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Advertising's Punch Bowl, Round 4: Pretty Smart Pigs

Published on .

JT to PM:

Why is it that when pundits want to beat up on advertising, they always claim it makes people, especially kids, manic? Has anyone ever done research on attention spans, or are these facts plucked out of thin air? Besides, who the hell cares if Johnny is impatient? In fact, as a school teacher, I prefer impatient students. When I was a kid my dad called me "78rpm." You're too young to know what that means. But I think what critics really mean is, "I can't control my kids so let's blame 15-second sugar cereal spots." Then they call it ADD and give the kid drugs.

PM to JT:

Forget the pundits for a minute and let's just talk cause and effect. How could there not be a correlation between the speed at which information and images are passing before us, and the demand that puts on us to process them? You're right, the brightest kids are impatient because they're exhibiting the appropriate response to their environment. They're adjusting their engines to the engines of commerce - which are in perpetual fifth gear and pedal-to-the-metal every minute of every day. Gross simplification, and the reduction of experience to its core emotional essences, is at the heart of mass consumerism and mass culture. All that matters is desire and satisfaction. What transpires between those two poles is irrelevant, since that is where reflection, skepticism, independent thought and all those other menaces to society reside - which, as any salesperson knows, are also the obstacles to closing the sale.

JT to PM:

How come human beings, who have been lumbering around the planet for thousands of years, suddenly, just like that, have their nervous system metabolizing at cheetah speed because of some mechanical change? Hello MTV advertising, adios reflection? I don't buy it. Look, this is an old story. The monks freaked out at the printing press. It would move things too quickly. In the 19th century, upper crusters argued against literacy legislation because the hoi polloi would start - gasp! - wanting things. Then, radio was thought to be dangerous. Cop shows would teach the kiddies to be criminals in order to get things. Hey, when I was in my teens, bozos like Dr. Fredric Wertham said comics were causing juvenile delinquency and stealing. We didn't suddenly learn how to want things. What's changed is that we have a surfeit of things. Let's be thankful. Ka-ching.

PM to JT:

You're dodging the issue Jim. I have no quarrel with the speed of technology. I like my calls to go through fast, I like my computer to boot up in seconds rather than minutes, and I like making popcorn without scrubbing pots. My point is about content, not context. Just because it's possible to nuke a frozen dinner in 30 seconds doesn't mean that I'm getting a better meal. Now, of course you would say, "Who's to say what's better?" and of course you'd be wrong again. I suppose we should ignore doctors and nutritionists and pay more attention to the Taco Bell Chihuaha and Ronald McDonald. Your problem is that you want to embrace the freedom of our society without questioning the inherent risks that accompany it. I say hooray for free markets, hooray for capitalism, hooray for us for being able to shop till we drop . . . but to hell with those who prey on our trust and our ignorance with the cultural carcinogens of their callous contempt.

JT to PM:

Oh my God, the "cultural carcinogens" argument! Has it come to that? You're beginning to sound as if you've read too much George Orwell on advertising: "Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket." How come you lefties always seem to know what slop the rest of us should be consuming? Suffice it to say, I've met some pretty smart pigs. I'd like to say that I haven't got the attention span to deal with this bit of 'question begging,' but we haven't got the space. Till next time.

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