“Kotex? My God, man, we can’t say that on the air. Go back and tell ’em.”
And so, the part-time salesman, part-time announcer, part-time copywriter went back to the local drugstore in Missoula, Montana, to explain that one of the items they wished to advertise as a special that week could not be used in their upcoming radio “spot.” The copy would have to be changed.
This was not provincialism. This was in an era within the memory of many adults who are now assailed with the benefits of Viagra, Cialis, Sistani (no, wait, that’s something else) and assailed not in the discreet auditory realm of radio but on television where the advertisements are becoming increasingly bold. Brought in to combat erectile dysfunction nowadays are not just aging sports figures like Ditka who pioneered the genre, but young, fetching models who smile knowingly at the benefits of the product. And there is a new substance now addressing itself to the restoration of female libido, which it would seem is only fair.
These ads are interspersed with one featuring a grinning jackass who has been blessed with “male enhancement” and you can get some too if you hurry and call the 800 number at the bottom of the screen. (The subject that pervades the pop ups on the Internet has now made it onto the big screen.)
There is the New Age parent of course who feels children should be exposed to whatever they are capable of knowing at whatever age the ken occurs. What father doesn’t want his 8-year-old son to understand that an erection lasting more than four hours requires a call to a physician? Sure. Right after the call to the Guinness Book people. Besides, hasn’t Junior’s teacher already instructed the class on the proper donning of a condom, and you wondered if she had the banana for lunch. Remember when druggists kept them hidden behind the counter (not the bananas) and now they’re the first display that hits you inside the door.
Oddly, those who benignly observe hours of this on television are stirred by the news that Major League Baseball is about to invite advertisements for a Spiderman movie sequel onto the hallowed diamond. Yes. The bases of America’s Pastime are to be covered in Spiderman motif in advance of this movie. If you watch carefully, not all of what you see on television at a baseball park is really there. That panel behind the batter, as seen from centerfield: didn’t it advertise a bank at the end of the last inning? What crew raced out and changed it to a beer ad in the time it took to get the hometeam at bat? Wait a minute. Is it like that ten-yard stripe we see moving up and down the field in football? Real as all get-out, but not really there?
Why should a star pitcher be forbidden from wearing a few little sew-on patches hawking his favorite beer? Like that tennis guy, Borg. Or those jockeys nowadays, putting slogans and ads on their silly little pants. Do they get paid if it is a crowded field on a muddy track and nobody saw any of their First Amendment expressions?
Where is this leading. Perhaps to a time when major network news will begin to treat the stars and themes from the entertainment division as news figures and events.
Could it be the major domos of, say, NBC’s “Today” will become involved in covering the expiration of an entertainment event such as “Friends”? Never happen, you say. News Divisions maintain a constant guard against this sort of shameless cross-plugging. Entertainment is not news, especially when it’s part of the same commercial outfit.
Where this may be leading is to a flat field where advertising loses its capacity to incite curiosity or desire. Where its sheer weight and pervasiveness enervates it. That repetition can mean diminution is exemplified by a word once conserved as gold in our society and never, ever, expended by many. By indiscriminate use it has lost it force, and begins with the same letter.