I grew up in the 50’s when television was simple entertainment sprinkled with catchy commercials. Advertising was designed to jog my memory. So when I saw a leggy piece of chocolate jump into a colorful swimming pool emerging in a hard “m-stamped” shell, I didn’t wonder about truth in advertising. I simply added a mental picture to my shopping list.
However, 50’s became 60’s, and TV ads became subliminal. Mental pictures became fuzzy. My high school offered courses in “propaganda analysis” where I sorted fact from fiction in a media-infused society.
Then, 70’s and 80’s brought full-fledged marketing and a new mindset. In college advertising classes, I learned that successful marketing could “create a need” for useless products. I don’t remember hearing the words “truth” or “integrity” in marketing classes. “Image” and “perceived need” replaced them.
Today, TV bombards me with images of underwear-clad people having romantic success supplied by glamorous cologne. Tiny pills guarantee 6-hour erections or long nights of sleep. Fat bodies miraculously morph into bikini-clad babes.
These days when I ask college students about career plans, I generally hear the word “marketing.” Oh goody. A generation raised on a steady diet of product marketing will pitch me clever lines and I will probably listen. Where is propaganda analysis when I need it?
I am afraid for marketing’s impact upon my vote. Before marketing ruled, a thoughtful democratic process elected American leaders. Newspapers, radios, and debates helped candidates communicate platforms. Back then, voters made decisions based upon issues they read, heard on the radio, and discussed with others. Issues! But today, candidate images are conjured up by campaign managers (actually “marketing specialists”) hired to convince me what I want. Specialists instruct candidates where to appear, how to cut their hair, how long a public kiss can last. They market their political opponents as flawed undesirables.
Research indicates that it costs 400 million dollars to realistically compete for executive office. If marketing geniuses have spent candidate money well, I will vote as they have marketed. Can I resist?
Highly-marketed leaders have led my country through recent years into domestic and international chaos. When the public first found offense with “The War in Iraq,” an image (marketing) consultant simply renamed it “The War on Terror.” Now, I can accept the war. But I suspect a war by any other name smells the same.
I sigh. I’m glad I’ve not voted for lousy highly-marketed candidates. But attesting to the sad truth in these paragraphs, my excellent but poorly-marketed candidates have never won an election.
As I enter the 2008 primary and general election season, I panic as candidates jump into their pools of candy coating. Will I finally succumb to marketing reality and join the largest group voting for the least offensive holder of 400 million dollars? Or will I have the integrity to say “no” to money and marketing, be the courageous, intelligent human being I was designed to be, and vote for the most intelligent and qualified loser?
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.