13 Jan


“Advertising may be described as the science of arresting human intelligence long enough to get money from it.”

Stephen Leacock, The Perfect Salesman, in The Garden of Folly (1924).

Readers who’ve been interested in some of the resistance by artists to certain vanity art businesses and finishing schools (a great analogy pointed out by Gillian McIver) and the subsequent angry push back from them may still be wondering why anybody would have anything to do with them when their publicity material is so obviously daft and amateur, when there is no credible evidence whatsoever that they benefit the artists who pay them, when the people who run them seemingly can’t say or do anything without showing themselves up as not quite the full shilling or as obvious charlatans, and when no artist or professional in any credible sector of the arts has a good word to say for them.

The answer is depressing, but actually quite straightforward. Quite a lot of serious research has already been done to try and make some sense of the mystifying phenomenon. One paper on the subject is linked below. Some people who run the kinds of businesses designed to target artists for the extraction of money seem far too dense and far too lacking in genuine commercial savvy to be doing it deliberately, but even in those cases the ineptitude and arrant stupidity of their advertising and the patent emptiness of their promises are all features, not bugs. Quite simply, if you’re bright enough, experienced enough, cynical enough or trust your gut feelings enough to look at what these companies are offering and immediately sense that something is amiss… they just don’t want you. They don’t want intelligent, questioning, independent thinkers. Although we shouldn’t make the mistake of primarily blaming the victims rather than the perpetrators, nonetheless it is a fact that the compliant, the naive, and the desperate do continually make themselves victims of scammers or exploitative schemes by virtue of their own compliance, naivity, and desperation.

“Finally, this approach suggests an answer to the question in the title. (NOTE: ‘Why do Nigerian Scammers Say They are from Nigeria?’) Far-fetched tales of West African riches strike most as comical. Our analysis suggests that is an advantage to the attacker, not a disadvantage. Since his attack has a low density of victims the Nigerian scammer has an over-riding need to reduce false positives. By sending an email that repels all but the most gullible the scammer gets the most promising marks to self-select, and tilts the true to false positive ratio in his favor.”

Microsoft research paper by Cormac Herley.


  1. Alistair 11/02/2014 at 6:52 PM #

    Reblogged this on Alistair Gentry.


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