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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Ad collusion threatens confusion

    Matt Rolland columnist
    Matt Rolland
    columnist

    The other day, while checking my e-mail, I was distracted by a sidebar’s desperate plea for help. Turning my attention heroically to the ad, I managed to fend off an angry sumo wrestler, knock out Mike Tyson and save a car from careening off a cliff before breaking a sweat. Amazing what I can accomplish from the safety of my cushy computer chair. And then, suddenly, I found myself wanting to eat at Red Lobster.

    Advertising has taken on a strange quality these days. So often, ads tie together completely unrelated products: movies and restaurants, cars and jewelry, sports and insurance. For the mindful consumer, shopping has become a disorienting, perpetually mouth-watering experience. But what does it mean to be a mindful consumer these days? How can we make informed decisions when advertisements so often draw illogical associations between unrelated products?

    Advertising, undeniably, is an inseparable part of our culture. It is as ubiquitous as the cars and televisions that are promoted by them. From the moment we turn on the computer screen, we are bombarded with dozens of flashy advertisements for products we didn’t think we would ever need.

    A few months ago, with the impending summer flurry of blockbuster hits jockeying for ad space, fast-food giants aggressively took sides. Burger King squared away behind the Simpsons clan, while McDonald’s put its full advertising expertise behind “”Shrek the Third.”” The result for consumers was overwhelming; I often found myself longing for a Squishee to wash every juicy burger bite down and a nice cottage where I could sit and drink my green milkshake. Several weeks later when I saw the dual ad for “”Transformers”” and Burger King on TV, it finally hit me: advertisers think we are putty.

    How else could you explain the completely illogical associations between fast food and cinema entertainment? Unfortunately, it seems that consumers, especially younger generations, are incredibly susceptible to these sorts of mindless associations. Whereas synesthesia was once the fodder of playful poets, it has become a part of our daily experience. Advertisers will do anything these days just to get their product in the eyes (or mouths) of their target audience. With the release of “”Shrek the Third,”” the ogre got his own dyed green Pop Secret popcorn, sinister 7-11 Slurpee, Baskin Robbins ice cream flavor, Go-Gurt logo and even a bag of Cheetos that turn tongues green upon impact. What’s the connection? All these products are fun snacks for younger, impressionable, correlation-drawing consumers.

    Here’s a basic economic principle to apply when facing the onslaught of advertisements: Oftentimes, as products in a market become more and more homogenized, the number of advertisements tends to increase. Let’s be honest, how different, essentially, are Coke and Pepsi? What about Crest and Colgate? When products offer basically the same services, they are forced to differentiate through small variations. This trend has been around since our parents were kids. Something, however, changed fundamentally in the world of advertising about two decades ago.

    In the book “”Michael Jordan and the New Global Capitalism,”” Walter LaFeber chronicles the major developments that took place in the world of advertising with the convergence of professional sports and footwear in the late 1980s. A partnership among Nike, Michael Jordan, McDonald’s and media moguls like Ted Turner (CNN) resulted in a worldwide advertising campaign unlike any other. Jordan’s and Nike’s advertising approach was unprecedented: Jordan endorsed products on every aisle, offering not just a few isolated pieces of clothing and shoes, but a whole lifestyle. You could dress like Mike, smell like Mike, play sports like Mike, eat cereal like Mike, ad infinitum. The advertising world learned its lesson and never turned back.

    Ours is the first generation to grow up in this advertising climate. For example, what do you think of when you hear about Hollister and Abercrombie? What about Gatorade? Nike? Each of these major brands has not just a product attached to it, but an attitude … a lifestyle, if you will. We are becoming especially accustomed to this type of advertising not just because of the Jordan effect, but also in part from online advertising. Online ads strive to mirror the content of Web sites, effectively targeting their ads to interested audiences. The blend of online activity and advertising has blurred the lines between shopping, entertainment and social networking.

    This wouldn’t be such a problem if the effects were limited to meaningless choices like fast food and rap music. The danger of this consumption pattern lies in the mindlessness and passivity it engenders. When we accept the nonsensical associations in our consumption lives, we run the risk of making similar illogical associations in more important decisions, like politics and moral values. We can only wonder how the generation on our heels, the group that went straight from sucking their thumbs in baby beds to embedding video codes on their profiles, will deal with the difficult lifestyle questions students must face in college.

    Until that time comes, though, I think I’m going to go watch an episode of Burger King.

    Matt Rolland is a junior majoring in economics and international studies. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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