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Bill Hicks on Marketing

Tyrell Edwards · Youtube · 6 HN comments
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I doubt the only products you buy are cucumbers, tomatoes and gas. You've chosen your phone, laptop, car, and various other branded items. Advertising very likely played a role in your decisions there.

How can you actually be sure that advertising doesn't work on you? Of course, you don't see an ad on TV for a new smart fridge and immediately jump out of your sofa, wallet in hand, to go buy it. But the key thing is that _nobody does_. That's not the point. The idea is that six months down the line when your fridge breaks irreparably and you're deciding between different brands, those ads will have an influence, and you won't realise it.

People who think advertising doesn't work on them _are godsends to advertisers_. This article puts it quite well, although I don't agree with its conclusions[0]:

"If you don’t believe advertising works on you, you are going to be more likely to see good advertising as something else entirely and be more receptive to it and thusly more likely to take the action I want you to take."

There was a study a few months ago which found that people who think they are immune to advertising are more susceptible to it than average, but I can't find a link. It was one of the things that changed my opinion on this: I also used to think I was not susceptible to most advertising, but this is a dangerous mentality. You just don't think you're susceptible. I've come around to thinking Bill Hicks was completely right on this [1]

Also with the Metromile point, that's not bad targeting. Ads are often targeted at existing users of the ads product. The point is to keep brand loyalty and limit buyer's remorse.

[0] [1]

I'm not your typical consumer. I buy the cheapest thing of each category unless there's an overwhelming reason not to. Computer: macbook pro (not because of ads but because I had to in order to develop for apple products), phone: Iphone - got it for free as a handme down from my wife. Very few of the groceries I buy have labels on them: it's all fresh fruit, veggies, things from the bulk section, almost nothing in the grocery store I've bought is advertised. I don't eat processed food or any kind of food that comes in a box or prepackaged bag. When my fridge breaks down I will buy the cheapest fridge I can find unless there's data that shows some fridges are more reliable than others. I buy maybe 2 pairs of pants per decade, and when I do buy clothes it's usually at used clothing store, and I don't pay any attention to what the label says other than the size and type of material.

Brand almost never ever comes into my decision making process. that's why its so hard for me to believe. I buy the cheaper one every time unless there's overwhelming reason not to. Frankly, I don't understand how this isn't the default behaviour for everyone.

The only areas where advertising works on me is on the following (when they actually give me information about products I actually want): occassionally on movies (but even then it's a small percentage ~ most of the time i get whatevers i find on fandango ~ i've even missed some movies i wanted to watch because the ads didn't reach me or I forgot), occassionally the restaurant coupons (half price), metromile, maybe banking (since that actually does require trust) .

Metromile is wasting their money by retargetting me. I'll leave the second I find another insurance that's cheaper - I have absolutely 0 brand loyalty for almost everything. If anything, they're just reminding me to check around for cheaper services that may pop up.

Utility bills -> no choice therefore ads don't matter. Housing -> found on zillow . Zillow itself, someone told me about it (not advertisement).

phone plan - i really had to hunt to find usmobile - 8$/month for 100 minutes, 100 messages. I can't even imagine how much money the telecom industry has squandered on me without any effect at all.

ISP - At&t hits me ads all the time, and everytime I'm just reminded about how evil they are and I check around to see if there's any other better broadband providers besides the one I'm using right now. so their ads are actually having the opposite of the desired effect, same with comcast.

The reason all these ads don't affect me is because they all appeal to Emotion and unverifiable information. And that's not how I generally make my decisions.

For example, when at&t says they have the best network, that's completely useless to me because I can't verify that it's true, or at least it's hard to do so.

Because most ads appeal based on emotion and I don't use emotion to make my buying decisions, it means they simply don't work.

Advertising readily exploits low price consumers like you, too.

First of all, they find ways to drop quality. At first they have the good deal for a limited time. This results in social proofing - good reviews and customer approvals - that theirs is the exceptional choice - quality at low price. Then they downgrade it. But because you were already buying it, you won't look the next time.

Second, they find ways to engineer deals that lead you down a path of more expensive dependencies. You go to the supermarket, and you get your veggies, and you see a sign saying "best enjoyed with" - and there's a product. Maybe one you know and are familiar with, maybe one you don't. Regardless, you see the sign and the message and you start wondering, "am I enjoying my veggies less because I'm doing it wrong?"

