Because I have no particular expertise in advertising, my views on the matter stem entirely from my experience as an advertisee, i.e. one to whom products and services are advertised. I don’t know to what extent advertising affects my behavior as a consumer, but if I had to guess I’d say it doesn’t have too much of an impact. I guess it’s possible that advertising’s influence on me is so subtle that I remain oblivious to the fact that it is compelling me to buy things I neither want nor need. But I doubt it.
There are, however, two important exceptions to advertising’s inability to shape my behavior. The first is the J. Crew catalog. I’m embarrassed to admit that I actually buy things from the J. Crew catalog in an attempt to make my world become more like the world depicted in the catalog. “You know what? I bet buying that sweater would make me feel a little more like I’m a dishevelledly handsome guy in a tweed sport coat writing a novel on a vintage typewriter in a cabin in Maine during the winter.” It really is that easy for them, and whenever it works I feel embarrassed that J. Crew is able to sell clothes to me in the exact same way that Disney sells a Hannah Montana sleeping bag to an 11 year-old girl.
“Oh, me? I was just going to chop some wood. Which is why I’m wearing a pocket square in my blazer. Would you like my life? Of course you would. You know the first step to getting it? Buying these jeans I’m wearing.”
The second exception is when a brand’s advertising annoys me to the point that I commit myself never to purchase that brand ever again. In other words, I doubt Madison Avenue can intentionally convince me to buy something, but I know they can unintentionally convince me not to buy something. For an example, see here. I have more than a few advertising pet peeves, but none of them irks me as much as one in particular, which comes in various guises, but always causes me to think the exact same thing: “Now you’re just insulting my intelligence.”
Look, I’m a big boy. I know that people who work in advertising are trying to sell us products that they don’t necessarily use themselves, and in doing so they’re saying things they don’t necessarily believe. Fine. My issue is when they make a pitch so ridiculous and extreme that not only do they not believe it, it’s clear that they couldn’t possibly expect us to believe it, either. I’ve seen this type of advertising used for a variety of products and services, but the example I’m about to give takes the cake for brazen effrontery (and although it’s not an example of advertising, exactly, it provides a perfect example of the approach I’m talking about).
Our friends Slade and Andrea brought the game Jenga over to our house the other night. This was not, however, just any Jenga set. This was “Jenga Onyx Edition.” So there’s the first problem: Jenga has different editions. I’ve compiled a list of things that I believe should and should not have different editions:
Robots that make your bed and can pour chocolate milk out of their fingers
Here is how the text on the box describes the Onyx Edition: “Edge-Of-Your-Seat Fun In Elegant Style!” Okay, it actually does offer “Edge-Of-Your-Seat Fun.” So fair enough on that one. But “elegant style?” And it gets worse. “The classic game gets a modern makeover with this JENGA Onyx Edition. Don’t just make a stack, make a statement with features like black and silver-accented blocks, a sleek stacking frame, and a unique pedestal.”
Make a statement. With your Jenga Onyx Edition. Make a statement with your $30 wooden block stacking game. And what statement, exactly, does the Onyx Edition of Jenga make? “I used to own the regular version of Jenga, but last year I got a huge promotion, putting my income well above $3 million a year. I also left my wife of 23 years for a 19 year-old supermodel from Croatia. I lost 35 lbs by doing Yogalates, and I now only wear black mock turtlenecks. I live in a $6 million dollar loft in Tribeca that has no furniture, with the sole exception of a small, black table which I use to snort cocaine and play my Onyx Edition of Jenga.”
This description ends with the following line: “It’s JENGA for your contemporary lifestyle!” Sheesh. “I had the old Jenga, but it was just so jarringly out-of-sync with my contemporary lifestyle. How? Well, a lot of reasons you wouldn’t really get, with the main one being the total absence of a unique pedestal.”