Over the past couple of weeks, those of us who live in the UK have been subjected to this advert for the Amazon Kindle:
In it, young children sit in parks and other lovely outdoor places that children who actually have Kindles probably don’t actually visit any more. The kids talk about how much they love reading (on their Kindles) and how they love to lose themselves in the book, get to know the characters and all those other lovely things that reading has been for so many children for centuries before Amazon came along.
So, why, I asked myself, did this advert make me so angry? I love books, I love children and I think that getting young people to feel those very feelings is nothing short of heroic. So why was I so irrationally angry to see it happening? Sure, I hate that they’re reading Kindles instead of books, and I suspect that in ten years when they see that kids who did it another way can still revisit their childhood memories through yellowed and dog-eared books, the children in the advert might too. But at the end of the day, if children are reading, even on a Kindle, it’s better than not reading at all.
So I spent weeks trying to figure out exactly why this advert promoted such rage in me. Then I realised. It reminded me of a scene from Mad Men when Don Draper tells the executives from Hershey’s Chocolate that he can’t create a cheesy ad for the chocolate bar that signified what it was to be a child. Don says ‘if it were up to me you wouldn’t advertise. You shouldn’t have someone like me telling a boy what a Hershey bar is. He already knows.’
And that’s my problem with this advert. Though they claim that it is the Kindle that creates the magic feeling of joy and adventure when a child reads, what they’re describing is a story. And you don’t have to advertise stories because those of us who love them already know. We get it.
Sure, books are products which are marketed, publishers compete for attention and authors make themselves into brands, but at the end of the day, every author, editor, publisher, literary agent and every reader knows that none of it matters as much as the story itself.
I used to think that there were some things that couldn’t be given a price tag. Some things that were so precious and unique and intangible that no matter how pervasive capitalism got, no one could ever bottle and brand and market and peddle. And that feeling the advert describes, that wonderful feeling that we already know was one of them. It’s not the Kindle that creates magic. It’s the story. And no one owns stories.
Amazon can sell books. They can produce books. They can even control the way we find, access and even read books. But what you can’t do, what no advertising campaign and no brand can ever capture, is the storytelling. Stories are the antithesis of the giant international conglomerate, the uniform and universal, stale and impersonal company. Stories are deeply personal. They are tied to places and things and families and memories. In my opinion, books and the very impulse to write them are just an attempt to extend the feeling of gathering around the fire to hear the news or snuggling up in bed with a parent to read one more chapter before the lights go out. That feeling should be sacred. It doesn’t belong to anyone and no matter how much money you spend on advertising, it’s nobody’s to package and sell and profit from.
I’m posting an abridged version of this as a comment on the video, so if you agree, consider liking it and getting it up to the top for others to read. Then consider boycotting Amazon if, like me, you don’t want to think about a world that can commoditize the unique and magical feeling of being swept away by a story.