Alarmist advertising??

We hear and read so much about targeted advertising, in fact, it is difficult to get away from it. We receive survey invitations in the mail designed to help “them” target their ads to “us” or to measure how effective their ads are at getting us to part with our hard-earned cash. Ok. That’s fair. We don’t have to take the surveys. We don’t have to read the ads.

But when it comes to discriminatory advertising, I think we all need to pause for a second and think about it. Do we want to reward the practice or not.

Now you could argue that all advertising is discriminatory to one degree or another and I will grant you that. After all, ad agencies target those segments of the population that are most likely to purchase their product and then give them even more reasons, speculative or not, why they absolutely must buy their product. They told young boys that they couldn’t be cool and get the girl unless they wore a $550 pair of Air Jordan sneakers. That young boys were more than susceptible was evidenced by the number of parents who were cajoled into debt trying to buy them or the number of court cases dealing with young men who committed crimes ranging from theft to murder to obtain a pair. This provoked more than a little commentary and some outrage but little else.

There are numerous cases of what I would term emotional extortion in the advertising landscape.

The is the once-well-known actress who whines on and on about the plight of mistreated animals for a well known Animal Rescue Charity. Both she and they know who they are, and they are counting on the fact that animal lovers, like myself, will feel guilty if they “don’t do enough”. The truth is, if they had their way, you could never do enough if you gave your last penny and many people do give more than they can reasonably afford. I give, but I am so offended by the over-acting that I give to an entirely different charity. This is a case, at least for me, where the targeted advertising backfired.

Then there is the representative of one of the million children’s charities that show you picture after picture of hungry and sick children in Africa who don’t have a chance unless you make a monthly donation large enough to show them that “God is good”. These commercials are shown in the early morning hours when they hope you will be too sleepy to overcome your pity by realizing that most of these so-called charities are not accredited and give very little (if any) to the children Yes, there is a crisis in Africa, but there is a crisis on the streets of America as well. Give your money to reputable charities that are accountable for how their funds are distributed (not the Red Cross, but that is a story and rant for another time).

But the latest of these disreputable pitches and the one that has pricked my ire today is the latest ploy for one of the many available medical alert systems aimed at one of the most segments of the population, the aging senior. I happen to be an aging senior who has reached the point of my life where activities I once enjoyed are becoming more difficult if not impossible. I, too, have that little portion in the back of my mind that whispers to me ‘be careful that you don’t ‘ or ‘what will you do if you have a medical emergency when no one is around’. I, too, am deluged with trying to give me “free” medical alert systems, and I have been tempted because I think it is a great idea. At least it is until you find out that, in most cases, only the equipment is free, the service costs upward of $30 a month. $30, to a senior citizen living on their Social Security, is a week’s worth of groceries!

But that is not what makes me so irate, don’t get me wrong. It might still be a good deal (even though the first and, to my mind, still the best of these companies charges $50 a year), it is the tactics. Where most company’s ads point out that you could fall in the tub or in the park and can’t get up (leading to one of the Internet’s great early memes). This company tells you “you will lie for hours or even days in excruciating anguish“. Look at the language. They don’t say you might fall and have to lay there in pain. They proclaim that you WILL be in excruciating anguish. Absolutely. No doubt of it. It WILL be horrible. The language of fear is a very great motivator in the elderly. I for one don’t believe fear-mongering should be rewarded. I am not to the point where I have subscribed to one of these services yet, but when I do (and I will) , it will not be this one.

What do you think? Have you ever written to a company to protest a commercial or advertisement you felt was particularly offensive or objectionable? Inquiring minds (or at least my inquiring mind) want to know.

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