BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY IN USING PEDAL-TO-THE-METAL ADVERTISING

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I have seldom if ever seen more irresponsible advertising than that running for Castrol North America Automotive, which markets Castrol GTX and Syntec synthetic blend motor oils and Syntec fuel system treatment.

Castrol's slogan is "Power when you need it," and one TV commercial shows drivers recklessly using the hyped-up performance Castrol apparently provides.

One sequence shows a car pulling out of its lane to pass another car, just as a big truck is bearing down on it.

The car narrowly manages to get back into its own lane. I guess we are supposed to imagine what would have happened without the Castrol product, but maybe the guy wouldn't have had the nerve to pass in the first place.

The second example of Castrol's power shows another car vaulting through an intersection just a few feet ahead of a car that almost hits it broadside.

The spot would be analogous to Frito-Lay showing some poor guy gorging himself on Lay's potato chips because he can't resist the great taste (actually, the brand used to use the tag "Bet you can't eat just one," but it would be hard to imagine Frito-Lay using the slogan "Calories when you need them" to push its chips).

Maybe I'm being overly sensitive here, but I am of the opinion that advertisers should be especially careful not to show excessive and irresponsible use of their products.

The beer people, for the most part, avoid even the suggestion that drinkers are developing any kind of serious relationship with their brews, mostly by featuring non-people such as penguins, ants, frogs, killer tumbleweeds and attack refrigerators in their ads (this last spot from Budweiser shows a guy trying to get a couple of nice cold Buds out of his suddenly combative refrigerator, which fights with every weapon at its command-mustard, tomatoes, a head of lettuce-to keep the guy away from the Budweiser. Doesn't the stupid fridge realize that when the guy and his date drink all the Budweiser, the guy will get more?)

United Airlines, the latest to convert to the precept that too much of a good thing is not a good thing, has reverted to a more realistic view of what it can deliver. It's gone from the friendly skies of United to the unfriendly skies-come to think of it, just as McDonald's Corp. went from a kid-friendly place to a kid-unfriendly place for Arch Deluxe.

The new ads are said to acknowledge the hassles of air travel and re-create all the horrible experiences we've all had waiting for planes to take off and land and show up. The idea is to demonstrate that United shares its passengers' distress and frustration.

One spot is said to exaggerate the hardships of traveling by using images of Orville and Wilbur Wright and the crowds of people anticipating a ride on their flying contraption. "After two announcements of the flight's delay and manual attempts to start the engines, the flight is canceled. People leave en masse and several men haul the plane away with a rope," we reported.

Call me a spoil sport, but I don't want to be reminded of all the bad times I've had trying to get from one place to another on an airplane. I rather liked the idea of a mythical place called "the friendly skies of United," where all the planes landed on time, and I was treated like an honored guest.

But I guess the "life sucks" school of advertising is determined to wring excess niceness out of creative people's renderings. The Nike spots show athletes grunting and groaning, slamming into fences-really suffering-while the words "I never felt better" flash on the screen. And didn't I chide Castrol for excessiveness of its own?

I for one hope that feeling good by feeling bad doesn't become the mantra of Madison Ave. It makes us feel guilty if we go through life on a nice even keel, and it revs up advertisers like Castrol to push the limits to dangerous levels.

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