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Ramsey Naja: The ad industry collects delusions

In the pantheon of fascinating psychological disorders, the Cotard Delusion is one of the most bizarre you can imagine – and it is not even one of those hip and fashionable ones usually associated with music celebrities or dieting. The disease that Jules Cotard, a French neurologist, identified back in 1880, is simply a person’s belief that they are dead.

It gets worse, believe me. Beyond the actual morbid thought in itself, symptoms can include the conviction that you are decomposing or that your internal organs are either disappearing or being replaced.

Now the idea of self-negation or self-putrefaction even, is tragic in itself. Nobody would want to see a loved one acting like an internally combusting zombie. But when it is a whole industry that is plagued by such delirium, it gets downright ridiculous.

Let’s face it, advertising is not exactly immune to delusions. Damn it, we seem to collect them. Delusions of grandeur, of importance, the delusion that interactive actually engages anyone beyond spotty little brats with too much time and devices at their disposal – even the delusion that our award winners will free the world of dictators, hunger, drought and halitosis. Except that we had not factored in that Cotard bit. Well, until recently, that is, because if you listen to conference speeches and that self-flagellation circus going around, you’d think the industry had met the kind of doomsday scenario that makes atheists rush to church.

But it is the belief that we are putrefying from within that is the most frightening. Everywhere you look, you see talented people spending inordinate amounts of time on temperamental gizmos and tech, relying on their PR fallout for notoriety, when the very nature of our business, as Monsieur Cotard would have said, is publicité. The world’s advertising surface, if we bother to look away from our walled-in ivory tower’s screens, is probably bigger than the global landmass; it is one gigantic advertising billboard that begs for frequent – and easy – refurbishment. Dr. Cotard also happens to be the inspiration behind his namesake in Marcel Proust’s A La Recherche Du temps Perdu – In Search Of Lost Time. I can’t think of anything that is more a propos.