Instructions from Advertising: How to Live?

Robin Baum
6 min readJan 1, 2024

Advertising is a massive text in public space. However, hardly anyone will read it as a novel or non-fiction book, which is a pity. Instead, we have learned to accept the tyranny of marketing as a necessary evil in the flywheel of consumption — with the result that our ability to ignore this blaring has reached a considerable extent.

To counter this disregard, I have regularly gotten off my bike for the past two years and photographed billboard advertising in my city (Cologne, Germany). In doing so, I follow the lovely little book “The Goods” by Emanuele Coccia, who makes the intriguing suggestion to understand goods and their advertising as THE conversation in which society negotiates its True, Good, and Beautiful. Coccia sees goods as “an immense iconic and conceptual reflection of the world and its elements, and thus at the same time of human happiness, its forms, and possibilities.” Advertising stages life in the desired state, embedding products and services.

As exhibition spaces for goods (shops) and surfaces for advertising (posters), the city’s walls have a special significance, as they are the historically constant medium through which society has communicated with and about itself for centuries. Therefore, the photographic focus is on billboard advertising. To organize the results, I post the claims in three parts: 1. How to Live? 2. You’re Okay, and 3. You Need Change.

The first part thus answers the question, “How to Live?”. Advertising continuously suggests what to do and how we should think, feel, or act. Naturally, this leads to considerable contradictions in the broad spectrum; this makes advertising an insightful mirror of the conflicting values within which we must find our way in everyday life.

The first half of the pictures shows the announcements as pure text, i.e., without the context of the specific advertising (translated from German, of course). This form shows much more clearly with which motif, topos, or meme we are being addressed. The second half of this post shows the photos on which the statements are based.

Originally published at https://diedinge.net on January 1, 2024.

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Robin Baum

Design practitioner with a background in media/culture theory.