TV Advertising

I love TV advertising. It’s so informative. Did you know that wrinkles are like boomerangs? It’s true, I saw it on TV. Just when you think they’ve gone, they come back. The question is, what sort of medication were you taking when you thought they’d gone? I suggest you double the dosage. Perhaps they’ll be gone forever.

Maybe it’s the subtleties of language that catch us out. Oh, and by the way, who decided that it was appropriate to stick the letter ‘B’ in a word like subtle? The letter has no place there. I never got English good. It’s so complicated. There’s nuance, inflection, tone and a whole host of other strange things that can change the words you’re saying and make them mean something else entirely.

When I was a kid, I didn’t get it. I still don’t. My mum would come home and start yelling at me. “Do you think I’ve worked my backside off all day to come home to this?” she would demand. I didn’t know which question to answer. The fact was that, no matter how hard my mum worked, it was having little or no effect on the size of her arse. I didn’t think that was the right answer. As far as responsibility was concerned, I wanted to tell her that, as the only adult present, yes, it was probably her job to do something about the state of the house. Still, I had an inkling that answer wouldn’t go down very well either.

You see, no one had told me about rhetorical questions. And there’s another one, a word with a letter ‘H’ that has no place to be there. Who the hell invented this language?

We’re so confused that we believe anything the advertisers tell us. I got home and switched on my TV the other day to find a lovely middle-aged woman on the screen advertising regularity. Now, I thought to myself, this is something my wife could make use of. She’s late for just about everything. But then I realized my mistake. This woman was talking about bowel movements. Now, please God, this is something that we don’t talk about. The woman held up a packet of something and explained intimate things about how often she went to the toilet after she started eating them. I think the box contained shoes.

There are a lot of things that English-speaking people don’t talk about. The words exist, but we don’t use them (unless we’re trying to be funny or shocking – I’m trying to be funny, in case there’s any doubt. And there’s another silent ‘B’. Why?). I remember my mum meeting Missus Jackson on the street one morning. Missus Jackson looked resplendent in her curlers, headscarf, housecoat and slippers. By this point I at least knew better than to say anything.

“Have you heard about Missus Jones, number 23?” she asked my mother, who confirmed that she had not. “It’s cancer,” she mouthed the word, as though saying it could be the reason for the disease. As though the cancer fairy might hear her and infect her with it. I went around for years thinking I had an auditory problem. Most of the older people I knew could not say the word out loud. Perhaps if we’d said it a bit more we’d have found a bloody cure by now?

Anyway, we believe anything these days. Particularly if they use Latin to describe it. I don’t know why this is. Maybe it’s because the Romans never lied to us? Regularis Activaris. I mean, these aren’t really words are they?

Condoms. That’s another word we never used to use. There’s a big plastic bubble in Johannesburg where Gundle Plastics used to reside. They called it the Gundome. When Consul Plastics took over, it was renamed the Condome, and we all thought that was funny. Now children are taught from foetal stage to use the word. When I was a teenager I remember my dad asking me if I used protection when I was with a girl. Having been severely beaten up by girls I tried to have sex with I always carried a Colt. He serendipitously passed me a five-pound note and I thought he was offering to pay for the bullets. I eventually realized that he was paying for Johnnies (we didn’t know the words prophylactic and condom at that time). I knew that I would have to go to the chemist, but there was a problem. My mum, a bit of a hypochondriac, knew the chemist pretty well, and he might report back to her. She kept more medicine at home than the pharmacy, and the chemist had been known to call at odd hours to ask her if she could spare some of her stash until the delivery truck arrived. This was not going to be easy.

I faked a cough all day, and resisted my mum’s attempt to diagnose and fix it from her stock. I left the house and waited outside the Chemist’s shop until a man was serving, and then I shot in, grabbed a packet and threw it on the counter.

“I think the lady is before you,” he told me, and I turned around to find my mum with a bottle of cough medicine in her hand and a strange look of disappointment on her face as she examined the shiny packed I had tossed on the counter. Today, a mum would probably be pleased that her son was being responsible. In those days, I could have spiked a small baby on a bayonet and thrown that on the counter and not have received such an icy stare.

Menstruation is another popular category in TV’s vast advertising empire that English-speakers attempt to avoid. We all know it’s happening, but we don’t want to know the details. But, there they are, larger than life, girls in tight pants climbing ladders and swimming, just like normal people. But they are able to do these things because they have the latest designed female hygiene products installed. If men bled for 3 days every month, and suffered cramps, we would have a tablet that alleviated all pain within seconds. We would be given time off each month to deal with it; at a spa or health resort. We would have built statues to honour the great bleeders of our time, men whose courage allowed them to continue working during the difficult although strangely regular cycle of our incapacitation. But the best we have been able to do for woman is wings.

8 out of 10 doctors use a particular type of headache tablet. Tests show that this dishwashing liquid is better than another. According to manufacturers, this powder is recommended. Who are these people? Why do we believe what they tell us? Is it some innate instinct that makes us bow to the words of authority? No matter how stupid they are? Who, aside from my mum’s neighbour, Missus Jackson, actually needs a blanket with armholes, or a big two-footed slipper? Who actually purchases these things? What about crocks? I don’t know if this is a universal phenomenon, but people in South Africa began wearing fluorescent plastic clogs a little time back. They are ugly and smelly and, like the intelligent foam slippers that remember the shape of your foot, have no right to be shown in public. No right at all.

I think we should have a prize for the most ridiculous or outrageous claim made by advertisers on the TV. We could call it the Gullibility Awards. I have so many contenders for the title. But the main prize must go to the general public, who actually allow this nonsense to be aired throughout the day and night, even on 24 home shopping channels, so you can get your fix even when normal people are sleeping in bed (probably in their blankets with armholes).

I watched Jack Bower on 24 the other night and I counted the number of ad breaks, comparing them to the time displayed during the program and my own watch. Did you know that, of the one-hour broadcast, there were 6 advertising breaks, each of at least 4 ½ minutes? That means that half of the programming time is given over to adverts. Jack could have gotten an awful lot more done if he wasn’t constantly being interrupted by soap powder and toothpaste adds, or worse, advertisements for the next episode of the program we’re currently watching. Perhaps the program should really be called 12?

Come on everyone. Get some perspective. The planet is running out of control. We are dependent upon a resource like oil that is killing us. It is running out, and vast numbers of our citizens are fighting wars and dying over whom controls it. We are screwing up the planet with pollutants, and our weather is changing so rapidly that we can’t even help people when the catastrophe arrives. But we keep listening to Chef Barry, who has an amazing knife that cuts through nails. Why would we want to cut through nails with a breadknife in the first place? Get a pair of pliers and a hammer.

Maybe it’s all just light relief for the masses, but I think it’s something more. I think we are being distracted from the real problems because no one wants us to know just how screwed up we really are. Yet, as long as we have our products, who really cares?