There is undoubtedly a great deal of cultural criticism of advertising, but I'm looking for a certain angle on the topic. For Marx, the commodity is the primary "atom" of capitalist society and the economic bearer of value. The individual enters into the commodity nexus as a seller of labor power and, of course, as a consumer enacting the "realization" of the commodity's value.

But with the advent of advertising in the 19th century, all the way up to modern social media, the advertising industry effectively produces and sells back to the capitalist bundled "audiences" as a commodity, with both use value and exchange value, measured in things like clicks or "market share." So here, the worker enters into the commodity nexus in a third way, as a raw input and component of thousands of commodified "audiences."

Can anyone recommend discussions along this line? I find works on advertising as hegemony, semiotics, or "spectacle" but haven't run across anything dealing with production of advertising "audiences" in the commodity-value terms of classical Marxism.

3 Answers 3


I know it is not much as I do not know which works have been translated but generally the guy to look into if you want to read about advertising in the context of (early) critical theory is Walter Benjamin.

For example, there are meditations on advertisements in his 1928 book One-Way Street but also through other works. The references are too wide-spread to nail down for me atm though.

Maybe this essay can help you to track down more places to start with.


I’m not sure there is a reliable field called “marketing” today. Marketing itself can’t really reliably deliver the customer anymore. I’m thinking of marketing as mass marketing.

The key is the isolation of the subject (isolation of the person). There are relatively few really successful Arcades/Malls. Places of bourgeois display. Display of the goods, and shoppers wearing the goods while they shop for goods. People parking and displaying their car and lifestyle. Social places for display, like churches and other such places, are disappearing. These places were places of the possibility of some kind of human verbal communication too, however truncated.

Well we have the Internet. But the Internet more and more just offers the “take”. People can assemble a “movie set” of goods around themselves and then deliver some kind of clever take unrelated to the goods surrounding them. But the set can be “struck”, changed in order to produce another take. There is really no back and forth communication at all.

Human direct in-person social intercourse, and even business intercourse, are even seen as “friction”. Avoid this friction by “communicating” through the computer. You are given the pre-made “choice” of things and services that really is no choice at all.

The consumer-buyer wants more and more a life of “no friction”. No human contact. A “masturbatory” existence. The consumer good itself becomes ever more reified, and precious, in an almost sexual way. And all reification is a forgetting (Adorno), you don’t see the laborer-maker, the salesman, even the delivery person you don’t have to see them. All is preserved for “alone-time” and the ecstasy of the “unboxing” of the item and so on.

(This is actually the stripped down human being we are dealing with. Bare existence. See the “humans” in Samuel Beckett’s novels and plays).

So Benjamin’s Arcades, Adorno’s Culture industry seems to have largely passed to me. (I could be very wrong). I can’t help but think of Marcuse’s treatment of the death drive that could be activated if people are too rich, and too isolated. And whatever work Frankfurt school did on reification is still very important, I think.

[To get a feel for the Beckett-like character of our present world see, The necessity of art : a Marxist approach by Fischer, Ernst, 1899-1972, author. Fischer was ahead of his time. So was Beckett. Ours is a world where humans merely “pass the time” until they die.]

  • Ahhh. But how could I have forgotten the horror of the possibilities Zuckerberg’s Metaverse TM.? Linking perfectly an isolated, masturbatory mankind with buying opportunities.
    – Gordon
    Oct 17, 2022 at 12:18
  • The Metaverse would be nothing but a forgetting. A complete reification and forgetting of the real possibilities of Mankind.
    – Gordon
    Oct 17, 2022 at 12:26
  • Step into the reification (the Thing of a complete fantasy world) and completely forget one’s real neighbor and the rest of mankind.
    – Gordon
    Oct 17, 2022 at 12:39

You work because you have to. Capitalists want you work for them - to exchange your labor for less money that your labor earns them, and then they profit.

In marxism every worker is forever enslaved, because he puts in a lot of work but gets little money out of that.

What happens if a worker reads an advert? He's thinking "oh, what a cool product! I will buy it, I will spend my hard-earned money on this gadget, and then I'll go to more work when I run out of money". So advertising to a client makes the client have less money, which forces the client to become a worker later.

On the other hand, if you don't watch adverts and you become a minimalist, you can save up money and become a producer. And if you invest in a business... rather than being a docile worker you become an aggressive competitor.

So for a capitalist advertisement is good, because it makes the worker poorer, and it makes the worker more reliant on paycheck.

  • 1
    Thank you for your answer. Since workers (anyone who has to work, no matter their lifestyle) do not own the "means of production" (or what we might today call majority shares in capital enterprises) or the means to reproduce themselves they must sell their labor no matter how affluent they may be or how little advertising they watch. Nor do I accept the idea of the origins of capital in Protestant virtue and thrift. You cannot simply watch less advertising, buy less, and therefore save enough to acquire majority shares in capital enterprises. Sep 17, 2022 at 3:27
  • You know when I read about Marxism in history class I immediately thought "well, it sucks to be a worker, I'd love to become capitalist one day". And I'm so damn close. I'd say you don't even need majority shares in big enterprises. You simply need some shares in some enterprises. Or just house and solar panels. Or some crypto/gold/silver. Anything that you put aside and it grows. Then you're so strongly ahead of those poor people who took out student loans for humanities, car loans and too many children. Sep 17, 2022 at 19:03
  • It is certainly possible for some people to get out of the labor market, but obviously not for everyone or even a majority. I would define that as owning enough "capital" so that your money makes enough money that you don't have to work. It is obviously relative to your lifestyle. But in theory that "rent" on capital should also cover the costs of "insuring and managing" the capital, as well as staying ahead of inflation and taxation, while also "reproducing" yourself as labor, in other words, raising a family. That would make you a rentier not a capitalist proper. Sep 18, 2022 at 18:55

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