Monday, March 29, 2004

Braille Billboards

I hold no brief against advertising. In fact, I’ve written many, many ads myself over the years and much enjoyed the process. Of course, I was mostly advertising technical products. When you’re flogging linear programming software, the whole point is to efficiently inform the potential buyer of exactly what the product does. That doesn’t necessarily preclude humor or flash; and a suspicious number of subtly sexy biologists appear in journal ads for DNA sequencers; but the object is normally to sell your product rather than to increase the demand for a class of products. Contrast that situation with mass-market advertising. Ads for cars sell SUVs as well as Fords or BMWs. Ads for fast food promote gluttony as well as Big Macs.

In an old fantasy of mine, an advertising expert persuades Coke to buy advertising space on the bottom of coffin lids, “It’s a cheap buy; and you know if the dead really do rise at the Last Judgment, they’re going to be thirsty.” I don’t know if final victory over Pepsi would be worth this expense, but it doesn’t really matter. Winning a commercial contest is not as important to the bottom line as increasing the overall consumption of carbonated sugar water. In this respect, commercial competition is really a form of collusion.

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