We’re being bombarded from all sides on a daily basis. Not by bullets or weapons of mass destruction, but by another arguably evil force: advertising.
I’ve worked in marketing and communications for over a dozen years. What marketers really care about is whatever will make you buy what they’re selling. After all, they’re competing with several similar companies for your attention, and with many more for your hard-earned dollars. So in the name of commercialism and the almighty bottom line, they play on your emotions, tell you they’re the only way of reaching your goals, and shamelessly manipulate you.
We see it everywhere: newspapers, magazines, television, radio, billboards, buses, tailored Google ads, not to mention those annoying expanding ads that come across whatever web page you’re trying to read. Even our Rogers cable guide displays a Tim Hortons ad at the bottom of my screen. And don’t get me started on the clutter of junk mail in both our real and electronic mailboxes. Promise after broken promise:
– Our beer will get you laid, or at the very least surrounded by sexy, scantily clad women (if you’re one of the rich, good-looking studs on the commercial)
– Our insurance plan is the only one that will truly give you peace of mind (if you meet all the hidden criteria)
– Our diet plan guarantees results or your money back (but good luck actually getting a hold of us for a refund)
– Our cell phone network is the most reliable (within city limits, off-peak hours, and in ideal weather conditions)
– Our cars are safest for your family (according to our own privately funded study)
– Our credit card company really cares (until the payment due date)
We’re surrounded by countless commercial messages everywhere we go. Supermarkets are filled with cross-promotional offers: buy this pasta and get a jar of sauce; buy this box of cereal and find a coupon inside for your next purchase. Limit 5 per customer. Incidentally, that’s the magical phrase used to compel you to buy the maximum amount, even if you don’t need it.
Many years back, a new evil emerged. I was at the movie theatre, comfortably awaiting the previews. These are fun because in the limited free time we have, it allows you to quickly categorize upcoming movies into three possible categories: Must-see, Possible Rental, or I’d Rather Watch Paint Dry. But what actually appeared on screen was an ad for Avis rent-a-car and a local radio station.
Wait a minute. I’m paying $13 for a movie ticket (plus grossly overpriced snacks), and I have to sit through commercials? I don’t have much choice when I watch TV, but I’m almost certain this is crossing some sort of fuzzy line.
But what put things into perspective was our recent Air Canada flight to the Dominican Republic. We boarded the plane, a flight that cost us hundreds of dollars each. I started going through the entertainment menu on the little screen in front of me: movies, television shows and more, with previews to ensure I select the right diversion for the next couple of hours. Then I hit Play.
It’s like finding leftover chocolate and taking a bite, only to discover a moment too late that it was actually bitter, unsweetened baker’s chocolate. I was anticipating the beginning of my selection when I was instead subjected to commercial vomit: I sat through nearly 10 minutes of Air Canada self-promotion, credit card ads and tourism ads telling me where I should fly to next. No way to exit or turn it off. You just have to bend over and take it.
You’d think that forking over the money for a flight would buy me a little commercial-free air time. You’d be wrong. They’re going to milk it for everything they can.
Is there nowhere left we can go, to escape the clutter and the noise?