Caveat emptor, 21st century style

I’ve long held a basic tenet about television advertising: if you see it advertised on television, you probably don’t want it.

Back in the previous century when the things advertised tended to be cleaning and hygiene products, tobacco, alcohol, and junk food, that tenet worked pretty well. Staying away from cigarettes, cheap beer, and junk food would serve just about anyone well. And you could probably find an effective laundry detergent or toothpaste that cost less than the brands with the hefty advertising budgets.

But in our more advanced society the things that are advertised are different. Ads now push prescription drugs, especially for problems that previously weren’t considered problems or were private matters to be discussed only with your doctor. We’re coached to think we know more about what our diagnoses and treatments should be than our doctor, especially if he or she isn’t fortunate enough to watch television or read popular magazines. Why is the doc wasting all that time reading professional journals? Notice that the TV ad cross references to more valuable sources of medical information (“see our ad in Home Beautiful,” the fine print instructs us).

I particularly like the ads that spend most of the time giving the required disclaimers about all the ways this drug can kill you or otherwise ruin your life. I still can’t figure out who would listen to “common side effects include warts, blindness, and sudden death,” and say, “Boy, I need to get me some of that.”

There are still ads for products we use in the home, although now it’s not usually something we can find in our local grocery (“not available in stores”). Either the product or the deal is portrayed as far better than what you can find in your hometown, unless it’s Walmart, of course.

Pity the poor fool who buys household cleaners without consulting the late Billy Mayes or the pitchman who replaces him. And would you really consider buying a vacuum cleaner that wasn’t pitched by a fellow with a British accent?

Television ads also make available all those wonderful attorneys, often in other states and not licensed in our state so they will refer us to associated local attorneys who will share the contingency award, who will help us sue the bastards who caused whatever problem we have, regardless of whether we knew it was a problem the bastards were responsible for.

Lately the advertisers have run short of new things to sell us, it seems, so they are beginning to push new combinations of old things. Suddenly we have two brand names put together for twice the impact — somehow we’re expected to believe that we’ll get far better results using a laundry detergent with “the added power of” a dishwashing detergent. (Before all they had to do was say the detergent was “new and improved.”)

Oddly, I found that the most advertised dish detergent has declined in effectiveness since I started using it before it was new and improved. When it became so good it was ready to be added to fabric softener or toilet bowl cleaner or whatever, it no longer worked to wash my dishes as well as the cheap store brand.

My favorite is the recent combination ad for an attorney who will help me sue the drug company for the drug I wouldn’t have taken if I hadn’t seen it advertised on TV. One law firm even used the toll free number 1-800-BAD DRUG so that I could call even if I didn’t remember their name or the name of the drug.

I’m waiting for a combo ad to find an attorney to sue the attorney who sued the company that put the power of Dawn into the windshield washer fluid that dissolved the Maaco paint. How about 1-800-SUE ‘M ALL?


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