As far as advertisers are concerned we’re all living in Never Never Land

Confused by packaged goods ads on TV? It’s just the state of advertising in a nation of Peter Pans, where growing up is merely a thing of the past

comic_jobAs I slumber in my favourite soft-leather armchair in the cloistered comfort of my club, an unread copy of the Dark Ages Examiner slowly rising and falling on my chest, an unsipped whisky and soda at my elbow, my peace is occasionally disturbed by one of the younger members eager to solicit my opinion on matters of the day.

Sometimes I feign such deep sleep that they depart, unenlightened. This is a ruse to which I have had recourse increasingly of late, especially since my chosen place of repose is the Smoking Room, which, ever since the State Knows Best Edict (Tobacco), has been given over to the inhalation of marijuana and intemperate giggling. Nowadays one never can tell whether one’s interlocutor is batty, as was normally the case in the past, or stoned.

At any rate, I was awoken the other day by a youth whose smooth, bland countenance and doltish expression seen through my half-opened eye brought me up with a start. For a frightful instant I had mistaken him for the blighter Cameron, but as I hastily reached for the whisky tumbler hoping to steady the jangling nerves, I realised my error and recovered my composure.

“Excuse me, sir,” he said, “but something has been troubling me of late and I wondered if you might be able to help.”

“Of course, dear boy,” I replied. “What’s on your mind?””Well,” he said. “It’s this. I’ve been approached to join the creative department of an advertising agency. It was like this. I got frightfully drunk at a party the other night and spouted a lot of nonsense and this chap came up to me and said I sounded just the type he was looking for to fill an important vacancy. He said he admired my non-sequiturs and casual discarding of verbs.”

“Quite so,” I said, nodding. “If there is one thing the advertising fraternity detests it is syntactical scruple. But if you wish to proceed and accept the position I think you will find that a tactical grunt will be all you require to communicate effectively with your fellow creatives.”

“I see,” he said rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “But what really concerns me is that since I was offered the job I’ve been looking at some of these TV commercial things and I can’t make head or tail of them. There is an animated cans of beans singing to a woman who is about to eat its contents – when she’s stopped grinning, that is – and a couple of toothbrushes engaged in earnest conversation about bacteria on the tongue, and there’s a fellow who’s carried on to a bus by a gang of peppermints, and…”

“Yes, yes,” I interrupted. “I know what you mean. It may seem strange to the educated man, such as yourself, but what you describe is the accepted currency of commercial discourse between the purveyors of what are called ‘fast moving consumer goods’ and those whom they would wish to purchase them.”

“Gosh,” he said emitting a slow whistle. He thought for a while, his brow furrowed, and at length spoke. “The trouble is, I mean, it’s all so, what’s the word, babyish.”

“Quite so,” I said. “The first rule of modern marketing is to not take anything for granted, least of all the possibility that your audience is endowed with greater intelligence than a jay bird.”

“Why?” he asked.

“Ah, what a world of answers is encompassed in that simple question,” I replied. “But since you ask, there are several schools of thought. The first has to do with the decline of religion. In times past, when people believed in God, they accepted the inevitability of death and, in that knowledge, matured. Today, when no such belief exists, death is unthinkable and not therefore to be countenanced. Adults simply refuse to grow up. They dress like children and they behave like children. When things go wrong, they have tantrums and blame everything and everyone else. And when they see something they like, they want it now and they buy it, even if they have no money.

“Another theory has to do with education. Most people today leave school, their minds as unmarked by knowledge as they day they first went in. No one attempting to sell goods and services to them would be foolish enough to aim any higher than Popeye. Television leads in this respect. And yet despite widespread ignorance and infantilism, we are a prosperous nat-ion with a proletarian population wealthier than at any previous time in history. To sell to such people is both desirable and, in a sense, demeaning…”

I paused to take a sip from my whisky tumbler, turned to resume my speech and, would you believe it, the young man had gone. 

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