Ads Mimicking Art

Advertising, however intelligent Google is, can be confusing. I was reading an article this morning from the website of The New Yorker. It is an article written by award-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri, in Italian, and translated into English, about her journey into the Italian language. Now, I’m scrolling through the article, completely immersed, ignoring all the advertisements on the right side of the page, when I am uprooted from my interest in her story by a graphic. It’s a black and white cartoonish drawing, with a quote in block print underneath. Typically, when an image has a quote under it, that signals that it is sampled from the article or story to grab your attention, right? Well this one did grab my attention, but I couldn’t seem to make any kind of connection between the quote and the story. Then I noticed that below the quote is a hyperlink that reads: “buy the print.” The image was an ad!

I, as a consumer, am used to in-your-face advertising, feel-good-story advertising, i-won’t-go-away-until-you-click-me advertising. What I am not used to, however, is advertising that mimics the form of content so seamlessly. This ad grabbed my attention because I thought of it as a standard part of the content, which I had reached and should thus pay attention to. This seems to me to be what Dickens did. He blended the advertising and the art so well that, while it may be clear looking back what was an ad, it had the reader fooled. The descriptions of food in A Christmas Carol are a great example of this: Dickens is selling Christmas, not just writing about it. And while Jhumpa Lahiri was not the person who chose to place that ad, engineered in that manner, in that specific location, it nonetheless is mimicking the form of online journalism so well that it is, at first, indistinguishable from the article, in the same way as Dickens and his food.

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