Friday, October 10, 2008

Just Beneath the Surface

I watch entirely too much television.

Because of this, I also consume dozens of commercials every day. Car commercials, food commercials, insurance commercials, commercials about commercials, I've seen them all. I think I read a while back that a 30-minute sitcom is really only about 20 minutes long because of all the commercials that have to be squeezed into that time span.

For years, I thought that I was on a mental plane that allowed me to transcend commercials and ignore their influence. I scoffed at the idea that some catchy jingle would cause me to actually purchase goods I didn't truly need. People who were influenced by commercials were weak-minded simpletons, I told myself.

I was an arrogant idiot.

Looking back, I realize that I tried my first Gordita from Taco Bell because of their catchy commercials. I felt compelled to purchase Grand Theft Auto IV in part because the game's commercials were so kickass. Sure, I wanted those products for my own reasons, Gorditas are delicious, but I was also swayed by commercials touting their benefits.

Recently, I've begun to notice more and more commercials that don't tout a particular political candidate, but do champion certain issues. The American Medical Association and AARP have run several ads about healthcare, and I saw one from oil and natural gas producers proclaiming that America actually produces 66 percent of its oil and natural gas domestically. (As I told my wife, we may produce a lot of natural gas here, but adding in oil was just some slick marketing.)

One series of ads has really caught my eye. They are sponsored by this billionaire by the name of T. Boone Pickens, and they encourage Americans to ask politicians to find alternative energy solutions for this country. The ads point out that politicians have been promising to end America's dependence on foreign oil since the 1970s, yet we consume far more foreign oil now than anytime in the past.

When I first saw the commercials, I tuned them out the same way I tune out all commercials. But, gradually, I began to pay attention to them and listen to their message. I was particularly intrigued by their discussion of something called "compressed natural gas" which the commercials claimed could be a gas alternative. I hadn't heard of compressed natural gas, but it sounded like a good idea if it was going to save me money and make the country less vulnerable.

On a certain level, I had begun to support the "Pickens Plan."

However, I decided to take another look at the issue recently. After all, it's not every day that a regular citizen has enough money and conviction to spend $58 million on national television ads. My natural cynicism kicked in, and I decided that I wanted to know why this rich guy wanted me to be so gung-ho about compressed natural gas and other alternative energy sources.

I discovered that Pickens is pushing alternative energy because he's made massive investments into the field and stands to make billions of dollars if the federal government focuses taxpayer dollars on developing those energy sources. For years, Pickens supported Republican policies, including their oil wars, but recently he's become a champion of alternative energy. Here is a blurb about his plans:

Critics of the plan, however, point out that it is self-serving: Pickens is a huge investor in wind power, and subsidies and mandates for wind power would help his personal financial position.[48] The announcement of the plan also coincides with Pickens' need for federal subsidies for wind to be renewed, as he's already begun placing orders for his planned wind farm in Texas.[49] Pickens usually answers this criticism “I’m 80 years old, and I’m worth $4 billion. I have plenty of money.I think it shows leadership that I’m putting my money into the wind business, and I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is.”

Once I took the next step of investigating this guy's motives, his nationwide ad campaign made a lot of sense. I'm not saying that his plans don't have merit, but they are not altruistic panaceas. Yet, if I hadn't done the bare minimum of research, I would have continued believing that the Pickens was the kind of guy who makes America great.

It made me wonder about how many other ideas I've been subconsciously fed by commercials, or the media, or even by my parents. These ideas may seem innocuous, but they actually are pushing my life down a specific path. I realized that I had greatly overestimated my ability to tune out outside influence. My confidence in my mental abilities had left me vulnerable, and if Pickens had been a little more crafty, I would have been a goner.

This information made me take stock of the influences in my life. It made me study my true motivations. Too many people today avoid thinking about why they live the life they live, and just focus on the daily grind. I think when we take a step back, we can gain clarity on how we got our present location, and also plan out our next steps accordingly. Usually our motivations are the real key our present reality.

It's better than just blowing in the wind.



Anonymous said...

Nice, I had begun going down the same path about Mr. Pickens' ads.

The only example I can think of where I was swayed by a commercial was when Ikea shamed me into going to buy real glasses and plates and stuff, they portrayed some overgrown bachelor still using paper plates n stuff. I went to Ikea the very next chance I got and got real stuff. I'm ashamed of this, in retrospect. But other than that I'm pretty much immune, I think? heh

crys said...

you know how you think of something, but you don't really want to take the time to really think too deeply about it - and then something happens and you can no longer ignore it?

well - this is EXACTLY what this blog post did for me. i went down a similar thought process about the wind guy....i looked into it a little bit, but not enough to make a decision.

what i did decide on is that - red lobster (and those succulent shrimp commercials) has had ENOUGH of my money!

i've been thinking this for quite some time...being the tv-aholic that i am, and now after reading this...i can no longer live in denial.

Anonymous said...

So are we going to decry this plan because some rich ass old ass Texas oil man is trying to make some more money, yet and still alternative energy sources to oil is something tha would help this country.

So what if its self serving, sounds like hatin' to me.

Gye Greene said...

Good point about critical thinking, etc.

I agree with the principal in general - although (as Up. Negro said), in this particular instance, I think the Texas guy is righ: he **doesn't** need the money. And **everyone's** behavior is -- at some level -- self-centred. (You, for example, have a blog that points out how black folks get ripped off. Fair 'nuff.) :)

But, I hear your main point: all advertising is there to benefit the group sponsoring the ad.


Anonymous said...

BM, I just don't know enough about the Pickens Plan to weigh in, but I suppose it couold be self-serving and good. But yeah, it should give reason for pause and serious scrutiny... But to the larger point...

I have long ago decided that I am pure sheep when it comes to commercials... Sometimes it conscious, but I suppose most times subconscious. I mean, does Coca Cola REALLY taste that much better than the supermarkey brand? Does it really? I don't think so. Intellectually I know that it is in my head, but by the Coca cola anyway...

I also took a course in cognitive psychology on advertising and subliminal messaging in controlled environments and the power of TV is extraordinary...

Now as for sports, when one of these HBO 24/7 comes on before a big fight and they have the narratives, storylines, and cue the music right before the final scene as both fighters mean-mug for the camera just before hitting the speedbag and jump rope... well, I'm just like a piece of putty in their hands. They know it, I know exactly what they are doing, and it still works!

Eb the Celeb said...

hope you had a great vacay!

Raving Black Lunatic