Monday, March 30, 2009

The Power of Advertising

My wife recalled late Sunday afternoon that she had not used her coupon at the pharmacy which allowed her one free roll of paper towels or a cloth bag which could be used again and again in lieu of paper bags at the place and thereby save trees. It was a real choice to make, you could actually decide whether to help the pharmacy save trees or help it kill trees. She was on the verge of blowing off the offer when I told her that I needed soap anyway. To which she replied “good, then you can come with me.”


This particular pharmacy had signs up all the way across their front windows stating that the store had “thousands of items under $4.” Advertizing continues to mystify me. This national company went to another national company and said, “how can we make more money ?” The second national company thought about it and said “We think that you need a series of small orange and black signs spread across your window which says that there are thousands of items in your store for under a dollar.” Then the first national company said, “But we don’t”. So the second company said, “Ok, how about under $2.00 ?” To which the first company said. “what is this, 1978 ?” . Then the second company, not wanting to be embarrassed again, took the bid up to $4.00, “Tell them that you have thousands of items under $4.00.” “But everyone knows that.” said the first company, and why do you think the $4.00 figure will excite anyone ?”  To which the second company said, “Look, you pay us millions of dollars a year for this, trust us.” So up went the signs. Undoubtedly revenues have now skyrocketed as my neighbors have rushed to the drug store knowing that they can buy thousands of things for under $4.00, as well as get a free roll of paper towels and check their blood pressure on the machine in the back of the store. One stop shopping as they used to say.


I went over to the soap aisle and noticed that there a lot less brands of soap than there used to be. I knew what I wanted, “Irish Spring”. Back in the 1970s when Irish Spring was created they had an ad about a Rugby player who said after a game, “I got to shower up.” And then he did, and then came back out to see his winsome lass, and started  bragging about how “manly the soap was”. In between the game and the shower exit, someone on camera had cut a bar of the soap in half with a pocket knife for reasons I never understood. So anyway, when the guy comes out of the shower and says that the soap is manly, his girlfriend says “manly, yes, but I like it too.” In the ad field that’s what’s known as crossover appeal and the ad became famous. So famous that I still think about it and buy the soap .Rayda noticed that you could buy three packages of the soap (which contained three bars a piece) for just $5.00.Times being what they are, we opted for just one package.


My wife picked up a few other items which she would never have purchased except for the promised free paper towels. We then went to the paper towel aisle and found that there were none, towels that is, or at least  none of the kind they were giving away for free. So we went to the front and asked for the environmentally sensitive cloth bag and were looked at buy the cashier with some confusion. The cashier called the manager who informed us that corporate headquarters had never sent the bags. Now this is advertising at its best, luring you into the store with a promise, not fulfilling that promise, and selling you something anyway. I love America.


As we exited the store, Rayda checked the cashier receipt and said that the soap had cost $1.67 ,which was correct, 1/3 of $5.00. “Wait a minute” I said, it had to cost more than that, the sale was three packages for $5.00. If you buy all three, you save money.” “No” she assured me. ” They just want you to buy more soap so they tell you how much three packages cost.” “That’s crazy, that’s not giving you any information at all unless you are unable to multiply. It’s supposed to be a sale.”  I said. To say  that I was nonplussed over the issue would assume that you know the meaning of the word nonplussed.


Rayda continued to defend the sales technique, “No, that’s the sale, three for $5.”  “But that’s not a sale.” I repeated, a sale is where you save money. That was just the answer to a math problem.”  “ Look” she said, “they sell cereal her for $2, but they advertize it as two for $4. “  This was idiotic “Why don’t they just say 10 for $20 ? “ I reasoned, “that way they can really fool people and sell a lot more cereal, or better, 2 for $3.99 which fits their motto of “thousands of items under $4.00 . “ The discussion continued well into the drive home. But I know I’m right about this, why would you  try to sell something that costs $2.00 as 2 for $4.00, unless you were just trying to fool someone ? Who knows ? Why would you send out a coupon for free paper towels or a fee cloth bag and then not have any of the very items that you claimed that you were giving away ? Everything we touched that afternoon had been thought up by an ad agency, the under $4.00 signs, the 3 for $5.00 scam, the free (but illusive) paper towel offer and my memory of the Irish spring ad. Advertizing is the engine that brought our society to its present moment of crisis. It lied to us, sold us things that we did not need and, in general, worked to flim flam us out of most of the money that was in the country. It is one of the shining achievements of our nation. In turn, we passed it on to most of the world as the logical extension of colonialism. It was cheaper to do and more lucrative in the end. It helped addict millions to tobacco, which killed them, helped hook people on alcohol, got them into serious debt . It did not permeate our culture, it was, and is our culture. What would it take to wake us up ?


Blogger Paul D. Frazier said...

Correcting an Unbalance from "The Writer's Almanac" list

I never listen to commercials, Father said.
They're aimed at trying to sell me something
I don't need. If I do need it I want to know
that the need originated from me & not
from others. I don't want to end up with lots
of junk I'm only going to throw out. Half
the things in this house aren't used. We
only really need food, clothing, shelter,
& of course, each other. You do need me.
Don't you? You're mother never gives me
much opportunity to talk. I'm supposed to listen.
I'm able to talk to you, but it'd please me
if you said something once in a while.

by Hal Sirowitz from "Father Said." © Soft Skull Press, 2004.

10:17 AM  

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