not wasting targeted commercials
Thursday, November 13 2003
Advertising always sucks, though sometimes it sucks less than usual. Mostly, though, it just sucks. It sucks up time, attention, sense of well-being, and field of view. The least-sucky of all advertising that I routinely encounter is on Google, where the ads appear as distinct text-only links with an obvious greenish-blue background color to alert me that money played a deciding role in their presence on the page. Since these Google ads are so well-targeted, they can occasionally even be useful. Imagine a world in which all advertising was well-targeted. Such advertising wouldn't have to cry out to be noticed; it could be as discrete as the kind found on Google. It would be a victory against the visual and auditory clutter of our civilization. Sure, treeless tracts of split levels would remain, but I wouldn't have to see that SONY mini-DVD camcorder ad anymore. You. Are. My shining star. Don't you go away.
Most irritating of all is that breed of advertising whose purpose isn't to tell us about something we don't already know about, but to vaguely improve our feeling about a given product or company. Much as I hate the aforementioned SONY ad, the first time I stopped to watch it, it did tell me about a product that I didn't yet know existed. But who hasn't heard of Coca-Cola? Does Budweiser really need to do any further work informing people that their product is a refreshing beverage that (in sufficient quantities) makes strangers at the bar look like they do in Budweiser ads? Indeed, these ads are counterproductive when I see them, since I figure that any simple product requiring this amount of advertising will probably have a cost out of proportion to its qualities, since the marketing is part of what you pay for when you buy something. (I've never once seen an advertisement for Molson Ice, and its the major beer I consume. There are two reasons I prefer it: high alcohol content and its maple leaf bottle cap.)
Broadcast advertising is some of the most unavoidable advertising one encounters every day. When listening to the radio in the car, it's fairly easy to switch channels when the DJ goes to play a five or six ad block back-to-back. In this area, where one tends to end up on the radio is either public radio (WAMC, 90.9 FM) or the one tastefully commercial community radio station, WKZE 98.1 FM). The people listening to WKZE are a relatively sophisticated bunch for whom Budweiser and Pepsi commercials are a waste. The advertising reflects this reality, and largely achieves the goal of not insulting the intelligence of the listener. Sure, some of the ads are hokey - particularly one for a store called Wards Nursery and Garden Center - but even in that ad the jingle has an endearing nostalgic quality that implies down-home authenticity and superior customer service, if possibly from a antenna-flag-flying right-to-life gun nut.
As testimony to the targeting and tastefulness of WKZE's ads, they finally worked their magic on Gretchen and she set up an appointment with Stephen Tra$t, a Kingston accountant whom one of the WKZE DJs (Doug Harrel) occasionally promotes within his uniquely-weird inter-song banter.
Today we met with Tra$t at his Kingston office. It's at the top of a flight of stairs in a humble and drearily-wallpapered Uptown building. Now would normally be the part of this account where I would access various metaphors and similes in describing how nerdy and uptight Mr. Tra$t is. But I won't do that, because Tra$t breaks all the CPA stereotypes. He's funny, well-rounded, and his politics are liberal but nuanced (he can, for example, find things to like in Newt Gingrich's Contract With America tax cuts). Our conversation took Gretchen's 2002 tax returns and used it as a launching board for a wide variety of unrelated topics, including stock market investing techniques, Jet Blue, advertising on WKZE, billing rates for client phone calls (and when it's wise to nickel and dime someone), and the failed logic of the repeal of taxes on stock dividends.
After talking to us for over an hour, Tra$t told us we'd taken his "whole tax course." He teaches a tax preparation class at Ulster County Community College. He finds special excitement in going through the 1040 form line by line and exploring it "like an archæological site" (that was how I summed up what he was saying at the time). One of Tra$t's students listened intently to his lecture about which party (Democrats or Republicans) were responsible for which lines and concluded that his teacher must be a Democrat. When he accused him of this political leaning, Tra$t wanted to know why the student thought this. "Because everything good on the tax form came from Democrats, and everything bad came from Republicans," the student explained. Tra$t had a ready response, "Doesn't that make you a Democrat?"
While we were in town, Gretchen and I also picked up a specially-cut piece of plexiglass that will serve as door to the laundry room. It will keep out everybody, although when we put Mavis in there to eat her much-coveted wet food, she will be able to escape through a one-way pet door. The glass people were supposed to cut us a 31 by 48 inch piece of plexiglass and then cut out a little five by seven inch hole near the bottom. We went into the glass shop on Foxhall Avenue and asked for this specially-cut piece, but the folks couldn't find it. I quickly described it as being 48 inches by 31 inches, and when the guy doing the looking abandoned his search, he impulsively cut us one from his quarter inch stock. Obviously, this piece lacked the necessary five by seven inch perforation for Mavis. "But we faxed in an order and everything!" Gretchen complained. Only then did everyone figure out that we'd come to the wrong glass shop. It turns out there's another one on Foxhall Avenue.
The second glass shop seemed to be run by characters even more marginal than the first. The guy working the front desk looked like he'd spent the past month living on hand-killed rats and spiders in a Turkish prison, and he admitted right away that this morning he hadn't realized what day it was. Our plexiglass had not yet been cut as we'd been promised, although he'd have it done in "ten minutes." So we ran a bunch of errands, including a trip to the bank and a quick luncheon of tempeh reubens at Mother Earth's Storehouse (we phoned ahead to order them). Thirty minutes later we returned, and the marginal glass shop people still hadn't finished cutting the plexiglass. They finished did manage to finish it while we waited, but it seemed to take them forever. We needed them to hurry - Gretchen had scheduled a meeting at our house with a water purification dude at 2pm. Our well water has notes of battery acid and rust these days.
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