The Ad Creep

Kira Symington, Reporter

They slither across the sides of our ice rinks; their logos dominate our clothes. They creep into children’s shows and invade our restrooms. According to Jean Kilbourne’s 2000 book “Can’t Buy My Love,” advertisements capture roughly three years of the average American’s life when watching tv. It is safe to assume that this number has only increased now in 2023, along with its scope. Simon Kemp confirms this in his “Digital 2023: Global Overview Reportsaying, “if you feel like you’re seeing more ads on social media platforms than ever before, [the] data suggests you’re probably right.” Lumin’s Sam Carr in 2021 reported that the average person was estimated to be exposed between an astonishing 6,000 to 10,000 advertisements per day. Even going to class in UND’s Gamble Hall or Nistler Building, you are assaulted with hundreds of different sponsor “themed” classrooms.  

The ad creeps everywhere. Driving down empty highways late at night, billboards populate the sides of ditches with flashes of color, begging for any attention you have left to muster. The soft jazz music on the radio is interrupted by a disembodied voice promising the fulfillment of desires you did not even know you had. The garbage can at the gas station is swallowed whole by posters advertising the latest special at the nearby diner. 

Like any real-life creep, the ad begins to cross boundaries. Employing the help of psychology departments across universities, the advertisement becomes ever more effective and potent. The latest Liberty Mutual ad uses this psychology with some audacity stating, “Research shows nostalgia can help you remember ads” and, slapping on slap bracelet, “Remember Liberty Mutual.” 

The ad taps into your primal fears, needs, and wants. It preys on your insecurities, trying to transform you into a deeply unsatisfied individual who is and will never have enough, or in other words, the perfect consumer. You become the product, or as Hanno Rauterberg of “Die Zeit” writes, “Anyone standing in front of it [the ad] feels like being transformed from a subject into an object. The I does not look at the large poster, but the poster looks at the small I.” The ad creep demands our attention by manipulating and manufacturing our own insecurity. 

Boundaries are further blurred with the advertisement’s infestation in all realms of media: entertainment, news, education, etc. A devastating earthquake, a mass shooting, or even a war is not immune to the advertisement’s presence. Between glimpses of fear, truth, emotion, and reality, the advertisement loudly interrupts to announce something even more important: a new line of sandwiches at Burger King. Feeling stressed about the state of the world? Sit back on that couch and order from Dominos. 

There are two problems here. The first is that the news offers no action to take but rather an onslaught of emotion too much for the viewer to bear. It makes the viewers ask the question, “what could we possibly do?” The second is that our relief comes from the ads that promise the importance of trivial and instant gratification. It answers that question with “Buy shit.” 

An additional layer of the advertisement’s creepiness is found when it is blatantly illegal. Hanno Rauterberg reports inYou Can’t Escape Us,” another story illustrating this fact, “Swatch had a new watch collection projected onto the Berlin Victory Column and the TV tower with large projectors. The nightly action was not approved, and the company was fined five figures, but Swatch had expected that. The illegality was part of the campaign and attracted additional attention.” 

Unsolicited emails in your personal inbox, seedy flyers pushed under your hotel door, and papers posted to your car are a display of the gleeful violation of your private property and space. The ad creep wants your attention; During this year’s Super Bowl, 30 seconds of that attention sold for around $7 million. This attention can be good or bad, it frankly does not matter. The ad thinks it is entitled to your time, offering no escape. Even if you pay for parts of Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, the advertisement follows.  

The ad creep justifies itself. It tells us that we actually enjoy its intrusion into our every waking moment. We want this, and the sad part is, it is not entirely wrong. Some only watch the Super Bowl for the wildly expensive promotions of companies. Others find Mint Mobile’s ads oddly endearing with its little skits between Ryan Renolds and his family members, yet others enjoy the overwhelming images looming over them at Times Square. Movies and tv shows become prime examples of this at play. It seems each scene flickering across our screens has subtle product placements: the main character has the latest iPhone, drinks only Starbucks, and is a big fan of Nike. As long as the ad entertains us, we are to ignore its slink into the corners of our minds. 

What are we left with? Colonized consciousnesses like a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The fluttering of our eyelids ushers us into dreams of Taco Bell. The slow melody of a familiar song conjures up images of used car dealerships. The sunset reminds us of a Toyota driving into the distance.  

Robert Mchesney says in his book, “The Political Economy of Media: Enduring Issues, Emerging Dilemmas,” that “the greatest damage done by advertising is precisely that it incessantly demonstrates the selling out of men and women who lend their intellects, their voices, their artistic skills to purposes in which they themselves do not believe, and… that it helps to shatter and ultimately destroy our most precious non-material possessions: the confidence in the existence of meaningful purposes of human activity and respect for the integrity of man.” It does not seem too outlandish to say that the ad creep destroys human meaning, dreams, and belief through commodification. Like King Midas, everything the ad touches turns into gold or, in other words, something to buy and sell. 

Are you tired of being a product? 


Kira Symington is a Dakota Student General Reporter. She can be reached at [email protected].