I was relaxing at the beach over July 4th weekend, enjoying the sun and ocean breeze. Then I saw a natural piece of beauty that has filled the skies since Lewis & Clark reached the Pacific. That sight, of course, was a biplane dragging a huge sign for Chase banking services. Apparently, Chase has great checking options. Thank God I received this message while relaxing at the beach, or I might not know this.
Advertising is out of control. Ads used to be limited to TV, radio, billboards, and maybe a park bench. Now there are ads on cars, in the sky, and above your urinal. I’m surprised they are not printing ads on toilet paper.
Most commercials are designed to elicit an emotional reaction, to get your attention, and make you feel that you need the product being sold. It’s an intimate form of manipulation. So it makes perfect sense that a large corporation would vie for your attention while you are taking a leak at Applebee’s. But have they gone too far? After all, what would you think if an actual salesman approached you in the bathroom or in your bedroom while you were lying next to your hubbie?
As ads show up all over the place, consumers become savvier and often ignore them. Ads have then had to become even more insidious, so they don’t look like ads anymore. In fact, some of the funniest writers, directors, and actors are not teaming up to write feature films or sitcoms, but rather 30 second plugs for car insurance.
In the 80s, Coke and Pepsi duked it out with commercials in the so called “Cola Wars”. These days, it’s the Car Insurance companies that have gone all out with their advertising. And it’s become absurd. You’ve got the GEICO Cavemen and Dean Winters as the personification of “Mayhem” for AllState. The super perky chick from Progressive. Nationwide, Farmers, have their own “funny” commercials airing as well.
These commercials are extremely well made, and so seamless you almost forget they are about car insurance. But they are. They win your confidence with the most powerful tool known to man: laughter. And as such, they don’t appear to be commercials.
GEICO’s ads are particularly bizarre in that they don’t have any real message about car insurance. They are just designed to get your attention. And they have. The GEICO Cavemen actually got their own television show, briefly.
These ads and companies aren’t seen as blatant pitches for your attention and money. They have Facebook likes and Twitter fans. Their spokespeople have fame and fans. Progressive had a contest to be in their commercials with “Flo”, their perky spokeswoman. I watched people sending in YouTube videos talking about themselves and why they would be perfect. Flo has over three million Facebook Fans.
So what’s the problem? The advertising companies have found an easy way to get into your head. Make you fall in love with their characters, like fans of a popular movie. And once they’ve got you into the story, you’re much less likely to scrutinize what they are actually doing, which is trying to sell you something.
Older people lament how young people spend all day with their faces glued to a computer screen. Now, we might even get nostalgic for commercials of the past. When you knew a commercial was a commercial and you could assess it accordingly.
So the next time you see a funny commercial or an ad on your toilet paper, stop and remember you’re seeing the result of a crafted attempt to get money from you, and not just a cute animal with a catch phrase.