The Minimalist’s Guide To Avoiding Advertising

It’s hard to find anything good to say about advertising. While it’s impossible to completely avoid it, there are things people who are living simple, deliberate lives can do to limit their exposure to it.

I almost titled this post “Why My Afternoon Relationship With A Lesbian Needs To End“, but I was really excited to get some appropriate keywords into the title — and this post, you may be surprised to learn, isn’t really about lesbians. More on my afternoon trysts in a moment.

First, here’s a word about why it’s important to avoid advertising.

The Evils Of Advertising

Uh, actually, I don’t believe in evil. It’s all good. But advertising has a very limited role in my life because I try to avoid brain pollution.

It’s hard to find clean air, and there are these annoying little rocks in my well water that clog up the aerators on the faucets. Even my sheets don’t get washed often enough. But there’s no reason to live with a dirty and polluted brain.

Several years ago, I banned judge shows from my life. About the same time, I decided to avoid watching exploitative talk shows that air people’s dirty laundry in front of a live audience. In recent years, I understand that judge shows and exploitative talk shows have essentially merged into one thing. In any case, they’re both brain pollution.

Advertising — no matter whether it’s on billboards, in television shows, on the Internet or printed in a handy and easy-to-carry size — has at least three negative qualities that immediately come to mind.

In addition to its obvious and annoying tendency to persuade people to do consumerist things, it also pollutes creative brains with unnecessary information. Since I don’t eat at Boston Market, I don’t care what’s on sale there.

The infuriating and outrageous claims some advertisers make are a third reason to avoid advertising. These claim just make thinking people mad.

For example, one car dealer runs TV ads that make an amazing claim: “I can’t beat a new car deal in Texas, I’m just gonna give it to you.”

First, the sentence makes no sense grammatically because “new car” functions as an adjective modifying “deal”, so it’s the deal he’s just gonna give you. Second, it make no sense as an offer. If the guy can’t match another dealer’s $18,600 price, he’s going to give you the whole car — losing thousands — rather than knock off a few hundred so he can match the deal? Whatever he means, I’m sure he’s never given away a car.

Admitting To My Failings

Actually, I don’t really believe in failing. It’s all good. But I do sometimes see some advertising. My slight knowledge of car dealer ads stands as evidence.

If I’m working at home all day, I watch a little Live with Regis and Kelly while I’m having my breakfast. I also sometimes see 20 minutes of the Ellen Degeneres Show during my afternoon break. Years ago, it was Rosie O’Donnell who occupied those afternoon minutes. (And thus, my two lesbian trysts are revealed.) I even see a few minutes of TV before going to bed every evening.

And because I’m a writer, I enjoy reading Fort Worth Weekly, the local alt-weekly that runs two or three good news stories, a few reviews and lots of ads for things I don’t fully understand. (Since I’m gay, the Weekly‘s ad impact on me is limited. Only about 20 to 95 percent of the pitches apply to be me, judging by the photos.)

I’ll also admit to a bit of hypocrisy. I’ve written extensively for advertiser-supported publications in the past, and I have recently written ad copy. I’m not proud of that nor ashamed of it, but when I was reporter, journalists still believed in full disclosure.

Avoiding Advertising

I really don’t see how you can live in anywhere in the world where advertising is allowed and manage to avoid it. But here are a few ideas.

  • Forget the car radio. It has the silliest and nastiest of commercials anyway. Opt for a CD from a local band and support something good instead of something seedy.
  • Get acquainted with your DVD player. I like British comedies and dramas, and I watch them on DVD. I don’t watch any American-produced fictional programs, and that especially includes so-called “reality” programs — which belong in the brain pollution category. Broadcast television has too many commercials to be watchable anymore, sometimes offering more minutes of commercials per hour than programming.
  • Ditch the newspaper. I told you that I read an alt-weekly or two, but I rarely see the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The last time I did, the featured story in the Life section was a rerun of something that I had already seen in a weekly. Newspapers are advertiser supported, so they can’t survive without trying to bully you into buying something.
  • Reluctantly tune out of public television too. A couple of years ago, I would have suggested turning to public television and radio in the U.S. to avoid commercials, but budget cuts and bad decisions have removed them as an option. In this area, KERA television runs pledge drives — really just commercials for the station — almost every weekend and also for weeks at a time. During these times, they replace regular programming with music and lecture programs aimed at an older, wealthier audience and interrupt these every 20 minutes to beg for funds. Both their TV and radio station feature commercials between programs every day.
  • Guard your mailbox. Don’t let advertisers send their polluting messages into your home. When you get junk mail, call or email to unsubscribe from it. Whatever you do, don’t let it lure you into reading it. Your time and your life are worth more than that.

Of course, you can’t avoid billboard if you go anywhere at all. Restaurant tables are often crammed with promotions offering you add-ons that you don’t need. Sports teams are sponsored by mortgage companies and real estate agents. Advertisers even have the gall to call people’s homes to drum up business.

While cold turkey is a great strategy for quitting drinking, it doesn’t work for people addicted to food or controlled by advertising. You can’t avoid all advertising, but you can avoid intentionally placing yourself in its path. And you can avoid letting it suck you in.

What have I missed? What else can you do to limit your exposure to advertisers? Does it really matter?

Make more careful choices regarding advertising and perhaps you can go to bed tonight feeling a little cleaner, freer and lighter — even if you do still go for a tryst some afternoons.


  1. First of all, I’m really disappointed you didn’t title this post “Why My Afternoon Relationship With A Lesbian Needs To End.” 🙂

    Limiting our exposure to advertising absolutely helps in the level of influence it has over us. We can never completely eliminate it (aside from living in a cave without access to any media), but we can follow the steps you listed above to mitigate the damaging effects of advertising.

    1. I suppose getting it into the text will have to do… although using that title might have gotten me more readers than the keywords will!

  2. Great post, Gip, and excellent advice.

    An alternative to local commercial radio, or even recorded music, might be public radio, where you can hear intelligent talk about a wide range of topics. Except, of course, when they have their week-long Beg-A-Thons a few times a year.

    For video programming, an alternative to DVDs, if you have a good internet connection, is downloading or streaming. This is a way to watch while avoiding the commercials – not only can you avoid the advertising (except product placement, which keeps getting more and more obvious), but you can watch a 30 minute show in 20, or an hour show in 40 minutes.

    Don’t forget online advertising either – unsubscribe or opt-out of marketing email from reputable retailers, and spam-filter the rest. Use Firefox with Ad-Block Plus to reduce your exposure to ads on the web.

    1. I was afraid my teaser was too obvious. But it was too good not to put in.

      You’re right about shops themselves. Product packages themselves are ads.

  3. You’re speaking my language, Gip.

    Though the desperate persuasion tactics, useless information, and outrageous claims in marketing don’t nearly rile me as does the endless insults to my intelligence, and the arrogance with which much of it is presented.

    Another great article I hope everyone reads.

    1. I’m glad you liked this one. With all the useful comments I’m getting, it looks like I need to make a 2.0 version with some additional comments and suggests.

      Good to hear from you.

    1. I appreciate you commenting on this, Jenny. Sorry I didn’t respond sooner. It’s good to hear from you. It’s been a long time!

  4. I resonate with every word you write, Gip! As a Brit living in NZ my no 1 loss is the BBC, but I get over the ads by doing as you suggest and watching everything recorded via my DVR and fast forwarding through the ads.

    Check out NZ’s public radio podcasts though – some good stuff there.

    1. I don’t watch much of anything on broadcast TV. It just doesn’t make sense for me to waste time with commercials. I waste enough time as it is!

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