Archive for September 2013
The subliminal message of this commercial is that if you consistently make irrational financial decisions, so long as they are not as gratuitously irrational as the one dramatized, it’s okay to make them (ie: that they are somehow not irrational because the contrast between yours and this one makes yours feel that way for a short time).
No one (rationally) makes decisions as capriciously as the one that this man made, but there are plenty of people who do make decisions that might as well be that capricious by rationalizing them. Apparently (according to Citi’s marketing research, at least) there really are plenty of people who will spend money that they don’t have (ie: go into debt), and then excuse it by focusing on some marginal benefit that it will confer and completely ignoring the fact that that benefit doesn’t nearly make up for the costs incurred because of that decision. This commercial encourages that, and presents it as responsible, rational financial decision making.
Companies resort to such things because of the desperate, precarious state of the economy. Every company and industry is at the mercy of the whims and caprice of a large, powerful government. A government that could – and frequently does – change just one or two of it’s many arcane laws and regulations, and suddenly the carefully-constructed, often contractually-obligated, barely profitable business models that make economic production still possible become unprofitable and a recipe for the inevitable demise of the affected industry or company. All companies know this, and so they choose to focus on the relatively-predictable short-term instead. They do whatever they must – no matter how perverse – in order to get as much as they can as quickly as they can. It’s the name of the game in today’s “capitalism.”
“When you have made evil the means of survival, do not expect men to remain good. Do not expect them to stay moral and lose their lives for the purpose of becoming the fodder of the immoral. Do not expect them to produce, when production is punished and looting rewarded. Do not ask, ‘Who is destroying the world?’ You are. -Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
The goal of this ad is to sell insurance. It communicates the fact that State Farm has 24 hour service. This is a legitimate value, and there is nothing wrong with advertising it, but apparently it must not be so much of a value (above that of it’s competitor’s products) that State Farm thinks it can be sold on it’s merit alone. Apparently the company thinks that it must also endear itself to potential customers in some other way. The entertainment value in this ad is not just supplemental, it is essential.
Humor is a fundamentally destructive element. There’s nothing wrong with that – provided that what is being destroyed (ie: mocked) is unimportant metaphysically. Is a person’s lack of interest in his real-life sexual partner – a sign of a lack of integrity generally – unimportant? Of course not. Anyone who would claim it is could be widely – and rightly – denounced for doing do. Nevertheless, that is exactly what State Farm is doing here – while making it seem like they’re not. In order to get away with it State Farm is counting on a confusion about the scope of the humor employed in this commercial. Within a culture, yes, such people are unimportant (ie: most people are not emotionally abusive and self-defeating in this way, at least not most of the time) – and that’s exactly the point that State Farm would claim to be making should they be criticized. They would specifically claim that they are not saying that an individual’s psychological problems are unimportant (to him). The facts don’t support this argument, however.
The phenomenon of “sex addiction” is at all time highs. Modern communications has made sex-based entertainment easily accessible, and as a result many people who wouldn’t have otherwise indulged, have. This, of course, has caused many problems within real life relationships. It is both a personal problem and cultural problem (precisely because it is a personal problem), in other words – and this commercial intentionally makes light of all of it.
What this commercial does is provide the ever-increasing number of people who are using sex-based entertainment a moment’s reprieve from the guilt and shame they (deservedly) feel about their behavior. Such people know that what they are doing is wrong. They know that they have a psychological problem, but they also know that the first step to correcting any problem is to acknowledge it – and that is what this commercial exploits. It makes such people feel like acknowledging it is what they are doing. It allows them to say to themselves: “Well, if it really was as bad as I suspected, I wouldn’t be able to even acknowledge it. Clearly I can acknowledge it (ie: I can laugh at this commercial), so it must not be so bad. At least I’m on the road to recovery.” This is counter-productive and destructive – because it is not really an acknowledgment. A real acknowledgment would be an explicit, intentional, independently-motivated event – not simply a vague allusion to a proclivity haphazardly stumbled upon while watching TV. They are not really on the road to recovery because of having watched this commercial.
