Thursday, August 7, 2008

Media Critical Judgement -- YAFS

As I've railed previously on this blog, most recently here, advertising is the commodity on the Web. Or, more precisely, attention is the commodity. That's what all content providers and advertisers are after ... a bit of your attention.

That's fine. If that's what supports the creation of excellent content like this blog (I wish!), so be it. But as readers and viewers, we have a certain obligation to develop critical faculties and judgment. We need to acquire the ability to discriminate between the well argued and documented, and the merely loud.

This is no different from TV commercials. They're all louder than the programs they infest, so you can hear them even when you go to the fridge for a snack. And they all try to be cute and memorable, as opposed to persuasive. Think about the commercials that stick in your mind. Do you think Geico Insurance is better than any other because they have cavemen or a cute animated gecko? Does that horde of extras stalking the Verizon customer really prove their service is better?

Given that more research is done on the effectiveness of ads than probably any other aspect of human behavior, these techniques must work, despite their irrationality. That's why we all need to learn to evaluate advertising claims critically. And because of product placements, viral marketing, and other means of infiltrating seemingly innocuous content, we need to apply this critical thinking to all content. Otherwise, we're just supporting and encouraging more intrusive and misleading promotion, as Seth Godin describes on his blog.

My father used to sit in front of the TV and say "YAFS!" to the commercials. (This was in the days before mute buttons.) YAFS is an acronym for "You Are Full of ... well, something." No exaggeration. I grew up watching TV with this constant reminder to be skeptical of commercials. You can imagine the cynicism this engendered.

Now you know why I'm such a curmudgeon.

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