Meta-Hell: Anti-Marketing as Marketing Technique
By Ben Bartee - March 02, 2024

Originally published via Armageddon Prose:

Recently, my YouTube music playlist got interrupted once again by an obnoxious ad for soap or dog biscuits or whatever; I didn’t watch long enough to catch the product getting hawked (YouTube puts a 5-second delay on the “skip” button).

More replaced meaningful”: that was the punchline on this ad.

The meta-point being driven home was that somehow, inexplicably, as some kind of organic phenomenon — totally not the result of the saturation of society in marketing itself — that “more replaced meaningful,” implying that “more” is a negative.

The further implication is that whatever deodorant or erectile dysfunction drug or whatever these guys are selling is heavy on enlightened meaningfulness and light on materialism — as if meaningfulness and not volume of product moved is what metric the marketing industry uses to analyze the effectiveness of any given advertising campaign, as if they’re in the “big ideas” game and not the conversion game.

In another YouTube advertisement (the reason I reference this medium is because I don’t consume really any other form of Western advertising, having lived outside of the West for many years now), a marketing guru sits cross-legged on the floor meditating out loud for newer, bigger clients for his website — a parody of the ultra-cringe “self-help” genre that marries pseudo-Eastern mysticism to entrepreneurialism.

RelatedIs Self-Help All Total Bullshit, or Just 90%

The punchline in this one is that the guy marketing a patented new sales funnel or whatever appears and says (paraphrasing) “that’s all New Age bullshit, man; buy my sales funnel instead to get new clients.”

So here the marketers are subversively mocking a specific form of advertising while themselves advertising the very same kind of product that form of advertising hawks.

It thus exceeds in irony and cynicism — the currencies of modern advertising — while masquerading as lighthearted and well-intentioned.

This is getting very meta.

Bill Hicks had a whole bit on this back in the day. I’ve written about it before, because it’s awesome, but having previously omitted the bit about the “anti-marketing dollar”:

“By the way, if anyone here is in advertising or marketing… kill yourself. Thank you. Just a little thought. I’m just trying to plant seeds. Maybe one day, they’ll take root. I don’t know. You try, you do what you can. Kill yourself. Seriously though, if you are, do. Aaah, no really, there’s no rationalization for what you do and you are Satan’s little helpers, okay? Kill yourself, seriously. You’re the ruiner of all things good, seriously. No, no, this is not a joke, you’re going, ‘there’s gonna to be a joke coming,’ There’s no fucking joke coming. You are Satan’s spawn filling the world with bile and garbage. You are fucked and you are fucking us. Kill yourself. It’s the only way to save your fucking soul. Kill yourself. Planting seeds. I know all the marketing people are going, ‘he’s doing a joke…’ There’s no joke here whatsoever. Suck a tail-pipe, fucking hang yourself, borrow a gun from a Yank friend. I don’t care how you do it. Rid the world of your evil fucking machinations. Machi… whatever, you know what I mean. I know what all the marketing people are thinking right now too, ‘Oh, you know what Bill’s doing, he’s going for that anti-marketing dollar. That’s a good market, he’s very smart.’ Oh man, I am not doing that, you fuckiing evil scumbags. ‘Ooh, you know what Bill’s doing now, he’s going for the righteous indignation dollar. That’s a big dollar. A lot of people are feeling that indignation. We’ve done research. Huge market. He’s doing a good thing.’ Goddammit, I’m not doing that, you scumbags. Quit putting a goddamm dollar sign on every fucking thing on this planet! ‘Ooh, the anger dollar. Huge. Huge in times of recession. Giant market. Bill’s very bright to do that.’ God, I’m just caught in a fucking web. ‘Ooh, the trapped dollar, big dollar, huge dollar. Good market. Look at our research. We see that many people feel trapped. If we play to that and then separate them into the trapped dollar…’”

RelatedBill Hicks and I Have Some Life Advice For Marketers

In my personal hierarchy of vocational evils — recognizing we each have our own — the marketer has come to replace the lawyer, the banker, politician, or even the State Department spokesperson as the lowliest creature to ever breathe oxygen, a high bar indeed to clear.


The damage the marketing machine has done to civilization and decency is so great as to be unquantifiable.

Via Forbes:

“The advertising game really shifted from 2020 onward. Nowadays, there’s so much emphasis on creating content that will fit the consumer’s lifestyle rather than on how to persuade them to buy your product. Not to mention, the average consumer wants to know exactly who they’re buying from and where their money is going. Consumers are more likely to buy from a brand that ’aligns with their values’ rather than a strong, well-recognized brand. I think this will only expand into 2023. Advertising will require more meaningful, socially relevant and trendy content, which means that your company could quickly fall behind the curve if you’re not agile. In 2023, advertising will need to adapt to consumers more than ever.
-Simon Bacher, Ling App”

So, the advertising industry takes the hatred and disgust and pervasive nihilism that it has itself generated among the public, and, instead of gleaning any moral lesson from it, instead reverse-engineers it in order to psychologically manipulate the public in a novel, unexpected way in the pursuit of selling more product.

Then, always on the cutting edge of emotional manipulation, when the consumer gets hip to the schtick, the industry will pivot once more, this time to subverting advertising that “aligns with their values” and mocking it for its obvious condescension and vacuousness.

It’s a moral abyss with no bottom and ever-increasing cynicism.

Ben Bartee, author of Broken English Teacher: Notes From Exile, is an independent Bangkok-based American journalist with opposable thumbs.

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