I consider myself to be at least as smart as the next guy (even smarter, if the next guy paid money to see “Battlefield Earth”), but I don’t understand advertising.
Specifically, there are some particular advertising and marketing strategies that simply escape me. For example:
Movies at the video store that say “In Glorious Black & White” on the cover. Who do they think they’re fooling? Do they think that attaching the word “glorious” to it somehow makes black and white better than color? Oh, sure, who needs the bright, vivid hues of real life when you can have the muted, ugly tones of Glorious Black & White?”
(Interesting fact about black-and-white movies: Humphrey Bogart is lucky to have worked during that era, because not only were people more accepting of tiny, huge-headed trolls in those days, but more importantly, he suffered from terminal jaundice. His skin was a bright, solar yellow all the time — but you can’t tell in the black-and-white movies.)
Cocoa Krispies. Well, I understand the concept of the cereal; it’s Rice Krispies, but with brown-colored sugar added to make it unhealthy. What I don’t get is the box. On it, there’s a picture of a monkey. Not a cartoon monkey mascot, like Tony the Tiger or Toucan Sam, but an actual photograph of an actual monkey. What message are they trying to send here? Does the cereal TASTE like monkey? Is it made from monkeys? (“Cocoa Krispies: You can really taste the monkey!”)
That guy on the Totally Awesome Computers commercials. Is this the most annoying man in the world, or what? I’m not really in the market for a new computer, but if I were, I would buy one somewhere else and then hit this guy in the head with it.
Granny B’s cookies. There’s a commercial for these in which a woman claiming to be Granny B extols the virtues of her various confectioneries. At one point she says, “One taste of my sugar cookies, and you’ll be hooked!” Is the fact that you’ll develop an addiction for a product really a good selling point? Is that what people want — a compulsion, obsessive addiction to cookies?
Stores that take up half their parking lots with huge summer-oriented displays. What is the strategy here? Is ShopKo actually trying to prevent people from entering its own store by taking up the 50 best parking spaces with 12,000 potted plants that are presumably for sale? Even if you wanted to buy one, you’d have to just toss the money from your window as you drove past, because there’s certainly no place to park.
And honestly, Sam’s Club. Are you selling enough of those $2,300 children’s playsets to make up for lost business from people who can’t find a parking space and therefore don’t shop in your store? How many of those splinter-infested deathtraps do you have to sell before it all balances out in the quarterly report?
And why put them in the parking lot anyway? Are children’s playsets a big “impulse item”? Are people finishing their regular shopping and then, on their way back to their cars (parked miles from the store’s entrance), saying, “Hey, wait. As long as we’re here, we should shell out a few thousand bucks for something that our children can fracture their tiny bones on”?
Wienerschnitzel. Actually, what I don’t understand here is the fact that Wienerschnitzel even exists. I mean, who eats there? Most people I know won’t even admit that they like hot dogs. And to actually go out to a restaurant and BUY one! It’s one thing if you’re at home and there’s nothing else to eat, and you have a fondness for the eyelashes and toenails of swine. But to consciously decide, “I want a hot dog,” and then drive to Wienerschnitzel — by-passing dozens of other food options along the way — it just makes no sense to me.
No offense to the fine people at Wienerschnitzel, of course. It’s entirely possible that everything makes perfect sense and I’m just dumb. The important thing, though, is that “Battlefield Earth” really sucks.
As a pre-emptive measure against the people who are going to point this out, yes, this DOES seem like a lot of little mini-columns pasted together. And to answer your next question, no it wouldn't have been better to develop each one into its own column. Trust me, this is as much as I had to say on any of these topics.
Totally Awesome Computers is a chain of stores in Utah whose commercials feature a weaselly, moustached man ranting like the Ritalin-nerd he is. Granny B's cookies are "homemade" cookies commonly found in vending machines and on 7-Eleven counters. I don't know if they're purely a Utah thing or not.
A few months after this was published, the aforementioned Totally Awesome Computers guy read it and sent me the following e-mail:
You will have to beat me in the head with it because if you didn't buy it from me it more than likely wont run all of your software:). [Please note that he has authorized me to carry through with my plan of beating him in the head with a computer.] Crazy adds [or perhaps even ads, as we spell it here in the United States] are why my sales have been tripling every year for 3 years in a row now so I will laugh about your comments all the way to the bank.
At first this seemed more friendly -- a bit on the defensive side, but still amiable -- than angry, so I wasn't going to post it here. I replied and quoted him the two negative comments people had posted on this page about his services, just so he'd be aware of them. He replied to that by sending me approximately 1,000 e-mail pages of positive feedback he had received from his customers. To this I responded:
Thanks for the spam, but all I meant was to let you know that not everyone is as enamored of your stores as you are.
I personally couldn't care less whether you sell a lot of computers or no computers. All I said in the column was the commercials are annoying, and that annoying commercials make me not want to shop at a particular place. If the commercials have the opposite effect on other people, fine. Good for you.
That's when the friendly stopped. I received this delightful e-mail, which is what made me decide to finally post the whole thing here:
Yes but I can't believe someone educated to your level would have such a weak mind! Why would you not want to save $100, get a better computer and better service simply because your emotions are stronger than your common sense. I don't care if you are a total jerk off, I would buy from you if you had the better deal. I'm not a racist, bigot, or stuck up. Suggesting that people should get all emotional, and boycott a product without using their head to face the facts is unwise. You should be charged with malpractice ['cause I'm a doctor, you know] or fired for having such a ridiculous opinion! Are you having that female time of the month by chance? Sounds very childish! What next? Not buying from people because they are black? Or not of your religion? Just because people are different doesn't make them bad. [No, but people being annoying DOES make them bad. Or at least to be avoided.] Use your brain mister IQ! I still love you but you should grow up so you don't have to avoid every business of whom you didn't like their ads for the rest of your life.
I believe it was the phrase "female time of the month" that swayed me in favor of posting the correspondence here. And for the record, no it wasn't.
A few years later, Superdell went out of business and crazily blamed the Utah media and Satan for all his problems. The guy was a nut.