When I was in grad school, Abby Frucht laughed at me for saying I didn’t want to write anything but fiction. I’m paraphrasing: “Don’t be an idiot.”
I hear her echo almost every time I sign up for another freelance job writing not-fiction. And when I watch Madmen. Have you seen Madmen? It’s brutal. It makes me want to smoke and drink scotch, two activities I’ve never been tempted by. But I’m attracted to their job – these are writers, and they’re not idiots. They make lots of money writing copy. They make their living by getting people to want to buy stuff they don’t need.
And partly, I do, too. I make my – ahem – “living” by getting people to give money to other people who need it. I don’t write ad copy, exactly, but I write appeal letters and newsletters and blog posts that all basically say “We are good people for trying to help other people and you’d sleep better at night if you helped, too.” Not evil, not guilt-inducing (much), not fiction, but still manipulative. Advertising without the insidious intent. And I love it. I find it fascinating that by changing a word or two you can change the character, the tone, the gist of a simple thank you letter from “Hey, thanks so much,” to “Hey, thanks so much and when do we get more of your hard-earned cash?”
It’s everywhere, this advertising. Even without the – ahem – “benefits” of commercial television in the house we’re subjected to a vast array of advertisements on an hourly basis. And go ahead, sing the first part of a jingle that could be found on T.V. in the eighties and I’ll be able to sing the last part. “I love what you do for me, Toyota!” We don’t have to search hard to be told what to buy, what to like, where to plant our loyalty.
M and I try to keep advertisement exposure to a minimum for our kids. More, though, we try to teach them how to spot the motivation behind advertisement so they don’t become blind victims with vengeful credit cards. “That’s an advertisement, they’re lying to us just to get us to buy something,” says T, outraged, upon opening the newspaper. He hasn’t yet developed a sense of subtlety. But I like that he’s got the gist of it. I wonder, though, if his naturally suspicious reaction will be tempered when he comes across advertisements that offer decent advice, like the one above, found on one of the back roads of our town. A handmade billboard suggesting nothing more than the obvious, of which we usually need reminding…