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Barbara Walking in the Valley
A bi-weekly column, featuring one Christian's (a)musings on life's journey

by Barbara Dahlgren

Ad Nauseam – Literally
Column for the weeks of February 1-15, 2007

Remember the old ad geared toward getting women to smoke that said, “You’ve come a long way, Baby!” I guess the same could be said about the world of advertising. Yes, they’ve come a long way.

In ancient times an ad might have been an eye-catching sign painted on the outside of a building offering a rental property. In medieval times, a town crier would shout accolades for merchants who paid them. After the invention of the printing press in the mid 1400s, mass distribution of posters or flyers was possible. Two hundred years later the first newspapers used ads. In the 1800s they segued into magazines. By the 1920s printed ads weren’t the only avenue for getting the word out on a product or idea because of the radio. Then by the 1950s we had television – and you know the rest.

Advertising’s intent is to persuade people to purchase certain items or services, or perhaps adopt a particular idea. And they have been most successful in that endeavor. In the 1800s farm wives didn’t even know they needed corsets until they saw them advertised in a Ladies Home Journal. It sort of reminds me of Adam and Eve. After Satan deceived them, they didn’t want to talk to God because they were naked. God said, “Who told you that you were naked?” And they replied, “The advertising industry! They say Eve needs a corset!”

Advertising industries live by one premise – consumers don’t know what they want or need until they tell us. They have mastered the art persuasion. Actually, I can deal with that.

I can deal with the deceptiveness of advertising – the half-truth and misleading information designed to convince me to buy something I don’t need. After all, ads are not journalism; they’re salesmanship.

I can deal with ads perpetuating self-image problems – causing young girls to be bulimic or anorexic, older girls to think being sexy can solve their problems, guys to feel if they purchase a certain product they’ll get a date with that sexy girl which would solve all their problems, and people in general to feel inferior.

I can deal with ads during political campaigns so full of mudslinging and lies that we think their opponents are well-dressed serial killers – leaving us so confused about issues and candidates that we throw our hands up in disgust and say, “Why vote?”

I can deal with ads revealing things that used to be left to imagination or at least to mom, dad, or a doctor to explain – such as condoms, tampons, bikini wax, vaginal itching, or pills to enhance someone’s love making stamina.

I can deal with ads contributing to the debt cycle through materialism and to the misconception that happiness is achieved through possessions. We no longer need to keep up with the Jones’s – we are the Jones’s.

I can deal with all of that! I just can’t deal with the fact that ads are EVERYWHERE!

They’re on the sides of busses, on bill boards, on benches, on team uniforms, on stadium names, on buildings, in newspapers, in flyers, in magazines, through telemarketers, at your front door, on a video in a check out line at the grocery store, in sky writing, in big balloon animals on tops of businesses, on posters in yards, in my mailbox, on roadside fences, in elevators, at the movies, in e-mails, on radio, on television – ad infinitum and ad nauseam.

Exactly how much advertising information can a person assimilate in one day?

The big complaint while watching TV used to be when the show got to an exciting part, it was suddenly interrupted by a commercial. We didn’t know how good we had it. At least with those commercials you could mute the TV or channel surf until they were over. Not so anymore! Now while you are watching your program a little plug for some other show appears at the bottom of the TV screen. For example, you’re watching a tearjerker and at the defining moment when you’re totally absorbed in the plot, some little cartoon character or miniature person appears at the bottom of your screen, dancing around in a mini skirt, plugging the next show. I feel like a split personality.

Soon you may not even be able to fast forward through ads unscathed. TiVo is testing pop-up ads that appear when you fast forward through commercials.

Even more blatant is when the ad actually becomes a part of the program as in some reality TV shows. Consumer advocates call it “stealth advertisement” For example, after a Solstice roadster played a prominent part in an episode of The Apprentice, Pontiac received 1000 orders for the car in just 41 minutes the day after it aired. Some claimed that American Idol was one big Coca Cola commercial.

Don’t think you can escape advertising by reading a good book instead. Now authors are accepting product placements in their books. For a price, some authors will weave merchandise names into their plot. And some publishers are beginning to accept full page ads in their books, as well.

Don’t think you can escape by taking a taxi anywhere. Flat panel TV screens are being installed in some taxis designed to deliver the news, restaurant info and video ads while you ride. It’s hard to get out of a moving cab.

Don’t think you can escape by going to the local high school production of It’s a Wonderful Life. A Minnesota high school paused periodically during its performance to read ads from local businesses at $75 a pop. How fitting this is in a play about the true meaning of Christmas. Merchants could even rent space to have their names on the set’s backdrop.

Don’t think you can escape by going to a Broadway play. For a fee, they will endorse specific products. In the revival of Sweet Charity the line that said, “A double scotch again, sir?” was changed to “Gran Centenario, the tequila?” Big bucks were involved. The musical Spamalot incorporated plugs for – guess what? – Hormel’s Spam – and Yahoo, although I’m not sure how they tied Yahoo into the plot.

Don’t think you can escape by going to the movies. Advertising before the show is to be expected and movies have always had some subliminal messages. You see the star on the big screen eat popcorn and suddenly you are at the concession stand buying some yourself. But product placement has always been there subtly as well. Humphrey Bogart drank Gordon’s Gin in The African Queen and Tom Cruise carried a Hitachi video camera in War of the Worlds. It’s impossible to block ads out when they are part of the shows themselves.

And I have more good news for you! Technology is working on methods for beaming images directly into a person’s brain. Wait until the advertising industry gets hold of that.

I wonder if we will even escape in the afterlife. Heaven may give us some peace, but I have visions of a person entering hell with little devils holding signs that read “Heat Up Sales,” “Red Hot Deals,” “Fire Sale” and “Bargains Too Hot to Handle.”

The good news is we don’t have to wait until we die to experience Advertising Hell – we’re already there!


Be sure to visit this page often to read the next edition of Walking in the Valley. You can write to the author at



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