The Michigan Daily
Monday, December 11, 1989
Mid-shot. A living room, night.
A middle-aged woman sits comfort-
ably in a La-Z-Boy recliner, sipping
tea and reading a book. Family pic-
tures hang in the background. The
picture of domestic tranquility.
The doorbell rings. She answers
it. A policeman stands at the door,
with~a grave expression.
POLICEMAN: Mrs. Johnson?
WOMAN: (Worried.) Yes?
POLICEMAN: I have bad news,
ma'am. There's been an accident.
Your husband lost control of his car
and drove off the highway with your
two children. They were all killed.
WOMAN: Oh my God!
POLICEMAN: I'm afraid I need
you to answer a few questions. The
accident happened because one of the
front tires blew out. (Sternly.)
When we inspected the car, we dis-
covered that it did not have Acme
WOMAN: (Tremendous guilt.)
M. no. Oh, no....
Buy this or we'll kill
POLICEMAN: (Furious.) Wh y
didn't you have Safe-Ryde"m tires on
your car? Why did you let your fam-
ily DIE? Why? Why? Why?!?
(She runs around the house, looking
for things to kill herself with.)
Fade to black. Logo: "Safe-
Ryde r' - unless you don't love
It was a lot easier, back in the old
days, when advertisers could just flat
out lie. If you wanted to sell a prod-
uct, you'd just make some outra-
geous claim, like saying it would
give you psychic powers. As long as
you caveated your emptors, you were
fine, and the only people who got
suckered were too dumb to be trusted
with money, anyway. You knew
when you were being screwed with.
But lately, a disturbing trend has
developed in advertising - the
threat. Whereas the message of
commercials was once "you can't
live without our prc it," it's now
"you'll die without our prodtuc."
In psychological terms, advertis-
ing in the late '80s has switched
from Eros to Thanatos. Where adver-
tisers use to ply us to buy their
goods by showing us flesh, they
now show us bones, as in the Volvo
commercial which features a slow
pan of a skeleton, and urges us to
buy their car because it has a won-
derful braking system - and
"replacement parts are hard to find."
And whereas high-fiber cereals used
to keep you fit and trim so you
could mate, mate, mate to your
heart's content, now they unclog
your heart's contents so you don't
And apparently, we're not the
only ones in danger - our children
are, too. In my personal favorite
threatvertisement campaign, Miche-
lin shows cute babies playing around
their tires, while their parents dis-
cuss road safety - i.e., the necessity
by Jim Poniewozik
of owning a set of Michelins.
The subtext of the ad is: "See
these babies? Aren't they cute?
Don't you love them? And wouldn't
it be a shame if they were cruelly
mangled in a car crash because you
didn't buy our tires?"
All in all, getting your intelli-
gence insulted is starting to look
pretty good in comparison. I mean,
you could always laugh off the su-
perficial values of old ads, but you
can't exactly deny that you don't
want to die, right?
As much as I hate to figure the
Baby Boom into anything, it would
seem to make sense that the aging of
the post-war generation must have
something to do with this trend.
Since the object of ad is to sell a
lot of things, it's generally consid-
ered good form to target them at a
lot of people, and that particular
generation, by virtue of its numbers,
has thus dictated the focus of adver-
tising for the past decades.
Until recently, the bulk of those
people were in what Eddie Murphy
refers to as their "fuck years," and
hence, were interested in products
that would make them attractive. But
now, the generation that didn't want
to grow up like its parents did has
now discovered that it also doesn't
want to die like its parents did, ei-
Thus endeth the Sexual Revolu-
tion and thus beginneth the Mortal-
But what comes next? Well, ex-
tending the psychological thing a bit
longer, tradition holds that accep-
tance is the last stage of death, so it
stands to reason that the next thing
advertisers will come after is our
souls. Once we realize that no
amount of oat bran or rechargeable
car batteries will keep us alive for-
ever, we'll want to prepare ourselves
for whatever comes next. Look for a
revival of indulgences, as well as a
variety of New Age breakfast cereals
("orange ankhs, yellow yin-yangs,
and blue crystals!").
In the meantime, however, look
for the trend to spread to less obvi-
ous products. Do you know how
many people have died of razor burn?
Or that armed robbers are 33 percent
more likely to shoot their victims if
they have unsightly facial blem-
ishes? And remember, the wrong
kind of running shoe could cause
you to slip and fall in front of a
In which case, you'd better hope
it's a Volvo.
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