Fenger Pointing

Becky Fenger | June 25, 2008 Becky Fenger

The miracle of marketing

Ah, Madison Avenue. The name has been synonymous with the American advertising industry since the 1920s, even though many ad agencies have moved off the street in recent decades. Where would we be without it? The power to persuade the consumer is a highly-valued commodity. Witness the record-breaking charge of $2.4 million for a 30-second ad during this year’s Super Bowl, due to cost $3 million during the 2009 game. That’s a chunk of change to push a product.

With such high dollar branding, maybe Peoria, Arizona, got a bargain when officials paid a consultant $81,000 to come up with a slogan for their city. Here’s what they scored for their money: Peoria, Naturally Connected. What does that mean, anyway? Is it too late to stop payment on the check?

To prove that not all doofuses are in Peoria, at the urging of Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon officials are set to jettison the label of “Copper Square” that has defined the downtown 90-block district bordered by Fillmore and Harrison Streets, Third Avenue and Seventh Street for eight years now. The Downtown Phoenix Partnership hired Scottsdale’s SHR Perceptual Management to come up with a new brand that will reflect all the projects being built downtown. Some of those projects are ASU’s downtown campus, the CityScape plan that’s pushing a billion dollars, and the light rail line. Here’s a suggestion: Phoenix, Get Taken for a Ride by Light Rail.

You would think that the U.S. government wouldn’t need to spend money to advertise to get folks to take money from them, but you would be wrong. “The U.S. Government and private institutions are required to give away millions of dollars every month to help people just like you!” shouts the ad. “Get your government grant check in less than 7 days!” Two of the reasons you can collect the bucks are to “Pay Off Debt” or to “Purchase Real Estate.” Swell. The feds will even send you a free DVD to find out about all the money you can get from people who pay taxes. A picture of a smiling family of four is standing in front of a U.S. Treasury-issued check while a logo of Uncle Sam with a fistful of greenbacks adorns the ad. It makes my hair hurt.

Nothing beats the word picture I got from reading an Internet ad the other day, however. “Are you clean inside,” the text queried. (Of course I am; I was raised Catholic.) “Did you know the average American has six to ten undigested meals resting in the colon,” it continued. (That’s possible, since I come from Iowa and eat like a truck driver.) Then comes the kicker: “Flush 5, 10 or even 20 pounds from your colon while eliminating toxins and constipation!” All this will happen when I try Colopure for only $1. And you thought the dollar wouldn’t buy anything anymore.

Where are we as a country when so many ads lure us with phrases like “No money down, no interest and no payments until 2009?” Here’s where we are: The average American has a negative savings rate. We are spending more than our incomes.

For sheer sex and speed, nothing matches motor vehicle ads. “When I turn my car on, I want it to return the favor,” coos the lovely lass who floors the gas petal with her stiletto and leaves the guys in her dust at a stop light. I like the line, but most car ads show the owners driving double the speed limit, doing wheelies, or without their eyes on the road. I guess my age is showing, but the idea that reckless driving is cool had to come from somewhere.

When Madison Avenue co-opts political philosophy, watch out! How else would the unsuspecting citizens have bought into the concepts of “clean” elections, campaign finance “reform,” and “rapid” transit without slick sloganeering?

I have always maintained that the best way to get kids to quit smoking is not through the anti-smoking ads that our federal government pays for, but through Hollywood movie producers. Pay them to make movies that never again portray smoking as cool, mature, rebellious, exciting or “with it.”

If you think that what appears on the silver screen doesn’t affect what kids do, then you forget what happened when the movie “Bull Durham” played. When Susan Sarandon wore and parlayed her garter belt to good effect, you couldn’t find one in town after that for six months. The stores were all sold out. I rest my case.