American Culture

Advertising and the real people in this world

by greg stene

I’ve encountered a number of people who believe in some mysterious power of advertising and think it needs to be regulated. I have railed at these people, that they need to wake up to the world around them and realize that people are not idiots and they can pretty damned well determine for themselves how to deal with advertising and the messages it sends.

I have, for years, believed that the rational, somewhat skeptical human being was what made up our people. A little bit of the Missouri, “show me” attitude so we could decide on the real merits of a thing. Some of that idea of the First Amendment being the way that lets all voices be heard so we can reasonably find the right answer to an issue.

Noble humanity. It was what I believed in. It was why I could read a decision by the Supreme Court and nod in agreement when they noted the idea of “the reasonable person” who was presumed to make up society and pretty much be the standard by which we would judge all people.

My wife and I went to the Sonic this morning for a quick drive-through breakfast and all that was blown straight to hell.

The man and woman in the white Civic in front of us were stopped at the pickup window when we pulled up behind them after bellowing our order at the faceless voice in the box. The Civic people got their order and the clerk turned away and went back to doing something inside. The two people in the Civic began talking to each other and it was obvious that the clerk was away to get another portion of the order.

About three minutes passed, and the people in the Civic suddenly pulled away and stopped at the garbage container about 20 feet forward. It was one of those regular stand-alone, three-feet or so high and about a foot wide on each side sort of garbage cans. A short, cylindrical thing with squared, not round corners.

Two things were bugging me at this point. The first was the idea that these cretins in the white Civic had spent three minutes of my time hanging out at the pickup window talking to each other when there really was no more food they were waiting for.

And second, when they pulled up to the garbage can in their white Civic and stopped next to it, the driver tossed some wadded-up paper at the can. It hit the can and bounced off. The people in the white Civic drove off.

Idiots, I figure. I point out to my wife that they missed the opening in the garbage can.

We get our food, and we begin to drive away from the window, not hanging around for three minutes talking to each other like those people in the white Civic did.

As we drive by the garbage can, my wife casually mentions to me that the flapped opening to the garbage can was in place. Sealing off the opening to the garbage can.

The people in the white Civic had tossed their wadded-up paper at a sealed garbage can, apparently expecting it to open up for them or something.

This really needs repeating. They went to all the trouble of pulling up alongside the garbage can and stopping. They took deliberate aim, and then tossed the paper at the can. And the wadded-up paper bounced off the can.

They did all this, and were not blind, and they could see that there was no opening for the paper to go into the can. Still, they tossed the paper at the can.

It was at this point that I lost my faith in this myth we have created in this society of “the reasonable person.” These people were doing well enough to drive a relatively new white Civic, put some gas in the tank, and order food at the Sonic on a Sunday morning. But they couldn’t figure out that the garbage can they were throwing wadded-up paper at had no available opening.

I will never again be able to make the claim that advertising needs to be judged in the context of the reasonable person, without a sneaky grin on my face.

Does that mean I believe we should regulate advertising to protect cretins who toss wadded-up paper at sealed garbage cans?

Not by a long shot. If we can take more of their money, maybe they won’t be able to afford their white Civics and the gas to run them, and the rest of us will be safer on the road and the road itself won’t have all these wadded-up handfuls of paper alongside the shoulders.

Paraphrasing an old line – you can lead people to a garbage can, but you can’t make them think.

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