Bob Hoffman
Mar 2, 2020

The Ad Contrarian: Sugar and technology

Data, measurement and mathematics are important aspects of advertising when consumed in reasonable quantities. But when the craving for numbers becomes a mania, there are sure to be unintended consequences.

The Ad Contrarian: Sugar and technology

For a good part of human history food didn't taste so good. That's why spices from the Far East were such treasured commodities in the West.

In the 17th century sugar imported from New Guinea and India became more easily available in England and started becoming very popular. One of the prime reasons was that it made tea taste a lot better.

But Brits went overboard on it. They couldn't get enough. In 1700 the average Brit consumed about four pounds of sugar a year. By 1900 the annual per capita consumption was 90 pounds.

Until experience kicks in you never know what the effects are going to be. At first, they didn't know about the effects sugar had on teeth.

It is reported that Queen Elizabeth's teeth turned black from sugar. Not that long ago, many women in England had their teeth pulled in their 20s.

The point is, when something comes along that magically satisfies a craving, there can be harsh and unintended consequences.

In the 20th century the advertising industry had a gaping hole. We had very little scientifically reliable information on the efficacy of advertising. Mostly what we had were anecdotes and case histories—in other words, bullshit tarted up to look like facts.

The 21st century brought us technology. And with technology came the promise of science and an enormous appetite for data, measurement and mathematics.

Data, measurement and mathematics are important aspects of advertising when consumed in reasonable quantities. But when the craving for numbers becomes a mania, there are sure to be unintended consequences.

We humans are emotional creatures. The release from deprivation tends to create an obsession for that of which we have been deprived. Ask any sailor.

We ad humans have been kicked around for so long because our discipline has been devoid of the benefits of reliable science, that when technology came along we went from four pounds to 90 in about three seconds. We are swallowing all the technology we can stuff into our mouths as quickly as we can regardless of its relevance, reliability, authenticity, or the detrimental effects (corruption, fraud, scandals, political and social disruption, the deteriorating quality of our product) it is having on our industry.

Desperately hungry for the gratification of science, we are gorging on technology and finding that our frenzied indulgence is rotting our teeth.


Bob Hoffman is the author of four best-selling books about advertising, a popular international speaker on advertising and marketing, and the creator of 'The Ad Contrarian' newsletter and blog, where this post first appeared. Earlier in his career he was CEO of two independent agencies and the US operation of an international agency. His latest book, 'Advertising For Skeptics', is now available.

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