Brandwashing? Not even close

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Jeff Chester thinks America is being "brandwashed." Hogwash. In his book, "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy," Mr. Chester raises some valid points about media consolidation, the abuse of privacy and a broken Federal Communications Commission. But in trying to paint what amounts to a massive conspiracy involving marketers, media companies and their governmental toadies, he goes over the top with the claim (in his book and in an online column at that advertising is growing more powerful.

We're quite sure that marketers would disagree, struggling as they are with the disappearance of a viable mass market and the increases in audience fragmentation and consumer control. Marketers and agencies are coming to terms with a marketplace more complicated than when the entire nation was tuned into one of three broadcast networks and Winston cigarettes could sponsor "The Flintstones" during prime time. Brandwashing, indeed.

Of course, Mr. Chester has anticipated that line of argument: "Advertisers often characterize the industry as being at a disadvantage now that users can effortlessly fast-forward through commercials or create their own ad-free media. But such assertions are disingenuous. An advertising industry 'arms race' is under way to make digital marketing more effective and pervasive."

Making marketing more effective is what marketers are paid to do. And as long as they operate within legal and ethical bounds, they should be allowed to. While privacy is a legitimate concern, there's something to be said for targeted ad messages. What would the average person rather be subjected to, an annoying random pop-up or an ad message tailored specifically for her? (Numerous studies have answered that seemingly obvious question.)

Finally, what consumers and activists seem to forget is that the only reason media content is free or affordable for so many is that major corporations foot the majority of the infrastructure and production bills. Then again, we could turn everything over to the government, which would no doubt create wholesome content at minimal cost to the taxpayer, all the while respecting consumer privacy.
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