You Won’t Believe The 18 Ways Marketing is Killing Democracy

This Headline Is the Death of Politics

Have you ever wondered why your online reading feels like it’s settled into a rhythm? Or noticed the compulsive way you search your social media feed for new articles, coming away with half a dozen new tabs that read basically the same?

It’s not just capitalism! Both advertisers and the enemies of advertisers have a common friend in marketing!

1: Listicles

These love-children of the shopping list and the article are a quick way to get the cliffnotes on any argument. If you’re looking for critique, you won’t find it here: point after point of ‘facts’, or whatever the author believes, will drum an opinion into you so you’re ready to present it as your own if you’re ever asked for your totally ornamental thoughts about gluten-free vaccinations against Donald Trump, or why any particular scandal ‘matters’. Here’s a hint: it has nothing to do with what you thought of it personally. Bonus points for listing a finite number, as if you’re some ancient sage.

2: Portmanteaus

Having a catchy shorthand for anything and everything is a surefire way to stick a real or imagined object into a reader’s head. Just think of: listicles; Brexit; Quitaly; Brangalina; or Conintern. These new and nebulous ideas are hard to conceive of in full sentences, but as singular nouns they’re easy to reference even if you haven’t clarified what they might mean: by using a new word it makes the situation look unique and no-one has to consider any history. If you can invent a new way of revocabularising, that’s doubleplusgood!

3: Gratuitous Swearing

If you want people to understand how strong a moral stand you take on a point, you can always throw in a gratuitous swearword so that people think that a) you’re relatable because you write in the vernacular and b) that the force of your feeling is more powerful than any argument. Combined with number 4, you can completely avoid having to justify yourself at all!

4: Single Line Sentences

These are fucking unacceptable.

5: Eye Catching Pictures

An eye catching picture is a sure-fire way to get your article clicked on Facebook, Twitter, or Medium just so that people can work out what the heck the photo is about. Bonus points for using pop cultural touchstones so that you can trap people who were looking for a story about Doctor Who but ended up reading about time management.

Finally, this picture is explained: bonus points for being massive

6: Bold Existential Claims

Finding out why such-and-such a thing matters isn’t the only thing clickbait articles are good for. They can change your life forever, make you a more positive person, increase your blog readership, and revolutionise your revenue stream. Never mind that four thousand years of human history has been dedicated to solving the problem of evil: here are five simple ways you can be a better person, and they mostly revolve around re-enforcing your sense of guilt with minimal effort.

7: Assumptions About the Reader

As a political writer, my audience is undoubtedly a bunch of Jacobites who regard the return of James II/VII to the crowns of England and Scotland as common sense. By refusing to entertain any alternative and by putting an ostensibly political position forward as a moral imperative we both share, I can create a sense of common purpose between myself and my audience without bringing anyone any closer to critically considering their own position in terms of history, epistemology or ethics.

8: Using Historical Outrages as Vehicles for Contemporary Ideology

It’s perfectly obvious that re-establishing the House of Stuart as the rightful rulers of the United Kingdom is the only moral thing to do, because history is always with us and any injustice where-ever and whenever should be revisited and expunged by correction or apology. Coming soon: Stalin’s top ten tips for improving relations between you and your Kulaks.

9: Calling Sardonic Sarcastic

By writing in a totally sing-song fashion, you can act superior to your reader so they feel as if your points are totally unquestionable. Remember: sarcasm is never patronising.

10: Exclamation Marks

Enthusiasm is important! Mark is a synonym for points, and points are hits! Every bit of positivity cranks up that hit counter!

11: Neutrality is Dispassionate

So that people know you’re completely serious, you’ve got to be either unrelentingly positive or uncompromisingly pessimistic! Your outlook has no impact on the world around you: the world either is a magical meadow of rainbow unicorns talking about sparkly princesses, or it’s a morally debased cesspit of garbage and corruption. It is impossible that it could be neither of the two. Your bipolar attitude to the world is all people want to hear about: blogs and tabloids agree! The search for a common reality is a waste of time compared to validating the feelings of the self-disenfranchising depressive!

12: Childhood is Morally Pure

As above, if you can relate your feelings to a childhood experience or piece of iconography, your ethical point can be substantiated by its implicit relationship to innocence. By pretending to feel like a child, you have licence to act like a child.

13: Brevity is All Important

Don’t bother taking time to explain yourself fully. No-one wants to contemplate all of your ideas. Walking people through the process by which you arrived at a conclusion is less important than giving them the end result: which is why Freud’s Totem and Taboo is two pages long and opens with the line ‘You Won’t Believe What This Three Year Old Wants to do to his Mother and Father!’

14: Treat Strangers Like Your Friends

If you like me or my work, you’re amazing, and I care about each and every one of you as if you were my own flesh and blood. Friend me on Facebook so I can invite you to weddings and funerals. In short, if you really want people to like you, rip off Jesus’s eternal-and-universal-love-shtick.

15: Pretend There’s an Article, then Link to a Video

Because asking someone to invest a guaranteed seven minutes of their time to judge your face, voice and mannerisms is much more reasonable than letting people read what you want to say at their own pace.

16: Ironise Through Demonstration

I think this one speaks for itself.

17: Don’t Forget to Plug

Whether you’re interested in marketing a product or building a movement to hijack the democratic process through unreason and a conflation of compromise with betrayal, networking is everything. Don’t leave it up to chance as to whether or not people will use the inbuilt interface to find more of your work if they liked it: make it as easy as possible for them to sink their valuable attention deeper into your worldview, with chummy entreatments to click here, to share, or subscribe.


18: Conclude, in Case It Wasn’t Obvious

We as an audience have a choice when it comes to the quality of what we’re reading, online or offline. You may personally have difficulties with reading, or may feel that certain publications or topics are not for people like you.

The comedian Paul Merton has recounted before how he used to wish he was the kind of person to read broadsheet newspapers. Then he realised, all he had to do was pick one up and read it. He was being held back by his sense of identity: ‘I am not of the kind of people who do this thing’.

Overcoming inhibitions like that is the first step in trying something new. There are all kinds of issues around reading which are bound up in matters such as class, race, innate talent, and the appalling experiences most of us have had at the hands of traditional schooling. If these are to be overcome by any individual, they first have to be ignored.

I hope I have demonstrated how these kinds of articles actually damage your comprehension of what is going on around you. If you are sincere in your desire to understand politics or economics, then I ask you: please raise your standards. Unsubscribe from Buzzfeed, abandon Twitter, and start to read media which does not exploit your passions in the same way as any advert or tabloid. You are as entitled to Plato or the New Statesman as anybody.

And if you’re a writer: please develop a style. If you have something worth saying, say it in your way, not how your marketing department wants you to. If people are treated like idiots, that is all we will ever be.

It is possible to have democracy; but only if we’re willing to put in the work.