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A World Without Advertising

plants growing over old billboard tower.pngBy Myles Thomas


Non-commercial broadcasting and media. It’s a solution for all manner of problems ailing our tender nation… voter engagement, unaccountable governance, apathy, stupefaction, public education, science in schools, arts appreciation, cultural cringe… But no-one could’ve guessed that non-commercial media might solve the problem of crappy products and services that we all put up with each day.

You know the situation – you buy a cheap spade from Bunnings and it breaks within 6 months. Or you travel to Dunedin on JetStar and they cancel, leaving you high and dry. This is cheap versus quality (though it’s getting to the point where cheap is all there is) but it's also an issue of companies putting more resources into marketing than into their products and services.

This in itself is nothing new. The Nike business model is common knowledge – production is cheap but invest in advertising and marketing because that is what drives sales.

A problem with this scenario for us consumers is that we pay twice. We put up with the advertising on TV, at the movies, radio, on-board Air NZ, and we pay more for the product itself as the manufacturers recover their hefty marketing and advertising budget.

This alone is reason to ditch advertising – pay less for products and don’t put up with adverts on TV and radio.

But surely getting rid of all advertising would be impossible? Not in Sao Paulo, Brazil – the largest city in South America and fourth largest in the world. Seven years ago, Gilberto Kassab, then mayor of Sao Paulo outlawed billboards and large shop signs throughout the city. He had 70% support of Sao Paulistanos and 0% support of business, but it happened and the impact on the city has been surprising.

The film Pom Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold (a hyperactive one man documentary on product placement) got to the nub of that impact. A Sao Paulo shop keeper explains how his company gets around the billboard ban, not by splashing out on other forms of advertising but with a crazy innovation.

“Today we work instead of investing in advertising, to have something that attracts the customer, our job is to look for referrals.”

Word-of-mouth is the marketing Sao Paulo businesses now use. That means improving customer satisfaction, by improving their products and services so that they are genuinely worthy of referrals and word-of-mouth.

The principle is so simple. Allowing advertising of products and services reduces the quality of those products and services, and we as consumers pay the price. Add that to all the other social ills created by commercial media (Mike Hosking or Paul Henry on morning radio anyone?) and you have a pretty compelling argument for an ad-free world.


Myles Thomas – Chief Executive of the Coalition for Better Broadcasting


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