• Advertising and the Decline and Fall of Western Civilization

    by  • June 30, 2012 • On Culture

    The printing press is unquestionably the most important invention in modern human history, but can the television remote control be far behind?

    It seems we have long taken the remote for granted, but take a minute to think about its liberating qualities. We’re now a heartbeat away from a channel change when years ago we had to get up off the couch to make the move from CBS to NBC. We’ve got so many more choices today and the remote enables us to access them with impunity.

    The remote’s single greatest contribution, however, is how it has freed us from having to watch the inanity and absurdity of commercials. As soon as a program pauses for a series of ads, we’re on the remote and moving to another network. We just can’t take it any more.

    To illustrate this point, here’s what we saw in one half hour when we painfully put aside the remote and let the ads run a few days ago:

    • The ad agency for KFC treated us to a grandfather clamping a headlock on his grandson in an argument over whether the side orders mom and dad would bring home should be mashed potatoes and gravy or “mac and cheese.” Fortunately, we learned, this kind of familial infighting is no longer necessary because free sides are now the order of the day at KFC.

    • State Farm rescued two young men who somehow made the mistake of parking their car in the middle of a buffalo herd to enjoy a cheeseburger. When a buffalo rammed into their car, the young men were saved by singing the jingle, “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there,” and being magically transported to a State Farm office.

    • Domino’s showed off its new pizza oven sandwiches and Wendy’s touted its berry almond salad. Let us know if your sandwich or salad look anything remotely like the stacked sandwiches and beautifully arranged salad depicted in the ads the next time you order from Domino’s or visit the drive-through at Wendy’s.

    • Folks on the ad for Golden Corral were absolutely ecstatic that the restaurant chain has introduced cotton candy to its dessert menu, surpassing its seemingly insurmountable chocolate waterfall.

    • We watched in amazement as a woman dressed in a “snuggie” body suit embarrassed herself by rolling on the floor to pick up dirt only to learn that Pine Sol can do that much, much more effectively.

    This is the best the creative geniuses in America’s ad agencies can do? Corporations spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for this dreck year after year despite the fact that research shows consumers remember little or nothing about ads a day after they have viewed them. How do advertisers get a handle on America’s rapidly diminishing attention span? How do they get us to sit up and take notice in that brief 30-second creative spot? How do they turn those 30 seconds into an actual purchase? It’s a very, very tough assignment, but surely they can do better.

    I am fighting the urge to add this to a list of developments that demonstrate the decline and fall of our civilization. I want to place it alongside the demagoguery and outright stupidity that runs rampant on TV “news” networks each day, the distortion of Christian values by the political right, the absurd utterings we find almost daily on Facebook and Twitter, the wasteland that passes for pop music and film comedy today.

    You can’t escape the feeling that our intelligence is being insulted every day with an appeal to the lowest common denominator. The foundation of all of this drivel is the belief that the American public is stupid. Perhaps I value my remote most of all because it keeps me from the saddening reminder that maybe those ad execs, TV commentators, political activists and consultants, and second- and third-rate artists are right.