Peter’s Ad-Versity

Welcome to this week’s hastily assembled melange of letters, punctuations marks, numerals, images and ideas, aka, my column. This week, I am going to write about something which is inescapable. I hope you like it. I appreciate your feedback.

Loyal Reader, are you vaguely dissatisfied about some aspect of your life? Are you looking for a fresh outlook, some change which, if not earthshaking, will at least allow you to address some “personal” shortcoming, whether perceived or actual? Well, there are folks out there counting on that in order to buy themselves a fancier car or spend an extra week at some fancy holiday destination.

I hear you asking how you could possibly contribute to someone else’s happiness. Well, they are counting on your dissatisfaction, your unhappiness with some aspect of your life. How do they accomplish this? They accomplish this through advertising.

Advertising is one of the world’s “oldest professions”. Again, it is omnipresent, seen everywhere from billboards to park benches to ticket stubs to magazines to newspapers to professional sports uniforms to taxi cabs. Today I intend to discuss advertising as it has appeared in several different media.

It is a staple of pop culture and fortunately has organizations which have been established to regulate it and ensure that it does not make exaggerated claims for the products it’s shilling. It has changed as Society has changed, under both legislative pressure and the court of Public Opinion. For example, tobacco products are no longer advertised at all. No more billboards, no more jingles, no more sponsorship of major sporting events. As Civilization develops, thankfully we find certain things unacceptable. I am cringingly reminded of a commercial from the 1960s which was set at a “Roaring Twenties” party in a rec room. The door opens and we see a couple of new arrivals announcing their presence by “tommy gunning” the other attendees. I am happy to say that such a commercial would never get aired these days.

Advertising even has an impact on plastic modelling. For example, the way I heard it, someone bought an Airfix 1/72nd scale B-29. The rather evocative box art showed several B-29s being attacked by a number of Japanese fighter planes. When they got home and opened the box, they apparently were disappointed that they didn’t get two B-29s and three Imperial Japanese Army Air Force fighters. So disappointed were they that they went to court.

So it came to pass that plastic model boxes had a legend added to them, telling the potential purchaser exactly what the box contained, except in Canada, where there was a sticker attached to tell you that you were buying a model kit. Gradually the box art was amended to remove any signs of combat, for it was felt that even painted depictions of crashing aircraft would irreparably scar Mrs Montreuil’s Little Boy, and his friends. Then it was decided that, in order to more accurately reflect what was in the box, a photograph should be on the box. Makes sense, as long as the builder of the photographed model did a good job in its construction. Sadly, that was not always the case. In one instance,, the builder installed the nose gear landing gear leg back to front. Of course, Grandma buying a Christmas present wouldn’t notice, and that might very well be the point. Anyway, I don’t want this to turn into a screed on plastic model box art, so let me cease this digression and make some “fast points” about advertising.

While some advertising campaigns are excellent and become enshrined in pop culture, (“Where’s the beef”, e.g.), others are less favoured. I remember a restaurant chain advertising that their “…chicken is as tender as your first love…”. I am sure that a lot of women would rush to take the family to such an establishment 😉 .

Advertising jingles can be a lucrative business. Jerry Goodis worked in advertising, and Barry Manilow performed a number in concert which was a medley of some of the jingles he had written. a) Artists can be given the opportunity to sing or do voice over work, and it’s always a pleasure to hear a commercial and recognize the voice.

While speaking of music in advertising, I have to mention American pharmaceutical advertising, where 60s and 70s rock apparently goes to die. It’s a lucrative business, which preys on your insecurities as I mentioned earlier. Depressed? While you listen to a chestnut from the 1970s, listen to the voice over, which casually mentions potential side effects which may include “suicidal or paranoid thoughts, blood pressure or vision problems”, inter alia. But hey, “go your own way!”

Or maybe an new vehicle would improve your demeanour? If you buy this pickup truck NOW, we will give you 20 thousand dollars in purchase credits. This, of course, begs the question of exactly how overpriced are they if you can get that much money as a “credit”? Or buy one of our SUVs and escape the humdrum world. Note that they are getting tricky now. They mention, in some cases, how much your payments would be every two weeks. A lot of people (literally) jump at this, without grasping the true monthly cost. Likewise, the financing offers over 84 months. Friends, that’s 7 years!!

Or maybe it’s just something as simple as appearance modification that Madison Avenue thinks you “need”. They are eager to sell you teeth straightening, makeup, hair colouring, weight loss and/or other grooming aids, to tend to any of your perceived needs.

They never miss a chance to push their message into your face, to dominate your various media. There is a buck out there. You have it, they want it. They will do whatever they can to get it, even if it means inventing a need you didn’t know you had. So, stay on your toes and beware of the ease by which you can pay for an extra week in Switzerland. Credit cards, debit cards, PayPal, all potential accomplices in the assault on your finances. So just stay alert, don’t “jump” at a bargain.

Now not all advertising is evil, I have a humorous “I Love N Y” story which I will save for a future column. I have never had a cat who didn’t like “Temptations”. I applaud the fact that the casting directors of commercials are casting more representative people. It’s also great to see the ad campaign that smashes the previous idea of “beauty”. I must confess how moved I was when I saw the woman with the double mastectomy looking at herself in the mirror, proud, battered, but unbeaten.

We have a long way to go before we can build an all-inclusive society, but some progress is being made. We can all play a part by confronting sexism, racism, ageism and sizeism, to name just a few. It will take a concerted effort by all of us, but it can be done.

Let me finish off by telling you to watch for a TV commercial which has, to me anyway, a beautifully hidden meaning. It features a young girl performing a “magic act”. Her father hands her a dishwashing “pod”, and the voiceover tells us of the marvellous benefits of the product. With a flourish, she shows the applauding “audience” the shiny contents of the dishwasher. Giving the issue some thought, I realized that one could interpret that ad to mean that those people sat watching a dishwasher for 20 minutes. Such a beautiful allegory for contemporary television.

See you soon.

  1. a) I heard this particular piece live once.

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