Douglas Rushkoff is a renowned author, documentarian, and academic. His books and documentaries cover a wide range of topics from pop culture to media to politics and economics. In addition to his written work, Rushkoff educates audiences about these topics by giving lectures around the world and serving as the technology and media commentator for CNN. Throughout his work, Douglas Rushkoff focuses on “the ways people, cultures, and institutions create, share, and influence each other's values” (Rushkoff.com). This focus comes through in Rushkoff’s analysis of the evolution of advertising, and the way effective advertising today focuses on the audience’s psychology.
Rushkoff’s article, “Advertising,” appears in his book Coercion: Why We Listen to What “They” Say. In this piece, Rushkoff describes how advertising has changed overtime and the different tactics that have successfully and unsuccessfully been employed by various companies and advertising agencies. Rushkoff asserts that today’s advertising is no longer like “a coercive attack on an unsuspecting public, but more like an art form struggling for life” (Rushkoff 165). He believes that audiences have become skeptical of advertisers and resistant to demographic targeting and emotional appeals that they feel trample individuality. Rushkoff describes a better alternative of “psychographic targeting.” He claims that rather than categorizing individuals by demographics, advertiser’s today are successful by appealing to individual values and aspirations (Rushkoff 178).
Although Rushkoff’s cited examples of effective and ineffective advertising campaigns suggest that psychographic targeting is the best type of advertising, we must remain skeptical of his claim and continue to examine a wider range of advertising examples to see their impact. Rushkoff’s article, “Advertising,” is in a book about psychological coercion; therefore, it is in his interest as an academic to present examples of advertising that completely back up his claim. In this book, Rushkoff is trying to convince the public that authority figures “do the thinking for us” (Rushkoff.com). He uses this article to explain that advertisers psychologically analyze their audiences and often use reverse psychology to convince people what they want and who they want to be. We should be wary that Rushkoff has the power to hand pick examples for his articles to back up his academic agenda. In addition, when evaluating the applicability and worth of Rushkoff’s argument we must take into account that this article was published in 1999. With the steady rise of the Internet, social media, and various other technological progresses, advertising has evolved tremendously in the past 14 years. Rushkoff’s analysis of advertising is therefore outdated and does not account for these innovations.
Coercion has received high praise, such as the 2002 McLuhan Award for Best Media Book and high consumer reviews (Rushkoff.com). However, it is the critiques of this book and further commentary on advertising that refute Rushkoff’s claims that may be most valuable when evaluating this article. For example, today, demographic targeting has proven to be very effective by using individual’s activity on the Internet and geographic location to find groups of people to target with specific advertising. This successful advertising tactic counters Rushkoff’s argument. Douglas Rushkoff is a credible author and this article makes very compelling claims, but we must not also fall victim to coercion by accepting his argument without critically looking at differing viewpoints on this subject.
Rushkoff, Douglas. "Advertising." Coercion: Why We Listen to What "they" Say. New York: Riverhead, 1999. N. pag. Print.
Rushkoff, Douglas. N.p.. Web. 20 Oct 2013. <http://www.rushkoff.com/>.