Sunday, August 10, 2008

There's a trend I'm amazed at. It began with giant pharmaceutical companies airing commercials about how they've got a special brightly colored bus driving from city to city across the United States (I think they specifically say it goes to every state). With a well-known talkshow host who has medical problems that are also known, the commercials have "ordinary folks" saying that if it wasn't for this free pharmaceutical distribution program from the drug companies, they don't know how they would make it.

I don't know if it's a law that the pharmaceutical companies have to give away a certain tiny proportion of medicine to those who need it and can't afford it or just a well-thought-out publicity campaign. If it's a law, they are certainly reaping PR benefits from complying.

Then, there were a series of commercials about how British Petroleum asked people about their carbon footprint. People were puzzled and guessed it had something to do with how much energy they use.

So the trend is to disguise questionable corporate behavior with a veneer of environmental awareness and human compassion. Someone had already thought of the term carbon footprint, but it hadn't entered the public consciousness, so the television commercial made it seem as if the oil company had invented it and was concerned about the environment.

The latest non sequitur I saw last night was how oil company ExxonMobil is educating the public on the importance of mosquito netting in Africa to stamp out malaria. What does charging so much for gasoline that the companies are breaking all records for profit ever recorded have to do with the need for cheap, effective mosquito nets?

The need for distributing mosquito nets to counter malaria and their effectiveness in saving lives has already begun entering public awareness, but hasn't reached everyone yet. By explaining the problem, they seem like they're at the forefront when they are really hooking onto what's already in motion.

The only thing disturbing about these commercials is that they are effective. People don't realize how their attitudes toward these corporate megaliths are affected by these commercials. They sometimes feature a young, sincere employee explaining how they are working hard for you and your family. And listen to the music tugging at your heartstrings in these ads.

I shouldn't be cynical about corporations using music in commercials. I did an informal check and found virtually every commercial has a music soundtrack! It's so pervasive, just like in movies, that you don't even notice it. Next time you see a commercial, listen explicitly for the music. In fact, only one product had no musical track. You apply it directly to the forehead.
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