MEDIA BLOG – Myles Thomas – A World Without Advertising



Non-commercial broadcasting and media. It’s a solution for all manner of problems ailing our tender nation… voter engagement, unaccountable governance, apathy, stupefaction, public education, science in schools, arts appreciation, cultural cringe… But no-one could’ve guessed that non-commercial media might solve the problem of crappy products and services that we all put up with each day.

You know the situation – you buy a cheap spade from Bunnings and it breaks within 6 months. Or you travel to Dunedin on JetStar and they cancel the return flight, refund the fare and leave you high and dry. Sure, this is a problem of cheap versusquality (though it’s getting to the point where cheap is all there is). It turns out that this is an issue of companies putting more resources into marketing than into their products and services.

This in itself is nothing new. The power of the Nike brand is common knowledge – production is cheap but invest in advertising and marketing because that is what drives sales.

A problem with this scenario for us consumers is that we pay twice. We put up with the advertising on TV, at the movies, radio and now even onboard Air NZ. And we pay more for the product itself as the manufacturers recover their hefty marketing and advertising budget.

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This alone is reason to ditch advertising – pay less for products and don’t put up with adverts on TV and radio.

But surely getting rid of all advertising would be impossible? Not in Sao Paulo, Brazil – the largest city in South America and fourth largest in the world. Seven years ago, Gilberto Kassab, then mayor of Sao Paulo outlawed billboards and large shop signs throughout the city. He had 70% support of Sao Paulistanos and 0% support of business, but it happened and the impact on the city has been surprising.

The film Pom Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold (a hyperactive one man documentary on product placement and recommended viewing) got to the nub of that impact. A Sao Paulo shop keeper explains how his company gets around the billboard ban, not by splashing out on other forms of advertising but with a crazy innovation.

“Today we work instead of investing in advertising, to have something that attracts the customer, our job is to look for referrals.”

Word-of-mouth is the marketing Sao Paulo businesses now use. That means improving customer satisfaction, by improving their products and services so that they are genuinely worthy of referrals and word-of-mouth.

The principle is so simple. Allowing advertising of products and services reduces the quality of those products and services, and we as consumers pay the price on many levels. Add that to all the other social ills created by commercial media – including Mike Hosking or Paul Henry on morning radio – and you have a pretty compelling argument for an ad-free world.


Myles Thomas – Coalition for Better Broadcasting 


  1. As much as I agree with the sentiments, a total cessation is utopian wishful thinking.

    But a better balance could certainly be achieved.

    We could make a start by ending the reign of the parasitical fly buy cards and related loyalty schemes.

    Well done Sao Paulo ,but they’re not the first. One of the great attractions of most of the European cities is the absence, or strict regulation, of advertising hoardings and signs on business premises. Where here in NZ we have to put up with city buildings alternating between canary yellow and sky-blue in colour, big red sheds; all smothered in “signage” etc, in Paris or Rome it is simply a discrete brass plate above the door or simple black and white name painted on the windows.

    • Very perceptive and interesting comment.

      However, the uncomfortable truth is that we have allowed ourselves to become a suburb of the USA, not a suburb of Europe.

      • Yes, so true in so many ways, but imo street advertising can be seen at its worst in cities of E Asia, even Vegas struggles to come close.

    • As much as I agree with the sentiments, a total cessation is utopian wishful thinking.

      Why? After all, it’s just an act of parliament.

    • you know, every time someone says “utopian wishful thinking” or similar to me… I smell bullshit

      we MUST be utopian, we MUST be wishful if we are ever to fix the massive problems we face globally and locally

      otherwise we are giving up

      I’m not ready to give up. are you?

  2. Without advertising ?

    The Banks would starve to death , there’d be peace throughout the world , babies wouldn’t need to die for a bullet makers profit , we would all rejoice in our cultural differences and people would perceive their lives to be longer and happier .

    Can’t have that .

  3. advertising adds nothing to the quality of our lives, yet it holds power we cannot even imagine, like moths to light.

  4. Consumerism, landfills and rampant waste, destruction of environment, depleting of non renewable natural resources, excess and destructive use of energy supplies, unnecessary and undesirable competition, fashion and redundancy, built in obsolescence, wastage, wastage and more wastage; all built around creating demand.

    The product end of the consumer chain is bad enough but the energy, resources and application of human time is equally as bad in the process of advertising..

    Without all that waste we would have more time to enjoy simpler and more purposeful lives.

    If economics is an excuse offered to justify killing us all along with the biosphere , then those economics are a problems as well.

  5. Ok I seem to remember that in Auckland (gosh it might even be almost ten years ago now) it was announced that there was too many billboards and they were going to be fazed out over a few years until they were completely banned. It was quite a talking point at the time because they were seen as a road hazard distracting drivers.
    However nowadays that has bern completely forgotten or ignored and there are more massive billboards than ever.
    Does anyone else remember this or am I just completely crazy lol

  6. “Today we work instead of investing in advertising, to have something that attracts the customer, our job is to look for referrals.”

    Strange that, is that not how it used to be, before we had mass media, like television, radio and now increasingly internet based information and communication services?

    It is actually total common sense, but with the incessant brain drumming we get 24/7 now, most of us have lost the ability to focus, to have our neurons function in a neutral, natural manner, without constant impulses that distract from what is supposed to be normal, internal, balanced thinking and decision making.

    The most shocking realisation is, that “advertising”, or at least intensive manipulation, through constant hammering with biased, simple, but intense short messages, is what nowadays seems to decide elections.

    We should stop advertising, also for political purposes, and allow only “non-enhanced” talk, print- and similar communication, without much music, visual and other effects distracting from actually relevant, core information.

    Stop also any polls 4 or even 6 weeks out from any election.

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