Buyer Beware

June 22, 2007

There used to be a rule in advertising that sex sells, and sex is still being used to sell a few things, mainly liquor, motorcycles, potato chips, and body spray. Body spray, of course, is men’s cologne in an aerosol can. They could put it in one of those old-fashioned atomizers that snobby women used to keep in their breakfast vanities, but it’s manly to destroy the ozone layer. And the advertising for body spray always promises that, if you wear it, you will be attacked in the streets by strange women. They’ll tear down the walls of your house, throw cars at you, put you in the hospital, and eventually dig up your grave and do horrible things with pieces of your corpse, so it’s not hard to understand the incredible popularity of body spray for men.

But I digress. Advertising used to be pretty simple: two people having sex on a washing machine, for instance, but oddly enough that turned off a lot of consumers so advertising seemed to take up a new principle that surrealism sells. Two guys sitting in a car talking about the alphabet, for instance, is supposed to make you want to buy a root beer float, or a giant robot running down the street will convince you to buy aspirin. Then there’s the friendly-sell, like the commercial about the car salesman who drove three-thousand miles because some guy who lived on top of a mountain expressed an interest in one of the cars. I’m not sure what the message was there because, if someone drove three-thousand miles to sell me a car, I’d be afraid to buy it because then I’d have to drive him home.

Lately, though, advertising is taking on the scare tactic. For instance, there’s the commercial where a guy’s walking down the street and a homeless man asks him for some change. The guy says he doesn’t have any and walks on. Another homeless man asks him for some change. The guy says he doesn’t have any and walks on. Then his head explodes, and the words, YOU NEED LIFE INSURANCE NOW flash up on the screen. That’s not convincing me to buy life insurance–that’s just scaring me. That’s worse than the singing navels, or the two sumo wrestlers slamming into some poor guy from opposite directions. The scary commercials aren’t convincing me to buy anything. In fact they’re convincing me to leave the room whenever commercials come on. If they get any worse they might convince me to stop watching television. Now that’s really scary.

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