The Twenty-Five Million Dollar Mind-F***

Do commercials even work anymore? I suppose there are people out there who see an ad for a Kia or a Jaguar with all those random numbers running by the top of the screen and say to themselves “I must have that now!” but I don’t know any of them. Most of the time I pay attention to a commercial because it’s so badly made it serves as a reminder not to ever buy that product if I happen to encounter it out in the real world, at least until the ad-makers can produce something less stupid. Not exactly how they drew it up in corporate headquarters, I would imagine.

Maybe I know too much given my ten years in hardcore commission furniture sales, “a twenty-five million dollar mind-f***” as it was described so succinctly to me by a manager. There was a different sale every week of the calendar year, each of which was touted to incoming customers as their last chance to get the savings they so richly deserve. All of these smoke and mirrors were meant to inspire “urgency” in the customer, which is a sales term you’ll find in any book about the subject, or a word you’d commonly use when describing people fleeing a fire. Commission sales and imminent disaster have much in common.

The prevailing attitude toward the whole process by the higher-ups seemed to be two-fold: first, people are wonderfully, unendingly dumb and will fall for anything you stick in front of them as long as they perceive it to be a good deal; second, if you throw enough advertising money at a given area you will eventually reach a tipping point where your ads are so all-encompassing that people will go to your store just to stop the buzzing in their heads. Welcome to America.

I also learned a lot about profit margin, and how it relates to how much money a given company has to aim an advertising bazooka at the public. If you build something, say a mousetrap, for ten dollars and you sell it for fifteen dollars your profit margin is 50, twenty dollars, 100, fifty dollars, 500. If you build it for ten dollars and somehow can sell it for fifty grand, you’re a luxury car company. The slicker or more prominently placed the commercial, the more throw-away money the company has to play with because it has successfully charged premium prices in the past for products that cost them much less to make. Ever wonder why there are so many commercials around for fast cars, fast-food, auto insurance, alcohol, video games, soda pop, computer software, etc.? Glad you asked! It’s because these particular industries aren’t just twenty-five million dollar mind f***s, they’re twenty-five gazillion dollar mind f***s. They have manipulated their high margins to such an extent that now they have more money than they know what to do with, so instead of doing something constructive like providing health care or retirement benefits for their employees they follow the latest standard business model and pour their profits back into advertising. Thus is produced hours of mindless drivel that they hope will induce us to buy their product on the tenth time we see it, or the hundredth time, or the millionth time. What’s the difference when? There’s a mountain of money that can be continually shoveled at us until we crack.

Which is why I have a DVR. If you don’t have one of these handy little devices that tape all your favorite shows, you don’t know what you’re missing. The ability alone to fast-forward through all the schlock and get back to the show you want to see is worth the price of admission. It also manages to subvert the whole mind f***ing system of public enslavement to corporate greed (too much?–it sounded so good in my head). I enjoy the fact that the ad makers have no recourse when I fast-forward their commercials almost as much as I enjoy watching bootlegged movies. I don’t like to overpay, and I love getting over on the man, so watching movies that are still in the theater dovetails my passions nicely.

I’m not going to ask you to make any grand changes in your life, like that email that was going around suggesting we don’t buy gas from major oil companies until they lower prices at the pump. Worked out great, didn’t it? As long as we’re all aware of the gross manipulation we’re being subjected to, and the cynical greed that fuels it. That’s all I’m looking for here. And maybe 5% of all future DVR sales.

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