The dairy industry has succeeded at this for decades, crafting all sorts of narratives about the necessity for milk, the pleasure of milk, how milk lets you have moments shared with friends. It doesn't have to have a brand name attached to reach you and reprogram you.

It's a fallacy to think that higher priced items are higher quality: people fall for this all the time. Those high priced jeans and that 20$ fancy pizza might be made of equally bad stuff as a 5$ little ceasers, you won't know unless you investigate.

And, low quality isn't always bad. Even the cheapest t-shirt and jeans in the world can last years if not decades: I know because I have them. I don't need to switch to another product because of "low quality".

Maybe I'm just less susceptible, but I've never thought: "am I enjoying my veggies less because I'm doing it wrong?" due to a sign in the grocery store.

As for milk, people talk about the 100s of milk choices. I don't see that at all. I don't drink cows milk. I see there's only 2 types of soy milk to choose from. And both of them contain added calcium sulfate. I have to go to a specialty store just to get unadulterated soy milk.

And, I simply don't let ads tell me what's pleasurable and what's not.

Now, reminder advertising could theoretically work on me. If there was an ad reminding me to buy certain types of veggies (cucumbers, spinach, broccoli, etc) just as I was running out. But my tastes and interests are so far removed from the average person that 99.99% of the ads are for things I would simply never buy and thus they are ineffective (how often do you see ads on the TV for fresh veggies or fruits or beans? ~ I rarely if ever see one).

Almost Everything people know about dairy is false, I've been saying that for years. The list of lies goes on and on: "Great for your bones", "part of a balanced breakfast", "High in calcium" (it is but your body can't absorb most of it), "good for your health (it's actually strongly linked to prostate cancer)", "Vitamin-D" (vitamin-D isn't even a vitamin, it's a hormone your body can produce all on it's own with exposure to sunlight).

So all those messages from the dairy industry are falling on MY deaf ears. Ads don't tell you about their product (at least not honestly most of the time), they tell you more about the people buying the product.

And, on top of all that, for all the talk of ads being everywhere, i don't get many intrusive ads. I don't have cable or any other paid subscriptions. there's almost no billboards where i live. the books i read don't contain any. hackernews has very few ads, etc.

if advertisers knew anything about me at all, they'd avoid targetting me to save money on useless ad spend. lolz maybe that's why I don't get much ads.

I don't think everyone is fooled by these types of maneuvers. Ye olde cable bundle model isn't going to fool a truly pragmatic person, even if it manifests itself in the grocery store. The drop in quality thing is something to explicitly watch for and expect, especially when the bait and switch you describe happens routinely on sites like Amazon these days.

Once you are aware of the many different ways an ad can manifest, they become uncanny. It becomes a game to spot them, and to think about why this ad was bought to run at this particular time and place. I see that ad for california walnuts playing out in public, and it feels absolutely dystopian. I think they say "heart-heatlhy, california walnuts" about a half dozen times in the clip, like a mantra. The spell is broken if you ever read about the nut industry's water use, and connect the dots with the ever present threat of drought in california, and climate change worsening it all.

I formed the opinion a while ago that we should go a step further: ban advertising entirely (not exactly a new idea, Bill Hicks came first [1]). Billboards, TV ads, newspaper ads, paid-for articles, promoted Instagram content, all internet ads, everything.

One of the main tenants of capitalism is that it naturally produces a meritocracy. Products which are of a higher quality or cheaper than their competitors should, in theory, sell better. Advertising in any form subverts that. More expensive and lower quality products can completely outsell competitors by out-advertising them, which fundamentally undermines capitalism. I do not believe that any limits can be imposed which will make a meaningful impact: banning individual forms of advertising which we think have gone too far will be a never-ending game of whack-a-mole. Kill the industry entirely.


Unfortunately, I think your solution would effectively destroy democracy at any level other than mayor and dog-catcher in tiny cities.

Televised presidential debates? Those are advertising for party-sponsored candidates to the disadvantage of write-in candidates. If all publicity is good publicity, then the same holds true for all news articles about candidates running for any office. How is a newspaper editorial proclaiming that "Elected official X is bad for Y!" any different than a campaign ad in the same newspaper that "Elected official X is great for Y!"?

In one case, the newspaper makes money to put the content to be there, in the other, the newspaper makes money because the content is there.

The same goes for books: how is publishing a biography of someone not a form of advertisement for or against that person?

