Advertising targets suckers born every minute

Over 60

There’s a street running the full length of Manhattan between Broadway and Fifth, commonly called “Mad Ave,” the source of hundreds of advertising agencies which live, breath, and talk of little else than what new device might sell things — any things.

If you recall, a few years back a news article warned us: if we were already frustrated with the amount of advertising in which we are drowning, just wait. More — much more — is yet to come. Well, folks, it’s arrived and unless we gather to object violently,we’re forced to live with it.

The profligate nature of that odious practice is on a roll.

Advertising came hand in hand with our capitalist economy, thanks to a growing middle class in the mid-1900s — originally used only in newspapers and magazines. A first full-page ad came from the Wanamaker Department Store in New York City in 1879 proved so successful the idea spread rapidly.

It was at a 1949 New York baseball game that an ad for Bulova watches preceded the game via another media form — broadcasting — and it added more success to the ad business.

Other mass media followed, including TV, online, various mail applications and even outdoor billboards. (Remember Burma Shave signs?) And now, most odious of all — the robocall.

Advertisers labored, first to inform mass audiences of an available product — then persuade — and finally reinforce.

How? The use of repetition got the game going, accompanied by highly exaggerated claims. The use of famous people, catchy jingles — virtually anything to promote emotions — was added to the mix. Tricks like jumping on the bandwagon or offering tempting promotions were used.

Biased language followed. Next, biased photos or illustrations. Then facts taken out of context and the use of “authorities” or well-known personalities.

The basic premise was to make money, and cynically but sadly true, as P.T.Barnum once exclaimed, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

The focus of course is not on the value of the subject, but on selling it: everything from food to clothing to any manufactured product or even a person. And we, the suckers, are the target.

Odd, when not too many years ago, a written slam against the Jockey industry decried it an insult for having the product’s name woven into each waistband. Contrast that with the proliferation of brand names now found and proudly displayed, from underwear bands to the backs of shirts and on automobiles. We have become unwittingly free advertisings!

A few things to know about ads: They’re not there to help the consumer; they’re there to sell a product; anything short of a direct lie, “puffery,” is fair game: Tomatoes are never just “tomatoes,” but “ripe, firm, delicious.” Cars are “finest, safest, best-looking.” Beauty aids “will make you appealingly lovely.”

Just recently, we were bombarded by political puffery. Could you believe all the good things

touted about a candidate as opposed to all the bad about the opponent? Do the canned phone ads present complete, honest details — the truth, just the truth, Ma-am? Are they anymore logical than the personal political phone calls or snail mail offerings? What about name calling? (Our current leader is an expert at that, tagging without proof immigrants with criminals, Democrats with socialism, etc.)

So what’s a “sucker” to do? Get educated. Find the motivation behind each pitch. A little common sense helps. Anything (or anyone) that sounds too good to be true usually isn’t.

In a perfect world, the ad people would actually inform by telling the truth. But until then, think before giving in to exaggerated claims.

And while many advertisers resort to clever wording to sell their wares, what about those who goof up? Consider the following true examples of badly labeled items being sold to us commercially:

On a Sear’s hairdryer: “Do not use while sleeping.”

On a bag of Fritos: “You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside.”

On a bar of Dial soap: “Directions: use like regular soap.”

On some Swanson frozen dinners: “Serving suggestion: defrost.”

On Marks & Spencer Bread Pudding: “Warning: product will be hot after heating.”

On Nyquil Sleeping Aid: “Warning — may cause drowsiness.”

On many brands of Christmas lights: “For indoor or outdoor use only.”

On Sainsbury’s peanuts: “Warning; contains nuts.”

On an American Airlines packet of peanuts: “Instructions: open packet. Eat nuts.”

On a child’s Superman costume: “Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly.”

On a Swedish chainsaw: “Do not attempt to stop chain with your hands or genitals.”

Makes one wonder: who’s the sucker in any of these cases?