7 Warning Signs Of Advertising Disguised As Articles
The Internet is Advertising Park. We built a wonderful place with amazing technology and thought we could pay for it by keeping advertising safely behind borders where people could look at it and maybe sometimes pet its pretty fur. But the advertising has broken loose now, eating and shitting on everything. These consumervores are clever. Some sneak up on their prey by disguising themselves as real articles, like this extended advertisement for buttered coffee.
And since that specific article is the one currently on a predatory rampage, I'm going to use it for every following example. Here's what to look out for so you don't get swallowed by the angry, gaping maw of predatory advertising cleverly disguised as articles.
The difference between a writer and a press secretary is that a writer thinks about their words; the secretary just copies them down and pumps them out. Bloomberg writer Gordy Megroz (the buttered coffee guy from the intro) writes like a mother bird, not even chewing the copy before regurgitating it all over his helpless audience. In his most secret dreams he's jealous of the photocopier, which can at least sometimes refuse to copy something without immediately being removed from the workplace.
"If only I had your creative integrity, Xerox 914."
The article's introduction accepts more crazy bullshit than Arkham's vegetable garden. Bulletproof Coffee founder Dave Asprey apparently found an ancient Taoist formula for how many days men should wait between orgasms ("age minus 7, divided by 4"). Later he casually states that fruit is Kryptonite and must be avoided. Gordy doesn't ask a single question about either, at least not that he reports on. Sweet Seshat, Gordy, that sort of lunacy is why we send humans instead of speech-recognition software. C-3PO would call bullshit on those, and he's a robot slave designed only to pass on messages while not eating or having genitals.
If a man says apples are my enemy and that I need to wait a week between orgasms, I need to know why he thinks that. And whether he's allowed outside on his own. Does he have knives? That sort of thing. A writer who'd ignore insanity like that would report on an alien invasion by asking the Xenomorphs if they had any hot new products for a shinier carapace. If Gordy were hired to profile a teenage boy, he'd report them as a self-described "Sex Monster" and breathlessly gush on how many girls from out of town he'd totally touched on the boob and the butt.
"This hot new talent has slept with 'loads' of people! WADDA SCOOP!"
The article opens in awe of Asprey guzzling a score of pills first thing in the morning and hailing him as a biohacking genius. Maybe if his anti-orgasm intellect would let him eat some Earth food he wouldn't have to Pac-Man his breakfast.
Metrics Replace Qualifications
If an article starts with someone's social media stats instead of real qualifications, it's very likely because they don't have any real qualifications. But those thousands of Twitter followers are all the site cares about. The way humans listen to the popular people is why we invented qualifications in the first place. So we'd know the difference between someone who actually understands what they're talking about and pretty idiots plunging the kingdom into plague and poverty because of their superstitious beliefs.
"I've unleashed more disease than the Umbrella corporation, LOL!"
From this point, the piece is presented as a "profile" of the new product's inventor, in the same way the national anthem is a "profile" of a country. The article gushes all over Asprey like they've just had 20 oysters, two bottles of wine, and an hour of vigorously lubricated sex. Asprey is a genius. Asprey is well-traveled and wise. Other people who just happen to be in the room when the writer walks in can't help but chime in about Asprey's wonderful nature. If Captain Kirk beamed down to offer an orgy with Spock and the Greek myth of Narcissus, it would still be less of an adoring fantasy. The primary research in this article was investigating if it's possible to write about a man with your mouth full.
Something You Use Every Day Is Toxic!
"Toxic" used to be a warning. Now it's a sales pitch. But it's still a sign you should beware. The difference is that now you must avoid articles containing "toxins" instead of products. Because with fad foods it's not enough to just enjoy something. It has to be the only safe option in a world of poison. Asprey likes his coffee with a stick of butter and a squirt of coconut oil, and that's fine. It's nowhere near the oddest or most enjoyable thing anyone has done with either.
"I think this could help with our 'downstairs sandpapering.'"
But the article conjures those magical minions of the superfood sorcerer, the insidious "toxins." Toxins are to modern media as devils were to the Medieval Church -- invisibly everywhere, and to blame for all the things really caused by human laziness and stupidity. So you'd better give them money and rearrange your life around their beliefs.
Asprey explains that most coffee beans contain mold and that mold is toxic. That, uh, that really was his entire point. But everything is toxic. Anything can act as a poison, because anything can interfere with your cells' operations. Your own cell products can interfere with your cell operations. Water can poison you if you drink enough, and people have managed it. The important point isn't the poison but the dosage. When someone says something is toxic without mentioning the dosage, it's because the only dose you're getting is one of bullshit.
"No, getting a headache when you try to spell the chemical DOESN'T mean
it's giving you 'mind cancer.'"
Which doesn't stop Asprey expounding on how only he bothers to filter out these filthy fungal poisons. Neatly implying that every other coffee chain on the planet is a cheapskate servant of the fungal Mi-go, distributing poisons that haven't had any effect on anyone anywhere for decades but are clearly just waiting for their chance to strike.
Asprey made a ton of money early in the cloud-computing business when his employer was acquired and he walked off with millions. I'm not saying he's the cookie-cutter cliche of the dissatisfied rich person who doesn't feel they've achieved anything useful, because actions speak louder than words and his action was deciding to trek through Nepal and Tibet and up the Himalayas. It couldn't have been more of a crisis if he'd torn up the mountain slopes in a red Ferrari full of cheerleaders and DC Comics characters.