If I'm not mistaken, that happens to also be the heart of (at least one of the justices' deliberations on) the Citizens United case that declared corporate spending on elections to be covered under free speech.

All democracy should be grassroots. I find the concept that you simply can't win an election or a candidacy without a large warchest to be abhorrent.

We live in an age where media dissemination costs essentially zero. All politicians should have volunteers and not be able to raise donations nor spend a cent on advertising. Easier said than done yes, but still a far better outcome for democracy.

Let the best ideas flourish by themselves.

I get the sentiment, but advertising is just a small part of how public perception is manipulated. Edward Bernays laid this out in his 1928 book, Propaganda, which is a how-to guide to indoctrination and manipulation of the public.
What do you believe that people without 'merit' deserve?
I would think the feeling that marketing as a whole, and advertising as part of it was a large social negative was prevalent enough that one would not have to explain it even if not everyone agrees.

I mean it's common enough that Bill Hicks on the subject is pretty much a meme by this point

I'm not saying I necessarily agree, but if someone says advertising is a cancer on society or something like that I would not be like - whoa what particular belief system has led him to conclude this?!? - I would think, huh, they have that set of beliefs regarding advertising and marketing.

So, one more time, care to explain why you think that it is? Or am I to understand this correctly that you think it's "cancer" on society because you have just heard other people say that (like Bill Hicks and perhaps others you respect) and you assume it was prevalent?

It would be interesting to understand your original arguments if it was more clear what you based that assumption on (which is by no means universal).

1. you might notice that it was not me that made the original arguments, I just noted my surprise that you needed understanding of the viewpoint since I've seen it expressed throughout the internet at various levels of lucidity for the last decade at least.

2. one expression might be this if the Bill Hicks expression of it was not to your liking.

3. again, I was not arguing for the correctness of the belief that advertising is a cancer, I just noted that nobody should be surprised at it's existence. Maybe it's like this XKCD in which case congratulations, I've now given you two links to why people think advertising and marketing are awful awful things.

Again, I do not necessarily see advertising as something that is cancerous, but I am familiar with expressions of the idea so I am not shocked, shocked when I encounter it.

Dec 18, 2018 · mattnewton on Stop Datamining Me ? (profanity warning)
Ha! Reminds me of the late, great, Bill Hick’s seminal piece on marketers and advertisers:

I oft wonder how much disdain Bill Hicks would have for the tech bros and the Orwellian apparatus many large tech companies have created.

The quote is semi ironical because Jaron Lanier is featured in this article and actually supports these machinations.
But he's wrong though, isn't he?

I mean, marketers and advertisers simply recognize what already exists. Yes, there is an "anger market". Yes, there are certain things that work to attract people prone to "being angry".

Overall, I find Hicks to be a bit overvalued. At least the bits that get circulated the most. The bit about advertisers and the bit where he "destroys" a heckler, which is just him hurling basic abuse at someone. There's nothing really funny or particularly witty in it, just "Go kill yourself" over and over again. I think he plays to a certain demographic that wants to feel as if they've figured out the secret and that the secret is it's all going to shit.

I'd imagine he'd have a diatribe about "tech bros" that would pretty much consist of saying they should kill themselves in various ways.

Not sure if he is wrong, per se, as his arguments do have some merit.

Re: "marketers and advertisers simply recognize what already exists."

Yes, but they encourage consumption, purchasing and/or commercial activities. They are not doing it for the sake of a 'good cause' or because they believe in it (although they may), their incentive is to make money.

That's what I believe Bill Hicks was attacking in this segment. Their unrelenting ability to turn anything into a commercial endeavour - even when it is not present.

What in here ( is an actual critique on what marketers do? What's the argument?

It's all "kill yourself" some reductive thoughts about how they identify markets followed by a snide remark about marketing arsenic as a childhood sleep aid. Only that last jibe could be said to be anything approaching an actual critique. The rest is just plain abuse.

You think Hicks was doing it for the sake of a 'good cause' or because there was money in it? But that's part of the rub, isn't it? You can't really buy in without selling out. It's the same sort of dilemma that exists with a band like Rage Against the Machine. They advocate all of this stuff, all of this anti-commercialism, etc, but fully take part in it.

"Oh noes, they're encouraging me to buy things. The horror"

Fuck man, at least they're honest about what they're trying to do. Not everyone is.

