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See Alice

A few years ago on a “Working” golf trip to Bali and its neighbor Lombok, I was struck with the omnipresent billboards and signs for Marlboro cigarettes and the iconic cowboy on the ad who has been around since the 1950s. Cowboys on Bali, mostly Hindu? Lombok? Dominantly Muslim. Cowboys?

This was impressive enough to recall a class I took in advertising, a very long time before. The primary focus of the course was on the Marlboro man, recently introduced, and his influence on buyers of that smoke over the dozens of others on the market. Our sub-textbook was The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard. The core as I recall was a matter of identifying with a handsome, middle-age guy at one with the horse he straddled. The message being that if you smoked Marlboros, you could be just like that guy. Not only the horse would be a real stud.

The campaign was a smashing success, galloping to all manner of awards within and outside the ad industry. Bear in mind that at that time there were no surgeon general’s warnings about cancer and other physical woes. The brilliance of the ad was that it conflicted with other cigarette ads like Camels’ which had an older-than-middle-age gray-haired guy in a doc-smock with a stethoscope around his neck. The grabber line was, “More doctors smoke Camels than ever before.”

These are but a sampling of the billboard and magazine ads. The relatively new medium of television pounced upon the concept in an orgy of imitation as only TV did and still does. One program had dancing packages of Old Gold cigs as its schtick, its ads frequented with sports figures. Old Gold was the prime sponsor of radio and then TV broadcasts of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball games. A home run (referred to by the game-callers as “An Old Goldie”) got the hitter a carton, or maybe a case, of the cigarettes.

Good grief, thought the reader/watcher, I could be just like Dixie Walker or Pete Reiser.

This is not meant to be a course in advertising, so we’ll skip ahead to television adverts of today in its many, many permutations. The ones that particularly tickle my funny bone (no pun coming) are those for erectile dysfunction. The choice for my personal “Careful Analysis of Ads” goes to a product called Cialis. We can skip over the part about asking your doctor if you are healthy enough for sexual activity (I envision every chart in the doc’s office being color coded so that he or she can respond immediately based upon the caller’s carefully compiled health score.) “Sure, Jim, have at it,” or “Eddie, we’d better have a chat before you take, pardon the expression, the plunge. I can see you in three weeks.”

The television adds portray a couple, not old, not young but juuuuust right who are engaged in some activity when they both get the urge. A look from one is silently answered by the other. The voice over tells us how this can help keep a marriage happy.

As the voice over continues, we become aware that there are “certain side-effects” we need be aware of. (Thanks, government for Truth in Advertising, finally!) And as the side effects are being spoken in a most friendly manner, the couple is now engaged in some activity they have segued into with a change of scenery. This micro story distracts us from what is coming.

So, as they stroll along a bucolic beach with the sun beginning to set behind them, the friendly voice advises us of the following possible side effects especially if you have been diagnosed with heart rhythm problems, heart attack within the last 90 days, low blood pressure . . . the list goes on, the couple may be dipping their toes in the water. If the doc still says you’re ok possible side effects such as the following common problems are fainting and light headedness, painful erections lasting more than four hours, seizures, ringing in the ears, irregular heartbeat, sudden loss of vision, changes in vision, sudden hearing loss, pain in the arm spreading to shoulder, shortness of breath, swollen hands, feet and ankles and nausea. The couple heads back to their seaside resort cabin, no doubt aware they should call their doctor in Carlton if they experience any of these symptoms in Barbados.

Lucky for this couple there are less serious side effects, like a ‘flushed’ feeling (I assume this does not mean life has gone down the toilet) stuffy nose, headache, upset stomach, problems remembering and back pain. The weird thing about that final list is that I have every one of those symptoms and have never been near Cialis. In any case, this couple is soon to be more happily married than at the beginning of the commercial as they retreat into their thatched cabin.

If there is music, I don’t remember it--maybe because I am engrossed with how television and Cialis will deal with same-sex marriages.

Attribution to and fact-checking courtesy of Wikipedia.
Beach scenario courtesy of TV commercial and my sick mind.


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