesn’t cause the teenage rebel. No. The cool kids just happened to start smoking, like the rest of your peers. And when you’re 45 and the luster wears off both wife and car while the payments accelerate, your cool peers will be rolling joints again. But make no mistake. It’s all an illusion. A correlation. If you find yourself thinking “if only,” then you’re already lost.

So there’s the dirty secret, laid bare. Those of you smirking from atop your modern substitutes for destriers about how advertising works on the insecure are blind to the seat you’ve been sold. Insecurity is one half-truth; even the most transcendentally grounded of us enjoy luxuries. Advertising is far more insidious: it works on us because we’re logical enough to follow the hinted correlation, but too illogical to realize it has no causal validity.

Blame animal programming. Pattern recognition is so crucial to survival that we focus on the correlations, until the crocodile your hindbrain sees lurking in the primordial swamp is now indistinguishable from a Fendi handbag. Unsheath your modern survival tool and sign the oncoming merchant copy.

The sickest part is that it also works in reverse. Even when you understand the correlation doesn’t mean causality you want the underlying cause so you can show the correlation to others on the understanding that they’ll fuck it up, that they will view the snapshot and see the indicator of success as the effect. Success caused the wealth indicators, they think. No. It was want and debt finance. The more insidious link is that the wealth indicators cause them to consider you successful and so – fake it till you make it, right? – the object causes the success. And if the illusion repeats often enough, it might come real.

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