Black Ops Advertising


Mara Einstein, OR Books, 248 pages, $18. If Mara Einstein’s “Black Ops Advertising” is right, we’re in for a possible future where nearly everything becomes hidden commercial propaganda of one form or another. She forecasts the potential of a “world where there is no real content: Everything we experience is some form of sales pitch.” Einstein, a former advertising executive turned media professor (who, among other things, worked campaigns for Miller Lite), makes it clear that things were not always this way. Once upon a time the line between editorial and advertising, if not exactly a Chinese wall, was somewhat clearer. Einstein’s well-researched and accomplished book is mainly about the effort to tear down that wall. “Black Ops” presents some startling examples of stealth advertising. The book is slightly guilty of exaggerating the novelty of present-day advertising techniques. In the 1980s, “The Transformers” and “G.I. Joe” were popular children’s cartoons but also advertisements, and so of course was the much beloved “Mickey Mouse Club.” The difference now, Einstein argues, lies in how much effort is going toward the dark arts. It is, she suggests, for one simple reason: that we, the public, are so good at avoiding or ignoring traditional advertising. Einstein too quickly discards the most important remedy for advertising’s abuses: paying for content. However, the book is a reminder that ad-supported entertainment is a relatively recent invention whose future is insecure. From this perspective, the rise of black ops advertising may be less a sign of power than of desperation.