I did a lot this summer but mostly I wasn't here.
Well, I was here but also not there. First I went for a brief trip on business to the nonstop town of Tel Aviv ... where I found myself enveloped in the perfect storm: strep throat, jet lag and a fool-the-doctor, incomprehensible five-day fever. I needed a break. So I shut down for a bit. What else could I do?
It was the first time I waltzed away from "sharing" since the start of the slog-o-sphere. I just stopped giving it up. Yes, I was on Twitter (who can't do 140?) but my tweeting was halfhearted! The fact is -- while running around the Middle East it smacked me in the head that even in the holier lands there is no escaping the nonstop hype of our making. It has overtaken everything we do; it stares us down with no place to hide. This is no longer an American phenomenon. I am not even sure we perfected it.
The incessant rolling hype-machine in unexpected places gave me pause. Could it be the "pitch" was the one area where we connected with one another? Is the meaning of life a constant stream of nonsense from our sponsors? (I mean, even a dull product like HP has changed its name in the ads to "Hit Print"!) For the first time in memory my normally-dormant sensitive side was put into overdrive. I found myself without words.
I got backed-up by nonstop blabber in every corner of my life. During this endless summer I cut off the sharer in me while I stop listening and instead consider what good can come from the second financial dip. It appeared I have become, in a weird word, marketing-constipated!
I've been mostly indoors after returning to the New York boiler room, the heat outdoors making air conditioning either too high or low.. Inside, I spend my time in my home picking up - and finishing - books like I always hope others do. I read a notorious nonfiction horror tale by that guy who lost everything in a blaze of crack-whoring and I got my jollies through substantial hilarity (and nonstop angst) in the new novel by Stephen McCauley. (I have to wonder what corporate forces McCauley pissed off since this pop literary favorite has gotten no love from the media this time out!)
I read some news items that shut me down too. I was stung by a stat I saw one night: Did you know that in the last recession year Americans spent $24 billion in books? We are always told how movies make $6 billion, that seems like a lot. But publishers -- people I work with a lot - always whine about being in a heap of trouble. I finally saw the conspiracy: Books are being purchased by the bushel and we are being told that video-games rule our minds. Bullshit!
There were other teeny news items hidden this summer and each time I uncovered one it felt like a smack in the head. Do you remember the huge hullabaloo when Mattel was given back the right to Bratz a few years ago? At that moment the high court stated the Bratz creator designed the, them while working for Mattel)? If you were looking a few weeks ago you'd have noticed that major decision was overturned by a higher court -- a news story on page D-7.
Isaiah Thomas' returning to the Knicks was all people talked about in New York; the Clintons' kid's wedding was a three-times-a-day tale; Snooki pushed some well-intended culture off every single Arts pages; AOL was constantly in the news for losing money (AOL? in 2010?). Enough to make a news junkie like me pause his reading. The billions of missing money in Iraq? Not much there. The Kagan nomination -- just the jokes got play. The Gulf dilemma? Only statements from BP and a lot of hand-wringing.
Then there were all those stories about Bristol Palin -- even in the delectable daily dish about reality TV, reading about Levi Johnston is a nonstarter. (In Sunday's "Week In Review" in the NYT this week one of the five top stories is about Palin's kid breaking up with him again. Five. Top. Stories.)
This super duty placement of even-for-summer trivia forced me to sit in the corner. I did my best Rodin impersonation; thinking.
Have you ever woken up one morning and decided to get rid of your hair? No? I got buzzed into a crew cut this summer. Why would anyone go military when he has amazing fluffable hair? This, too, was symptomatic of today's hype: There is simply too much to choose from in the hair products aisle. I had a moment of not being able to turn right nor left; what's the difference between sheen and shine? So my barber and his 40 years' experience swore he could make one decision go away. Without any real hair to speak of, mousse, spray and goop becomes moot.
Today I'm mentally challenged by anguished marketers who want me to jump up and down clapping at their mental agility or "cleverness" (code for ignorance). That's how I feel about marketers, who are lazy and have no regard for the consumer. Why does Sony (and its paid-for slogan "Make. Believe") roll out Justin Timberlake in expensive newspaper inserts standing NEXT to the computer as if to say "uh no way will I touch that thing"? How is that possibly selling products?
I believe thousands of people have stopped buying Crest because there are too many choices in a market (I'm talking "consumers who bought Crest since they were 12"). These people are not buying a specific brand of toothpaste now because they have choice paralysis. Who wants Vanilla-flavored toothpaste? Say it: Yuck!
One slogan grossed me out: "So Good" is now being used by KFC. KFC isn't good. It's what you buy when you are broke, desperate, or hate yourself. Whoever at Corporate said yes to the campaign does not eat the product. "Good Food For the Fun of It" -- that's the tag line Frito-Lay uses for its greasy snack foods (food being their word, not mine. (Incidentally, the old man who invented Cheez Doodles died this week at 99; I wonder how many of those he ate!)
