Harry and Louise Take Keeping It Simple Just a Little Too Far

They're on the Other Side of the Health-Care-Reform Debate Now, but Nothing Else Has Changed

By Published on .

This is slightly about Harry and Louise, but mostly about stupid people.

No offense. While they constitute the last category of humanity deemed fair game for name-calling -- nitwit, halfwit, dumbass, doofus, dullard, imbecile, simpleton, moron, cretin, boob, dope, nincompoop, dolt, etc. -- their stupidity isn't a moral failing or weakness of character. Their handicap is just an accident of birth, like left-handedness or Canadianism.

Title: Get the Job Done
Marketer: PhRMA and Families USA
Harry and Louise are back, however it's still two terrible actors reducing complex issues ad absurdum.
More widespread, however. Remember: exactly 50% of the population is dumber than average -- or, anyway, dumber than the mean. Half of us go through life sledding down the bell curve; the other half lead a Sisyphean existence of pushing the cogitation boulder uphill.

Yet so much advertising insults their lack of intelligence.

We (AdReview included) all put such a premium on wit and cleverness, irony and savoir faire that we neglect the 150 million Americans with IQs in two digits. Much of our most cherished advertising sails right over their heads.

Not all categories, of course. OTC ads usually treat us like a whole nation of slow learners. Some lady examines a branded formulation of commodity drugs as if it were magical elixir, and when the voice-over says it won't make you jittery (i.e., no pseudoephedrine), she smiles and says, "I like that!" Because she's a smart mom and half the target audience is so sadly obtuse they have to be assured they'll like that, too.

The ghetto of daytime and late-night cable is home, mainly, to the loser demographic -- a cohort which, in the great Venn diagram of life, substantially overlaps with stupidity. Credit repair, cash-for-gold, cash-for-your-car-title, get-rich-quick, chat lines, chum-spreading lawyers and direct-response pitches for overpriced insurance aimed at frightened, confused seniors.

And why? Because lack of sophistication and common sense doesn't disqualify you from spending money. Dim Americans, in the aggregate, command billions of dollars. And they watch a whole lot of TV. Also, very significantly, they vote.

That explains political advertising, whose stock in trade is tricking the ill-informed. This is not limited to campaign ads, which merely have to cite nominal facts out of context to fashion grotesque lies about the opposition. In off years such as this one, we're often visited by the attack ad's retarded cousin: the policy ad, whose role is to reduce a complex legislative issue to the simplest terms -- which is to say, simplistic terms -- in service of one side of the debate.

They're usually lies, too. The quintessential example, from the first Clinton term, "Harry and Louise" the fictional ordinary couple that seemed perplexed about why the government would want to mandate universal health coverage. Their insipid chats utterly misrepresented the White House plan, but succeeded in scaring the wits out of seniors and others susceptible to sophistry.

The campaign had precisely the look and feel of the direct-response burial insurance genre, which was fitting, because it was the work of the insurance lobby eager to derail government intervention in their unholy money machine.

Well, Harry and Louise are back -- though, weirdly, this time they're fronting for proponents of the government's plan, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and a group called Families USA. Nothing else has changed, however. It's still two terrible actors reducing complex issues ad absurdum, in language resembling George speaking to Lennie.

Louise: We need good coverage people can afford. Coverage they can get.
Harry: Even if they have a pre-existing condition.
Louise: And coverage they can keep if they change jobs.
Harry: Or lose their jobs. Sounds simple enough.
Louise: A little more cooperation, a little less politics, and we can get the job done this time.

Sounds simple enough. We don't like that.

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