Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Commercial Break

A Commercial Break is probably my favorite excerpt from my fourth book, Timeline of America: Sound Bytes from the Consumer Culture. (Click the photo to enlarge it.)

A Commercial Break

The more alike a product is to its competitors, the more effort is put into its advertising to prove how different it is from all the others. It is these particular advertising slogans, characters, and campaigns that we remember. Garry Moore spends many of his TV moments telling us how Winston tastes good like a cigarette should. Speedy Alka-Seltzer leads us into a duet of plop, plop, fizz, fizz. Ford has a better idea even when Chevy is like a rock. If all the Ford trucks I see are built Texas tough, does that mean that somebody up in Yankeeland has a Ford pickup that’s built Connecticut tough? Roaches may check in without checking out of your Roach Motel, but hadn’t you rather just kill bugs dead with Raid? A mind may be a terrible thing to waste, but the NHTSA tells me that I can learn a lot from a dummy. Can the few, the proud, the Marines put a tiger in your tank? No, but Hertz can put you in the driver’s seat. You asked for it, so you got it. Pontiac builds excitement, Volkswagen thinks small, and BMW’s sheer driving pleasure won’t be found in your father’s Oldsmobile. You’ve come a long way, baby, since you thought Lucky Strike meant fine tobacco. Is it live or is it Memorex? Only the Energizer Bunny knows, because he keeps going and going. It’s difficult to say “Look, ma, no cavities” when you’ve been spending all your time with Sugar Bear, the Trix rabbit, Poppin’ Fresh and Mr. Peanut. Maybe Morris will let you have some of his 9 Lives.

Up to this point in the timeline, advertising has had only a limited influence on our lives. That is about to change when the baby boomers are growing up in front of the television set. Before The Fifties, products were advertised in ways that were a lot quieter and a lot less intrusive into our lives. The Burma Shave signs on the highways were entertaining at a place where there was little else to read. Billboards had yet to become a visual nuisance and the print ads in newspapers and magazines could be discreetly ignored. All that changed when television fastened its firm grip on the eyes and ears of the public.

Are we influenced by advertising? The answer is very simple. If we were not, they would stop doing it. Branding has become a stronger, more embedded part of our daily lives than we ever dreamed possible back during the days of World War II. The quickest route to a mention in this chapter for any product is the power of its brand. If we are to relive our recent nostalgic past, it must be through the brands. We don’t have much else to use as a conduit to our past anymore. We buy just about everything from the corporate controller of shipping containers from China. We are at their mercy because all the unsuccessful brands of marketing have been sent to the Roach Motel. Wally-World controls the brands and we have little choice but to let them have that control. Most of us can no longer afford to shop where the lowest price is not always present. Timeline covers only the highlights of certain types of issues that have obviously had strong influence upon the shaping of our culture over the past century. The purpose of this book is to compress all the fond memories of our past into one small volume. The sequel to Timeline of America is tentatively scheduled for release in early 2008. All those other subjects will then be discussed. At that time, we shall wallow in the politics and economics of our distinctly American past and future. Now back to our regularly scheduled program….

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