Likely have to agree to disagree on this one. It's a comedy piece for one, and it's an opinion at that, but what is the critique Bill Hicks is making in the Youtube link I shared? I think it's best summed up with "you are filling the world with bile and garbage".

And honest about what they do? That seems wildly inaccurate. Like any profession, there are honest advertisers & marketers and there are dishonest ones, but the incentive of advertising is to influence purchasing decisions, and marketing to promote awareness, encourage consumption, and/or generate new revenue.

What would you have (had) Rage Against the Machine do? Stop making music that people enjoy and relate to? Or, should they do what the KLF did and (allegedly) burn a million dollars in cash one night and renounce all future songwriting and performance royalties? What would that achieve apart from an artistic statement?

Lastly, by your definition, aren't Rage Against the Machines just good at marketing? Or is licencing one's music to a large music label perhaps the most effective method of advertising their beliefs and opinions? Playing to larger audiences or making coin from their trade, doesn't necessarily mean they are hypocrites.

--- edit: minor typo fixes, refined some sentences

Where's the humor? What's the joke? Explain how it's funny.

He doesn't explain how it's filling the world with bile and garbage, that's just a claim. And sure, it may qualify as criticism, but it's empty criticism. You could easily say that about most things. Bill Hicks is filling the world with bile and garbage. You'd want me to qualify that. Defend it, prove it. Something you're not asking of him.

Yes, advertisers want you to buy shit. Anyone who works in advertising will tell you that their job is to get you to buy shit. Advertising's job is to get you to buy shit. Maybe one brand of shit over another. Or shit you may not necessarily need, but all the same. You may disagree with the utility of what they're trying to sell you, but that's kind of irrelevant. The job itself is to make the product appealing enough to purchase.

You can bitch about advertisers who take on clients of products known to be harmful. That companies that do advertising for cigarettes are morally suspect. But the job in and of itself is no better or worse than a lot of others. Do you think Hicks blamed advertisers for making him a chain smoker? Then again, he was mostly a chain smoker to deal with his other addictions. But last time I checked most illegal narcotics don't have an advertising arm. Unless you count Bill Hicks, who advertised for them essentially for free.

Also, don't use acronyms unless you are going to explain what they mean. The only hit for KLM I got was the Royal Dutch Airline. It was only once I searched "KLM burning money" that I got the result that I think you were talking about, the KLF burns a million quid. And apparently, they went on a lecture circuit after that, Bill Drummond started writing, Jimmy Cauty continued as a music producer (which I don't know how that fits in with the whole "renouncing the industry" bit) and artist. So it's not like they fucked off and became bus drivers. They still leveraged that fame. And they regard that stunt as a mistake now.

As for Rage Against the Machine, I do see their predicament. They could go full Fugazi and reject most of the corporate structure, but then their reach becomes much less. Your message can't really reach.

And here's the thing, I'm not totally against what they're doing. I do think it's a bit ironic preaching anti-consumerism using the vehicle of consumerism to get your message. "Buy this thing that tells you that buying things is stupid". I think they're wrong in rejecting the entire notion of consumerism. Just like Hicks is wrong in rejecting the entire notion of advertising and marketing (which is a bit of an anti-consumerist screed). But the answer isn't to become a charge card wielding shopaholic either. No matter the extreme you go to, you've gone to the wrong one. Extreme isn't the answer, ever. There is value in a lot of things.

Well, I find the Bill Hicks skit funny :) If you don’t, then all power to you.

Some people think the Smurfs is a nice, cute cartoon and others see a Marxist village led by a misogynistic Karl Marx figure. They’re both just perspectives, a la, the Rashomon effect.

And the KLM to KLF thing was a typo. People make mistakes - myself included!

Bill Hicks does a good job of explaining my thoughts on the matter:

But on a more serious note, while I somewhat agree that not all marketing is evil, some absolutely is. I do not consider the marketing that cigarette companies did to knowingly hook kids on an addictive, cancer causing substance a good thing; I find it rather evil. Since it can be used for evil, I would rather make it as difficult as possible for them to use it against me. It might be a mostly pointless exercise, but it makes me feel better about it.

Even Bill Hicks relied on marketing to advertise his shows.
Was he tracking all of his fans?
Once again someone fails to separate passive marketing that provides knowledge about a product and allows customers to decide, from active marketing that seeks to manipulate and deceive.
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