Off-the-wallBy Bob Spiwak

It is Sunday morning and I finally have turned off the television. This is the morning of programs catering to older people on the major networks that goes on for hours, mostly political programs.

In this time frame, most of the commercials deal with products of a medical nature and we shall not give their names. All have one thing in common: they feature mini-stories about ailing people as the wares are being hustled.

I am reading a book for the second time. The Hidden Persuaders, by Vance Packard, came to my attention in 1957 in a class something like Psychology 101, and the portion dealing with advertising intrigued me and still does. My term paper was titled, “Why Do We Grope for the Butts That We Smoke?”

It was about this time that the smoking warnings were introduced.  Remember the Marlboro Man, a sturdy cowboy whom you could see was a real man? The message:  Smoke that brand of cigs and you too could be a real stud. We can call the guy on the horse a hidden persuader.

Moving ahead 60 years later, the world of advertising has advanced. Now we have lots of ads for products that are good for you, maybe even lifesavers depending on your ailment. And maybe they can kill you, too.

All this information is contained in an ad of 3 to 5 minutes. Let’s take a hypothetical product for diabetes sufferers. As the announcer raves about its virtues, a happy family is cavorting on the beach as the voice-over casually tells you the possible adverse reactions to the remedy being promoted. These usually end with the admonition to call your doctor immediately if …

Being a psych nut, I decided to conduct an experiment. When one of those ads came up I watched it to the end, where the cavorting sufferer was smiling as the voice-over notes, “in some cases can cause death.”

I was absorbed with watching the people and paid little or no attention to the voice. It was hard to do. When a similar ad for another product appeared I covered my eyes for the duration of the ad, only listening. The results, even with different ads, were the same — the shopping list of bad things that could happen was just as worrying when only listened to.

This is an easy experiment for you to try. Sunday mornings are a sure thing — the ads don’t have to be for the same product. You’ll recognize them immediately, from men’s sexual enhancement to breast cancer. These ads are the hidden persuaders to sell a product, and this genre of storybook advertisements is most ingenious.

My next project in this realm is to count, and identify on a given Sunday morning, the total number of these ads and what are their dangers.

Have a nice day.