Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Moratorium on Advertising

Basically, the only thing I've ever understood about economics is this: in this culture, you'd better have some cash. I first earned cash by pulling weeds. I moved on to cutting back sweet-pea vines that had overtaken yards. Thence to other endeavors. If you run out of money, you're screwed--unless you're someone like Donald Trump, who can declare bankruptcy as a tactic; or something like a sovereign state, which apparently can owe money and not pay it back, ever.

Out of my supreme economic innocence, then, comes this suggestion: One day a year, the U.S. ought to have an advertising moratorium. I think this would allow us to catch our figurative breaths, and I think it would be a useful experiment. Are all these advertising dollars worth it? What if there was no dip in spending on the moratorium day? Would the advertising industry be thrown into chaos, exposed at last as unnecessary? (I would make an exception for small businesses and local advertising, by the way. It's not really advertising. It's keeping in touch. "Hello, this is Bob from Bob's Diner on Fern Street. I just wanted to let you know that we'll be open, as usual, on Saturday. What we cook is as edible as what you cook, so come on by.")

The marvelous culinary writer M.F.K. Fisher was perpetually puzzled by the existence of food-advertising. She asked, not rhetorically, "Why do we need to be told what and when to eat?" A splendid example is the phrase "part of a complete breakfast." The idea of "a complete breakfast" was invented by advertisers--to sell orange juice from an unexpected excess of oranges. It was emergency advertising. Once they created the phrase, the culture absorbed it, and suddenly orange juice (and eggs, bacon, sausage, bread, margarine, pop-tarts, etc., and so forth) got loaded onto trucks and shipped to gaping mouths in suburbia, where a complete breakfast was accepted as some kind of fact.

Can you imagine Native Americans--in California, say, pre-Columbian--coming upon a billboard, in their language, which urged them to eat acorn meal, berries, fish, fowl, and game? In their own language, they would have said, I am sure, "WTF?"

At some point in the near future, I expect there to be a commercial advertising the need to breathe, accompanied by some kind of oxygen-product--you know, like a box of air. (But wait! There's more!.)

Bill Cosby, in his early days, had a great bit about college, specifically about taking a philosophy class at Temple. He said one of the key questions seemed to be, "Why is there air?"

My question is, "Why is there advertising?" I mean, I know the basic answers, but they seem to be circular (so to speak). There's advertising because you can't sell stuff without creating a need, and we need marketing, because without marketing, we can't sell stuff, and we need to sell stuff to make money and keep the economy going and keep the marketing going. Otherwise . . . .

Okay, fine. But why is there advertising? I would also like to know what the earliest recorded advertising-artifact is. So I guess I need to find an economic anthropologist, or an anthropological economist. Maybe I'll look in the Yellow Pages.
Post a Comment