Confessions of an Ex-Ad Woman: How the Media Uses Fear
The Huffington Post recently published a series of articles I wrote on fear and the media, written as a form of penance for the years I spent in advertising doing exactly what The Next Osama warns us about–using fear as a motivator.
This is an excerpt from the first piece, entitled, ‘Tis the Season to Be Fearful: Confessions of an Ex-Ad-Woman (Part 1) :
It was a long time ago. I was young. I was writing for Madison Avenue, hobnobbing with celebrities, going to parties. It was as far from a meaningful life as I’ve ever been, but it was the 1980’s, Reagan was president, we were selling and everyone was buying. Life was “good.”
Then one day I got an ad order for one of the firm’s big clients. They were pushing a new diet pill that would expand in the stomach and fool the person into feeling full so they wouldn’t eat. I read the marketing stats carefully. Their targeted audience was young, female and anorexic.
I don’t know what made me suddenly so sensitive or intolerant of such an obviously necessary strategy — who else would you sell a diet product to? — but I got angry. And in a pique of rebellion I hurled my typewriter against what I felt to be a nasty injustice and sealed my fate when I submitted an ad with a picture of the little expanding pill and a headline that read: Fat Chance.
Needless to say, they never ran the ad.
Not too much later I was enrolled in graduate school for social work.
Being a therapist is not too different in some ways from being a copywriter, when you think about it. It’s all about understanding people, their motivations, habits and triggers. What I do with it now, however, is very, very different than what I used to do. And what I’d like to do is share what I know about advertising so you can become selectively immune to it. Consider this a mental, psychological and emotional vaccination. And an act of contrition for me.
This is from part II, How To Defend Yourself Against the Media’s Fear Tactics:
Human nature may be the same, but there are new rules of engagement.
With every major invention, every technical ratcheting forward, human history has been irrevocably altered. Some of the most pivotal alterations have been the result of the least dramatic and perhaps least glamorous discoveries, such as the toilet and interior plumbing.
Massive changes followed the introduction of those little white bowls in the average home, most notably the decrease of acute epidemic disease and the increase in the human lifespan, which in turn has had a ripple effect on everything we think and undertake.
If we have 80 years to live instead of 40, well, then we have more time to get educated, we can wait to be married, we can pursue more than one career. Perhaps the most notable effect of our recent longevity has been the illusion that somehow life can (even should) go on indefinitely if we can only get a hold of that slippery little gene or remember to take that new antioxidant.
This dynamic — technology permuting culture — is pervasive throughout our collective experience. As our technology has changed, our lifestyles have changed. And as our lifestyles have changed our expectations, our strategies for living and our psychologies have changed. War has been no exception to the rule. The way we wage it and the battles we choose to fight have been similarly transformed. However, this time not only has the nature of war changed, but our very battlefields have been moved and we barely noticed.
And finally this is part III, Is There A Vaccination Against Fear: Medicine and the Media
Confessions of an Ex-Ad Woman Part III
The other day, we watched a commercial for a new drug that promised relief for neuralgia, but added that it might cause lupus, cancer, heart problems, and rashes that could indicate a life-threatening disease. As the commercial wrapped up with a warm and fuzzy moment, I pondered how big business had changed the face not only of media, but of medicine. And I thought not only about the demands of advertising (tell, tell, tell so you can sell, sell, sell), but about the way it conflicts with the essence of healing and how, once again, awareness is the true antidote.
The First Law of Healing: Primun Non Nocere
First Do No Harm. This is still the sacred oath of every medical school graduate across the country as he or she accepts the diploma, title and rank of healer. However, in a world of unreasonable speed in which new protocols and pharmaceuticals are being produced, pushed through FDA approval, and heavily promoted in measures of seconds, not years, it may be more than doctors can promise us anymore.