You probably are aware that movie posters are same here as in the Middle East. Many times last month I laughed at Julia Roberts with her mouth full, looking bored, while the line"Let Yourself Go" warned us aboutEat Pray Love. The double meaning is funny; but to envision Julia saying it's okay to see this preachy-seeming yoga fest is not. The movie was made by Ryan Murphy, the dude behind Glee. I do not think he will have the same success in movies as in TV.
Speaking of "let" and "go," why is Shell spending major money on print and outdoor posters telling us to make it a better world for the next generation, as if to say it's not its fault our world is going to hell? "Let's Go," they say smugly. Go where?
Our lives are made up of real and imagined Hollywood moments. Like you, I see recognizable types in everyday places. Just before my moratorium from leaving my space I got an in-person glimpse into the world of Jake The Bachelor (the "it's hard to be emotional" gay guy from TV who filled up a lot of empty time on ABC this summer), sitting all princessy during a flight back to New York from LA. It cracked me up watching Jake act like a petulant child as both genders of flight attendants fawned over him. He pushed them away, wanting some alone time. That didn't last long. When the lights got too low he got up to say hi to anyone who'll have him. "I need the attention" is the anthem of the loser.
But even mega-frequent fliers like me know that nothing about flying is fun (not even being pampered) and this time off made me want to fly less than ever. Earlier this year I thought I figured out the best way to get across the country when I started grabbing quieter, emptier late night flights--they always leave on time and sometimes arrive super early! But the marketers ruined that, naturally. Continental chieftains needed a new revenue stream and started to keep us awake with freaking ads at 11:30 at night. You sit in First Class, try to sleep, but they bombard you with advertisements?
I took aside a wide-awake flight attendant and warned her: "Shut down those ads on the screens -- I'm paying you serious money to sleep here, maybe even more than a low-level Four Seasons!" Yes, you can fight City Hall if you're carrying an airline statement with the 120,000 miles flown over the last 13 months. I scared her with talk of switching teams!
I'm in complete non-denial here; I will not ignore what I'm feeling. I desire better from the people who promote products and services. And if you think I'm exaggerating how bad hype has become, you're numb. It's come down to my avoiding certain publications and online columns because I fear being hit by AT&T's latest tag line -- "Rethink Possible." That may be the first ad campaign that's kept my illness going! Hype is so bad that I now question every tweet or email (even from those I know) since I wonder if they're being paid to lead me to a new TV show's gratuitous sex and violence. And I like TV sex and violence!
I imagine a universe--even a small town--where advertising and PR messages are fresh, well thought out, and actually make you go "Wow"...a bunch of relevant, a-ha moments where I don't think Gosh You Think I'm Dumb Enough To Fall For That.
There is hope. We'll colonize Mars to be the first ad-free planet. There's no way our world will change (and in 100 years we'll all be someone else!). I want to be there when people who market products for a living are told no you can't do that on the red planet. Man will they be bummed by the King's edict: "It is illegal throughout the land to make people feel stupid with inane tag lines, slogans or marketing bullshit."
What was Apple thinking last month? "This Changes Everything. Again" was the smarmy way it introduced iPhone 4: that was overstated, mind-blowing and as unsubtle as it gets. My head spun so much I felt like Linda Blair.
It's not all bad. I felt a twinge of hope when I saw the ad for Season 5 of Dexter on Showtime: "Conscience Is A Killer". That's good word play, even deep for the medium. Here's a secret about marketing (and life) I've known for years: If it's too easy you're not trying hard enough.
Even marketing messages in foreign countries are the same; when I was in India last year I noticed The Tata Corporation's phone companies use the same marketing firm as T-Mobile!
Verizon is the one company that spends more money releasing new product lines than most. Verizon marketers are evil. This phone company changes its umbrella slogan about every six months, which ought to infuriate the buying public since if Verizon spent less on an ad agency they could spend some on customer service. The new slogan -- "Rule The Air" -- is nonsense. Big V realizes how much our air is polluted by its own product and how its constantly-re-branded machines have turned us into zombified monsters.
This is not a rant about people walking down the street texting while bumping into us. That's as much a part of society as picking our noses and getting caught. We are in fact the fools Orwell imagined a generation ago. We stare at machines who stare back at us.
Big shrug. My biggest dilemma in this quiet period is how to get Gatorade delivered to my apartment. I used to call the local deli to get the bottles brought over. It's really hard to do now. Why...? When I call they can't find it. Why? The line of products is now called "G." Try telling that to an Indian clerk. I am back to Tap Water.
That's it for now. I will be cocooning for the rest of the month, returning to my previously-scheduled ennui. I've shared or over-shared all I can. All these stories have stolidly reminded me why I shut down in the first place.
Enjoy your summer before it's a (bad, good, mediocre) memory. Don't forget to ignore some advertising. Do it for me.
Learn more about bad marketing via my Twitter feed: @laermer
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