by The Inmate
There was hardly a soul in the firm who was not perfectly well aware that publicity– advertising– is the dirtiest ramp that capitalism has yet produced.
—George Orwell, Keep the Aspidistra Flying
One of the more pressing questions of existence is this: Where did car salesmen come from? Were they created or did they evolve? Their lineage can be traced back through insurance salesmen, horse traders, tax gathers, lawyers, politicians and finally the first advertisers–those street criers who roamed the ancient cities announcing the sale of slaves, cattle and imports. These people may have initially learned their trade from Solon(638-539 B.C) who, Plutarch tells us, was probably responsible for giving bad things nice names. For example, harlots became mistresses, jails became chambers, and tributes became customs. What is advertising if it is not giving a name to something in order mask its reality?
The problem becomes more complicated when we ask, “Where did advertisers come from?” Is God responsible? No way. The recent advertising campaign with quotes attributed to God is obviously a sham. God does his own advertising and it’s impressive. Evolution? Impossible! If it were evolution the advertisers would have been the ones climbing out of the slimy muck predating a T-Rex by more than 200 million years. The question is an unanswerable one and really does not matter because regardless of how one answers it advertisers will still be here.
One of the more annoying forms of advertising is telemarketing. Our household gets at least two or three calls a week and sometimes two or three a day. The new thing now is for salespeople to use a first name as if they are a friend: “Hello. Is John home?” There are two tactics to use with telemarketers. Hang up or annoy them with a steady stream of sarcasm until they hang up. Here are some things you might say:
“I am so intimate with my spouse and we love each other so much and we have sex so often that I know he would not be interested in this. Thank you.”
After the long pause: “Hello? Hello? Hello? Hello? Hello? Hello?” until they hang up.
“I’m fine this evening. How are you? Are you having a good day? Is your life playing out the way you expected it to? How’s your family? What are you doing this weekend? Read anything good lately? How are your interpersonal relationships?”
“I’m fine, but I’m worried about you–calling people you don’t know. This is not normal behavior. I really think you might need some psychiatric help and as luck would have it I am a psychiatrist. Now let me ask you a few questions.”
“You know, I know this is something that can change my life and I have been waiting for a phone call from your company and I am prepared to spend millions if not billions on whatever you want to sell me because I know that my life will not be the same until I have your product or your service and I am so excited about this that I am willing to sacrifice the serene evening I was enjoying just to talk to you . . .” Keep talking like this. Don’t let them speak. They’ll hang up.
There are so many forms of insulting advertisements that it would take a series of books and several million megabytes of disk space to chronicle them adequately. There are billboards, radio ads, print ads and product packaging. Everything is “new” or “improved” or caters to baser instincts: Do you want meaningless sex with gorgeous people? Drink our beer. Do you really want to impress the people you secretly hate? Lease this car. An analysis of almost any commercial will reveal an absurd, often untrue and insulting message.
Network television commercials are the worst. So often not only are they insulting but they are deceptive, manipulative and false. You do not care about your children if you do not buy an expensive car or particular tires. A few years ago a car commercial stated that Americans get the least amount of vacation in the industrialized world. To remedy this their comfortable car would give overworked Americans a vacation every time they drove it. Sorry, most likely they will be driving it more often to work to get overtime to pay for the damn thing. A recent car commercial offers sanctuary from mediocrity in their leather seats. Local news commercials attempt to convince viewers that inconsequential, trivial, insignificant events are of extreme importance.
Why is advertising so ridiculous? The possible answers to this question will not be comforting. 1) Advertisers think all people are idiots–except themselves, of course. 2) All people are idiots. 3)Advertising works proving point number 2. 4)Advertisers are idiots. 5) This stuff works on Corporate Management so they assume that it will work on everyone else thus proving that Corporate Management is predominantly full of idiots. 6)Advertising does not work, all people are not idiots, but the high cost of advertising drives down everyone’s standard of living. 7)Network television management hopes stupid advertisements will make their flawed, miserable shows seem more entertaining.
I have always thought that an honest advertisement would be most refreshing. Can you imagine hearing something like this on television?
A man walks in front of car on a white floor with a white background and says, “Our car is not the best car on the market. It’s not going to solve your personal problems. Since we make millions of them a year it will not indicate your individuality to those around you. I have never seen beautiful women or handsome men sitting on it, in it or staring at it. It looks like a lot of other cars. You’ll probably have to deal with some assholes at the car dealership to buy it. But this car will get you from point A to point B and we have a good warranty program just in case it doesn’t. It’s priced reasonably, has a nice paint job and it has been rated above average in most, though not all, categories. Take a test drive. I can’t promise you’ll love it, since individuals vary so greatly, but based on statistics I think some of you will. Have a good day.”
Don’t look for this anytime soon.
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- Orwell, George, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, San Diego, New York, London, first published in the U.S. in 1956, pg. 51.
- Plutarch, The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, The Dryden Translation, in Great Books of the Western World, Mortimer J. Adler, William Gorman, et. al., Editors, William Benton, Publisher, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., Chicago, 1988, Vol. 14, pg. 69.