We all find ads annoying, but either think they don’t affect us, or tolerate them as the price of services we want, such as YouTube, Instagram, newspapers and so on. But what if we knew that advertising was making us unhappy?
Well, a 2019 study of around 1 million Europeans suggests this might be the case. The study looked at approximately 1 million randomly-sampled European citizens across 27 nations over three decades. It found that increases in national advertising expenditure were followed by significant declines in levels of life satisfaction. That was even after adjusting for a range of other variables, including personal and economic characteristics of individuals, and big changes to the business cycle, like oil price spikes.
But even if countries spend a lot on advertising, there are ways you can personally reduce the amount of advertising in your life.
Can advertising be as bad as losing your job?
The authors of the study calculated that if you doubled advertising spending, it would tend to result in a three percent drop in life satisfaction. They note that’s about half the drop in life satisfaction you’d see in a person who had gotten divorced, or about one-third the drop you’d see in someone who’d become unemployed(!).
This study is far from being definitive in proving that advertising causes us to be less happy, or that it accounts for all of the change. But if we think about how advertising works, it doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable. Every advertising message is trying to tell us that we are not as happy as we could be without the advertiser’s product in our lives. They often prey on our insecurities, and leave us with cravings to be satiated. At least according to Buddhist philosophy, that is at the centre of all our discontentment.
Even if we take a much more conservative view of the harm caused by advertising, it still seems worth trying to do something about it. At the least, we can at least reduce the everyday annoyance it causes us. Here is my list of ways you can reduce advertising in your life:
Ways to reduce the amount of advertising in your life
- Use an ad blocker. There are loads available for different browsers, and for mobile devices. I use AdBlock Plus on Firefox 📵
- Spend less time on the devices that serve you advertising: phones, laptops, TVs etc 👨💻
- Subscribe to services, rather than using free (ad-supported) models. Examples include Spotify Premium and Netflix. But remember that some of these streaming services are still trying to ‘sell’ you more of their own ‘products’ within the platform. And worse, others charge you to subscribe, and then still serve you ads 📺
- If you have an e-Reader, such as a Kindle, buy one of the ones without ads, even if they’re a bit more expensive 📖
- Reduce your social media usage. Social media can be particularly bad – it’s not always clear what is advertising, versus an influencer who happens to use a particular product 🤳
- Regularly clear the cookies on your internet browsers, so you get less of the creepy stalker ads 🍪
- Change your shopping habits: ideally, have a recurring online grocery shop that you don’t have to change much. Or if not, use (recurring) shopping lists, and only buy those products when you’re in the store. I reduce my shopping by eating Huel for about 2/3 of my meals 🛒
- For things that you buy online, try writing down the specifications you want beforehand. Then just find one with those specifications, rather than getting drawn into comparing the ins and outs of several products. You can even set a countdown timer for making the purchase to minimise the exposure you’ll have ⏳
- If you’re watching TV that has ads, try muting the sound while the ads are on. Similarly, you can turn the radio down when the ads come on, or listen to a station without ads. Instead, you could use the ads as a mindfulness trigger 📻
- Avoid buying publications that are full of advertising 📰
- Where possible, buy products without large logos 👕
- Unsubscribe from email lists you’re on, and avoid subscribing to new ones (apart from this one, of course 😇). If you just start with each newsletter as it comes in, you’ll quickly whittle them down 📥
- Where websites give you the option of opting out of advertising, do so 🖥
- Avoid ‘scammy’ websites and apps that you know are likely to contain a lot of ads. Those that cater to ‘vices’, such as pornography, are particularly likely to have ads, as are ‘free’ games 🎰
- Regularly reset your advertising ID so that advertisers learn less about you. Here’s how to do it on Android and iPhone 📱
- Rearrange the apps on your phone and/or computer to ‘hide’ the ones where you’re more likely to see advertising, such as games and gambling 📲
- Remove bookmarks from your bookmarks bar that function like adverts (e.g. for Amazon, Netflix etc.)
- Use a read it later app, like Pocket, to read articles you find online. These apps usually strip out the advertising for you 👩🏫
- Use a service to stop you getting junk mail. Or if you’re in the UK, remove yourself from the electoral register 📬
- Use a different email address if you need to sign up for something but don’t want to get spammed. You can use 10minutemail if it’s something you’ll only need short term 📧
- Try rethinking the advertising you do see, rather than trying to ignore. Take a second to think ‘what is this telling me’? e.g. “this will make you more popular”, “this will help you procreate” etc. 🤔