On the XM
Because of the election and my new resolutions, I have been listening to lots of news in the past few months. Generally, though, when I listen to the XM while driving, I listen to the XL Comedy Channel or the 70s Music Channel. The 70s Channel has no commercials, but XL Comedy has commercials galore.
I hate commercials. This hate may be hereditary. I remember when I was a kid how my father used to lose his crap whenever an Ore-Ida commercial came on the TV. Something about the slogan “Ore-Ida is Alright-uh” worked him up to some highly creative cursing.
Besides heredity, mostly I hate commercials because they are boring and I have a low boredom threshold. But when I get on my high horse, I also hate them because they are stupidly manipulative. With the power of repetition, commercials can make even a hard-nosed hater like me wonder if maybe I shouldn’t give Geico a call about my car insurance rates. So annoying.
At the community newspaper where I used to work, the publisher had little concern about the quality of journalism in the paper but mighty concern about the quantity of advertising in it. I understood the importance of advertising (it paid my salary, after all), but I thought it would have been nice if more attention had been paid to the non-advert content of the newspaper.
My publisher was an expansive sort of fellow, and would, every so often, call me into his office where he’d shoot the shit with me about the paper and the paper’s future. Many money-making schemes were unveiled during those hours, most of which ultimately came to nothing. And yet, you had to appreciate the man for his never-ending quest for the big bucks. I mean, he was responsible for paying the bills, and I always got paid on time. Most days, that was good enough for me.
He talked often about the new influx of immigrants to the area from Mexico. There was a lot of tension in our county because of these immigrants, but I never once heard him mention this fact. Nope, he was simply obsessed with thoughts of how to make money off of them. This obsession led him to create the first Spanish-language newspaper in the area, years ahead of much larger towns and cities in the region.
Just like the English-language newspaper, the Spanish-language newspaper’s content was mostly crap with the majority of the focus on the advertising. I don’t speak a word of Spanish beyond “Ola,” nor did my coworker in the composition department, yet we built ads and laid out pages for that paper. It was a hoot, really.
The paper didn’t make much, if any money, for most of its life, but my publisher was obsessed with its potential. He told me during one of our convo sessions that it was a great opportunity to tell the new citizens what to want and what to do. He believed that the job of advertising was not to help people find the goods and services they needed, but rather to create the need itself.
I have never had any formal education in advertising, so what he told me struck me pretty forcefully. It immediately put me in mind of a commercial on television that had been annoying me for some time. It was an ad for women’s underarm deodorant/anti-perspirant. The ad claimed that their product would solve a problem that had been plaguing women for ages: dry underarm skin. Apparently, women everywhere had been bemoaning the dry, flaky skin on their underarms, and this product would end the horror because it had moisturizer in it.
It shouldn’t take any explanation as to why this annoyed me. Come on, now. I thought dry underarms were the point of anti-perspirants. Besides, who are these women who are getting enough underarm action to warrant feeling unnattractive because their pit skin isn’t moisturized?
When my publisher told me about advertising creating a need, that stupid commercial suddenly made sense. It was so obvious, I wanted to kick myself for not having already realized it years and years before. Women didn’t give a crap about how moisturized their underarms are, but that advertising campaign was setting out to make them care. Well, I thought, that’s just one more reason to hate commercials.
And this all brings me back around to listening to the comedy channel on the XM, and the plethora of commercials they offer to their listeners. When listening to these ads, I’m tempted to be insulted by who they must believe their audience to be, if the advertising is anything to go by. However, it’s actually a mixture, I presume, of need fulfillment and need building. So here’s who they think we are, and what they want us to think we need:
* Away from the office conferencing software — Apparently we comedy listeners are on-the-go sorts who don’t have time to conduct our meetings in offices like regular folk, so we need to be able to have our meetings at home or on the road. We’re go-getters who can’t let an opportunity pass to waste people’s time with meetings that accomplish nothing.
* Debt-reduction services — We comedy people are deeply in debt and need a third party to intervene with our evil creditors in order to reduce how much we end up paying for Christmas presents charged two years ago. We listeners may have been foolhardy in the past, but now’s our time to show our economic savvy by hiring someone to get us off the hook.
* Fat burning pills — We comedy listeners are a jolly lot, and have immense amounts of belly fat to jiggle like Santa. Fortunately, it turns out that stress, not over-eating and lack of exercising, has caused our chunkiness, and if we’ll just buy those little pills, we’ll soon have no more fat to jiggle while chuckling to the antics of Larry the Cable Guy.
* Pre-Pass — Lots of truckers listen to the XM, and since all truckers like hillbilly music, we are sure to respond to an ad for Pre-Pass that sounds like a re-mix of 70s road songs like “Convoy” and “Six Days on the Road,” with some “Rawhide” thrown in for good measure.
* Planned community in Tennessee — An old country boy baritone tells us comedy people that we need to check out a new town being built in beautiful Tennessee, complete with a lake for fishing and woods for hunting. So not only are we sophisticated enough to need conferencing software, we’re also hillsy enough to want to shoot Bambi.
* Penis enlargement and and penile disfunction — Male listeners of the comedy channel are made to feel inadequate when the lady in the ad explains how it’s not penis length that matters to women: it’s penis girth. And once they’ve increased their penile potential, another ad tells them how to get it up and keep it up for their lady. Apparently, it’s all about the ladies. I thought it was about making the men obsess even more about their penises, but I’m clearly out of the loop.
* Sex toys — Now that those pesky penis problems have been fixed, you shouldn’t need those buzzing dildos anymore, and yet, it appears you do. They should get their stories straight.
And there you have it. All day long we are told we are gad-about, financially irresponsible, fat, hillbilly, sexually deficient vanilla losers who with six or so phone calls could instantly become go-getting, debt-free, slim, well-housed, sexually adventurous studs. Yes, it’s that easy to fix our loser selves.
Thank god for advertising. Without it, we might feel good about ourselves with no justification and have no hope of fulfilling those dreams we never knew we had. Besides, that Geico gecko on TV is damned cute.