To summarize, what is occurring here is that a major insurance company is resorting to psychological manipulation of the worst kind (ie: trying to make people who are encumbered with a psychological problem feel like they are doing something about it, when in fact what they are doing is ensuring that the problem persists) in order to increase revenues. State Farm knows that the value they offer (24 hour service) is, on it’s own, not enough to get people to act in the way the company desires, so instead of appealing to the rationality of people (ie: go into more detail about why it’s service is superior), it has chosen to appeal to their irrationality (ie: to get people to associate the good feelings they feel whenever they have moments of mental health and are objective about their problems not with a desire to fix those problems, but with State Farm and it’s insurance services). In times past this sort of the behavior was the province of “hucksters”, charlatans, and “snake oil salesmen.” People on the margins of the culture who were widely – and rightly – despised. Today, however – in America’s hamstrung, pressure-group-dominated “capitalism” – where the short-term is all that matters because it’s the only thing that can be predicted – is has become mainstream.
“When you have made evil the means of survival, do not expect men to remain good. Do not expect them to stay moral and lose their lives for the purpose of becoming the fodder of the immoral. Do not expect them to produce, when production is punished and looting rewarded. Do not ask, ‘Who is destroying the world?’ You are.” – Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
These two commercials do what advertising is supposed to do – and in an all-around wholesome manner. Unlike so many commercials these days – many of them documented on this blog – this commercial doesn’t substitute psychological manipulation for merit (or even for informative substance completely). Instead it educates the viewer about the existence of a product and/or it’s features, and because it does that, it can legitimately entertain him aswell (which it does, in an uplifting and rational manner).
It is rational to have a certain degree of contempt for criminals, because it is an indirect way of taking pride in oneself for having achieved the traits of character civility requires. It is rational to contrast one’s own lifestyle with that of someone headed to prison, because it is an indirect way of celebrating the rewards of those character traits. The humor employed in this commercial is not meant to belittle, and therefore excuse and enable, any kind of self-destructive behavior – but instead calls upon the best within people in order to be enjoyed.
The contrast between what the police commissioner gets to enjoy and the criminal get to “enjoy” (because of who they are) is a nice dramatization of the connection between broad, abstract character traits such as objectivity, courage, and justice with specific, material values like the pleasure of playing fantasy football.
A comment left on Youtube about this commercial sums it up perfectly:
“this just shows exactly what is wrong with people and their phones today. everyone lives through the little 4 inch screen on their cell phones now. no one just stops to enjoy the life around them. they have to pull out their phones and record everything. why? because you might forget the event? of course you aren’t going to remember it well if you never even witnessed it first hand. you watched it through your phone while it was happening. put down the phones and enjoy life as it happens people.”
This commercial is meant to appeal to people with exactly that problem. People who know that they have that problem, and who feel bad about having that problem. People who want to do something about that problem. It is meant to make them feel as though the solution isn’t psychological in nature, but technological.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with recording worthy events, and if technology allows one to do so without compromising his ability to enjoy (or compromising the event itself), that is a wonderful achievement that the producers of the technology should be proud of, but again, not if it comes at the expense of prolonging an underlying neurosis. If someone is so psychologically ill that he can’t enjoy an experience unless it is documented, then even if that happens, he still won’t enjoy it. All he will do is look for something else besides the experience – some minor situational imperfection (real or imagined) – to fixate upon.
Nokia is willing to exploit that. To contribute to the continued presence of mental illness within people in order to make sales. Typical behavior in contemporary America’s hamstrung, over-taxed, over-regulated “capitalism.” Informed, rational decision-making is no longer the engine of commerce that causes things to happen. Manipulative flattery – and the resulting irrationality – is. The long-term consequences of doing one’s part to ensure that the culture remains that way be damned.