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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Advertising regress - from quaint to creepy... What next?

I think advertising industry is losing steam. My husband and I don't watch much TV. We don't have cable, and the news channels are too depressing, so we listen to NPR for a few minutes every day (which is plenty to keep up with the bad news - it's finding the good news that requires time) and subscribe to Netflix where we can pick and choose what we watch.

So, the only exposure we get to the regular TV fare is during the holidays when we go to visit family and temporarily succumb to the pull of the idiot box. What little bit we see is usually not great, especially the commercials, unless we are lucky enough to stumble onto BBC America.

In the last fifty years, the ads went from corny to silly, to sometimes clever, funny and even cool, to downright creepy. There is the Virgin Mobile unlimited wireless service commercials... The one that stands out for me is where a woman has apparently left her mouth near her cell phone, while she herself went for a swim. When she comes back and slaps her mouth back onto her face, the gum in the mouth is not hers. The tag line is, "Never stop talking". The verdict? Dis-gus-ting.

There is the "Shiny Suds" commercial... well actually the Household Product Labeling Act commercial, which makes its point by having the chemical residue bubbles jeer at the woman in the shower, as if she was a stripper. The verdict? Skin-crawling - and not in the way that the advertising campaign intended...

There is Reebok's "talking boobs" ad, where some poor (and no doubt extremely freaked out) woman't breasts express their dismay that her butt gets preferential treatment. The verdict? Perverse.

There are the Ally Bank clips that use misleading kids to make a point about financial services. I work for a bank myself and I realize how important transparency and integrity are to the company's survival. I also realize that situations set up in the commercials weren't real - I am not that dumb. Still, witnessing scenarios where children were deceived by an adult made me feel profoundly uncomfortable.

And then there is a series of Target ads that came out just before Christmas. They were based on a premise that it's ok if people lie about their feelings, or about their actions or are reckless about their budget and then argue about it in front of their kids... So, even if they don't really deserve the gifts they get, it's ok as long as the gifts were purchased at low Target prices. The verdict? Why thought this was a good idea? I like Target, but those ads actually made me not want to shop there, which I don't think was the intended effect.

Compared to all this, the barely plausible ("You won't have to change your lifestyle at all!"), diet pill ads with encyclopedia's worth of side effects were only mildly shudder-inducing.

It takes some time and effort to make an ad. It's like a little movie: someone comes up with a concept, puts it on paper and expands on it. Then someone else (or several someones) looks through it, decides it's a good idea and gets the production ball rolling.

When I watch this recent slew of preposterously bad-taste commercials, I have to wonder: how is it that of all the people who were involved in making these segments, watching them, approving them, paying for them - nobody paused to think about the content?

The yester-year advertisements may have been corny and naive, they may have made ridiculous claims, but at least they stuck to promoting a product or a service. Selling something to people by questioning their character or grossing them out was not in vogue until recently. Yet, somehow, the buyers continued to shop, the businesses continued to operate, and the economy chugged along.

I am not certain how we can make our way out of the quagmire of bad advertising. Watching less TV would probably help... Relying on consumer reports and personal experiences to evaluate products, instead of 30-second snippets containing no real information... Voting with our wallets by refusing to buy from companies, whose ads are ridiculous, demeaning or just too dumb...

You would voice your opinion if you saw a particularly bad movie, wouldn't you? You would tell your friends and family how awful it was, perhaps post a review somewhere. More people like you would do the same, and this would have an effect at the box office. So, why not extend the concept further and make companies think twice before they entrust promotion of their product to a pair of talking boobs.

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