Not that he got far up the trail. He decided butter in tea was the magic formula that made him feel, and I quote the article, "superhuman." On the mountainous path to mystic enlightenment he didn't get past the starting line refreshment trolley.
"Eureka!" he cried, while the Sherpas pulled on their boots ready to start. "I have found what I have been searching for!"
"You ... you sure?" they ask, nervously fingering their advance.
"Yes! This hot drink is what I shall build my new life around!"
"You, uh, really? Our tea? You don't want to go talk to a monk or anything?"
"And then he said the tea was wisdom! He'll literally piss away his chance for enlightenment!"
But Asprey's already dashing down the mountain, maddened by the cosmic insight of a foreign refreshment break, because everything foreign is automatically wise and great. Their eatery was his epiphany. We're lucky he didn't go a bit further east and end up deciding anime was everything. And now he says it works even better when you put the butter in coffee. Apparently a hungover comedy character trying to make breakfast was the key to discovering the super-soldier serum.
"Debate" The Professionals
In advertising features, the writer has to hunt down a doctor prepared to say something nice about the product. Here it didn't seem to be possible. The only doctor mentioned, Harvard Medical School's chairperson for nutrition, Dr. Walter Willet, said, "It sounds like another fad diet," and he went on to explain why it's a bad idea. The article's response? "Asprey argues otherwise." That's all! Just this guy, this guy who makes the thing to sell for money, disagrees with the medical professionals, and it's presented not just as a complete counter, but as a dismissive argument-clincher allowing them to move on. Literally the next line invokes a medical conspiracy.
"It ... it doesn't matter how well pure fat does in focus groups.
YOU STILL NEED TO EAT FOOD."
The only medical study presented to support Asprey's ideas was printed in 2014, long after he came up with those ideas, because Asprey replaces research with retrosearch (aka "Googling journals to find things that sort of agree with what you've already decided"). Professor Christopher Gardner of the Stanford University School Of Medicine said, "That study has been shredded." Not just peer reviewed or retracted but academically annihilated. In a world where research articles are called papers, he used the verb for utterly destroying paper.
How's this presented in the article? "But he's up against the medical establishment." Not only is he fighting a poisonous coffee conspiracy, he's up against every doctor in the world. He's persecuted by so many shadowy groups he's at serious risk of being played by Nicolas Cage.
Another quote from the article: "Although he has no medical training, Asprey likes to argue with doctors." Asprey is the incarnation of the Internexpert. Arguing with professionals, the computing riches, being wildly over-impressed by foreign snacks -- it's like the Internet congealed into a single person and still didn't become self-aware. He's such a solidification of online bullshit he has an online feud where he accuses a rival diet of killing Steve Jobs. This is the person who's being allowed to talk over doctors.
"I ... I don't think Hippocratic is the kind of oath I want to use right now."
Science Is Simple!
Superfood's battle cry is the science-substitute soundbite. That same smart feeling with zero effort or calories! The battle is marketing versus everything humanity has ever learned about itself. Never mind ignoring words that are hard to spell, superfood-science has to be easy to say. They need phrases that can be remembered by people who genuinely believe pomegranates are the key to immortality.
"Your hormones are made of saturated fat, your brain is made of fat, and the membrane of every cell in your body is made of fat," says Asprey, explaining why chugging butter is actually super double-secret good for you. Shit, if biology is that simple, why haven't we cured everything yet? Answer: If somebody is prepared to distill their medical knowledge into two sentences and sell it, they'd provide more useful biological insights by pissing into a test tube.
"I MADE A SCIENCE!"
Listen, if you want to butter your coffee, go for it! I've eaten and drunk worse and enjoyed it. By all accounts it's pretty nice. But don't try to justify your cholesteroccino by writing medical fan fiction.
"Kids' brains are developing, and the fat helps their cells grow." That's why he gives his 5- and 7-year-old kids an espresso shot in the morning. So how does he justify ignoring everything every doctor has ever said about nutrition? "I have years of my own bloodwork ... and if I start to die, I'll know it's not working." It really is the perfect summary of his ideas. He's a vortex of rich privilege. As long as he's OK, everything's fine. He's trying to redefine the human diet, and the idea that other people might be different hasn't even occurred to him. No wonder he argues with doctors: If he thinks biology is this simple, he must think medical textbooks are mainly about coloring in all the the organs.
"Hand me the red; I'm practicing a quadruple bypass."
Artisanally Expensive (For Your Health)
The payoff is quite literal. "Our coffee goes through extensive lab testing to make sure it doesn't contain toxins" -- once more implying that everyone else is sweeping coffee grounds from the floors of mercury-processing plants with their sore-covered bare hands. Which is why "Bulletproof Coffee" will cost twice as much as every other coffee. Even in Hollywood.
"We would have let a cat shit them out first, but somebody else
thought of that. So we rely on Asprey."
The fact that nutrition experts dismiss the whole thing as utter bullshit is presented as a window-dressing detail, rather than the demolition of everything Asprey and the author just spent 2,000 words pitching. And, make no mistake, this is a pitch. Parroting what someone else says without comment isn't objectivity, it's advertising. If you don't examine what you're writing you're automatically on your subject's side.
This idea of a neutral reporter is nonsense, especially when they're "neutrally" reporting advertising copy verbatim in the article's text. The only thing more tragic than these writers selling themselves as shills is that most of them aren't even getting paid extra for the work. As for Asprey: I'm genuinely glad you finally found something that makes you happy. But you haven't discovered that the key to happiness is buttering coffee. You've proved that the key to happiness is having enough millions of dollars to do whatever stupid bullshit you like.