Advertisements are everywhere. As human attention has become the essential precursor to creating product demand and at times even the product itself, advertisements have become a continuous presence in all aspects of life: news articles, (electronic) letters, movies, public transports, even on cars and urban apartment buildings.
However, some spaces seem surprisingly resistant to being converted into ad space. Important parameters for potential ad space should be the frequency of information-transmitting interactions with potential customers and the “stickiness” of these interactions in terms of memorability and actual conversion into product sales. Based on these criteria one would think that human names, funerals, classroom interiors and high school course materials would be prime targets for marketing companies, but I am not aware of major successes in placing ads in those spaces. Narrowly considered, this seems irrational, as “being made aware of a brand” seems a small price that we happily pay every time we venture into public space or open a website. On the other hand, the gain from allowing a Microsoft ad in the corner of the blackboard, for instance, might be a substantial increase in funds for our childrens’ education, a major concern for most people. I suggest that the explanation might lie in constructing human preferences more broadly.
This paradox is similar to other situations, like child labor or perhaps kidney transplants, that I recently discussed with my esteemed co-blogger: We intuitively feel that these are sacred/heroic spaces of emotional import upon which the reality of a world with many tradeoffs and hardship should not intrude. This meta-preference for being part of a more pleasant narrative of the human condition seems to be strong enough to outweigh the elevated living standards and happiness that could be gained by having more money in a less romantic version of our tale of humanity. To put it in a somewhat crude metaphor, we would rather starve and sacrifice a lamb in the temple than eat the lamb and be made to question our mythical view of the world.