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Think Tank

Alain de Botton: Imagining Advertisements for Things We Really Need

What's the Big Idea?

You don't need this product. But I want you to buy it. So I am going to confuse you. Then I will be able to seduce you into buying my product. That is the logic of advertising, or manufactured demand, says Alain de Botton, a prominent atheist author and a co-founder of The School of Life

But what if advertising could be used for things that we really do need? Botton imagines what a world would look like if the tools of advertising could be used to nudge us to be the best of ourselves.

Watch the video here:

What's the Significance?

Is it at all practical to imagine an "ethical advertising agency," as Botton proposes, that would be used to create "beautiful presentations of the most important ideas around." Here's the challenge, as Botton wrote in The Huffington Post:

The real difficulty with the ideas which underlie virtues like love or compassion is not that they seem surprising or peculiar, but rather that they seem far too obvious: their very reasonableness and universality strip them of their power. To cite a verbal parallel, we have heard a thousand times that we should love our neighbor, but the prescription loses any of its meaning when it is merely repeated by rote. So too with bad adverts: the best virtues, presented without talent or imagination, generate only indifference and boredom. The task for advertisers is therefore to find new ways of prizing open our eyes to tiresomely familiar yet critical ideas.

Botton's ad agency would each year promote 6 virtues, selected through an online poll. He says this would unite the praiseworthy artistry of advertisers with high moral ambitions that are often elusive in capitalism. A modest proposal. To test its practicality, let's get started. What are the six most important virtues for 2012?

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Follow Daniel Honan on Twitter @Daniel Honan

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