June 2, 2013

Bowen Craig: Are we really that stupid?

— There’s so much ever-mounting evidence that we are not an intelligent people. We’re so easily led over the cliff even when we see our buddies go there first that it amazes me that we’re higher up on the food chain than lemmings.

And it’s not as if you have to look all that hard to find evidence of our stupidity. Just turn on the television. Listen to the radio. And Lord knows, check out the Internet. Or just look at your kids. I know you don’t think so, but your kids are dumb. It’s OK. You don’t have to leave them on a mountaintop or sacrifice them to the harvest gods, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not dumb. They are, but they’re in good company.

I was listening to a radio ad for an Internet-based company called Stamps.com. Apparently what they do is sell people postage stamps over the Internet, which the buyers can then put on the top right corner of their letters before putting them in the mail. Set aside the obvious lunacy that A, we’re now selling, at an ever-increasing price, one of the major things we fought a revolution to get away from having to buy at all, and that they’re mandatory for sending mail, and B, we’re now selling them over the very tool which is making them obsolete. Put those thoughts out of your mind.

Listen to the way they pitch this stupid, stupid idea. The geniuses at Stamps.com have gone with a familiar ad strategy for the times and played on our busy lives and, more to the point, our fear that our lives are so busy that we’re going to miss something and the only way for us to avoid this horrible tragedy is to buy some piece of fodder that will give us a little stop-to-smell-the-roses time. It’s a really common ad strategy.

The Internet stamp purveyors have convinced us that waiting in line at the post office takes too much time. Even walking in the post office door and operating the vending machine to buy stamps will take the five minutes that you could have been using to sing a lullaby to your new baby. Unless you order stamps over the Internet you will simply not have enough time in your day to play catch with your son or call your mom on Mother’s Day. Those are the five minutes that you’re going to regret not sitting in a porch swing with your girlfriend, watching the sunset, sipping some cool, refreshing lemon-flavored sweet tea you ordered from Tea.com.

Incidentally, when Tea.com comes into being, and seriously, it’s just a matter of time, will we then notice the historical irony or will we again be taken in by “Are you tired of having to slog your pre-bought grocery store tea home from the supermarket? Is the daily grind of having to get a grocery cart, walk down aisles, put things IN the cart, then wait in line to pay a clerk too much for you? And then there’s the pyramid-building slave-like chore of having to unload grocery bags from the car. Let’s not even mention how much time and effort it takes to fill a glass with ice cubes and THEN pour tea into a glass. Don’t you wish that you had the time to breastfeed your baby instead of having to rely on a robot wet nurse? Wouldn’t it be great if instead of all that painful, back breaking work, all you had to do to get refreshing tea on a summer day was punch in a few numbers on your computer? Well, wait no more. Happy days are here again. Those 15 seconds of carrying grocery bags into the house are a thing of the past.”

It’s all on the way, people, and we’ll probably fall for it once again.

We’re fooled so often by the false notion that we can buy our way to happiness that I’m amazed the companies that sell already popular products haven’t just started out-and-out insulting us.

Marketers already think we’re idiots. It’s just a matter of time before their disdain for us shines through the thin veil of barely disguised revulsion on which the world turns.

They sell us exercise machines at 2 a.m. when they know that if we’re still watching TV, it won’t be after just having run a marathon. They sell us on Tom Cruise movies, knowing that we probably won’t notice that he’s played the same character since 1987. They sell us on wanting somebody else’s life all the time. That’s what undergirds half of the ads on TV.

“Look, it’s Ashton Kutcher hawking a camera. I already own the camera that Britney Spears told me to buy and even though she didn’t return my calls afterward, I want Ashton’s life. So, by that logic, if I buy Ashton’s camera, I could be Ashton Kutcher. That’s a good way to drop 90 bucks.”

They sell us on owning rugged cars knowing that we’ll never pile in the Expedition and drive it up Mount Kilimanjaro. We might run over a small child in our neighborhood since we’re sitting 10 feet off the ground, but nobody buys an SUV and then uses it for actual sport utility purposes. You might as well own a Volkswagen Beetle. They’re cute and they’re shaped like ladybugs.

Within the same five-minute span of time they have the unbelievable gall to sell us both bacon double cheeseburgers and pills that lower cholesterol. As sad as that is, we’re still so drop-an-anvil-on-our-own-heads stupid that we haven’t been able to add two plus two to see that one for the common sense and money vacuum that it is.

They know who watches what channel. They’ve done the research. They know to put erectile dysfunction ads on ESPN and feminine care ads in between “American Idol” segments. Sure, that was an obvious example and doesn’t take Nielsen boxes or industry-funded sociological studies to figure out, but that’s the grenade tip to the iceberg of evil our ship is approaching at record speed. They know which shows depressed people watch and which ones cat owners watch (though again, bad example, there’s a lot of crossover).

The point is that advertising in general is now based on the idea that we’re wide-eyed morons who will follow the shiny lights and the bouncing ball to our eventual deaths, where we better have pre-ordered our own coffin with surround sound and ergonomically pleasing cushioning or we’re in for an eternity of discomfort.

TV makes it even easier to sell us stupid junk and some useful junk, but junk that we already have three of or is overpriced to the point that we have to mortgage our house to be able to afford the security system to protect it from the largely fictional house robbers in the ski masks and the canvas bags with the dollar signs painted on them, a useful tool for kidnapping your children.

Man, I’d love it if we could eventually wise up a little and make them feel like the stupid ones. And maybe we could do it, too, if we weren’t actually as stupid as they think we are.

Bowen Craig is a former Dalton resident now living in Athens. He’s bitter with advertisers because he was tricked into buying a Thighmaster because he thought it would give him a better chance of being the fourth roommate on “Three’s Company.”