It has been 40 years since I first started to make the distinction between advertising and advertisements. I was by no means the first to do so but it still hasn’t caught on. Patient friends have told me that I’m being pedantic; that the distinction is a false one and entirely unnecessary. Whole books have been written about ‘advertising’ as if all advertising campaigns – all advertisements – were identical in their intention. Critics do the same thing: the unacknowledged assumption is that advertising’s only role is to sell things to people.
The conflation (and confusion) of medium and message is not restricted to advertising. Something called ‘television’ has often been held responsible for a decline in morality and manners and an increase in casual violence. But if any such relationship exists, it will be as a result not of the presence of television as a medium but of specific television programmes. It’s true that the very existence of television, irrespective of specific content, may well divert people from alternative activities such as reading – and so have an adverse effect on literacy. But that’s about the only legitimate use of any sentence starting, ‘The trouble with television…’