"What kind of sucker are you?

One of the effects of the explosion in the number of cable TV channels and the ubiquity of the Web is the way in which businesses are able to so narrowly target the customers they want their advertising to reach.

This has always been the case. It’s only natural that Mercedes buys ads during golf tournament broadcasts instead of pro wrestling and that infomercials air in the middle of the night, when bored insomniacs will watch anything and might be susceptible to the allure of Ron Popeil and his magic rotisserie oven.

You can draw some pretty interesting conclusions about what corporate America thinks about us citizens by just watching the commercials on a particular channel or show.

According to the TV channels, the only people watching during the day can be classified into two distinct groups: housewives and potentially homeless people. The former group is served up ads for products: new kinds of mops, shampoo, feminine hygiene products and things to make the kids shut up for 15 minutes.

But instead of things, it’s dreams that are being sold to the second market, the one that watches Jerry Springer, Maury and Judge Judy. The advertisers want to offer you a way out of a life that allows you to be at home watching security officer Steve break up a fight between lesbian transvestite midgets on Springer.

The ads are further broken down into subgroups: the unemployed and those looking to make a quick buck. My favorite ad is for a health care trade school. A slightly chubby young woman is shown coming home from her waitressing job. Her job sucks, she says, and so did the boutique where she formerly worked. The camera cuts to a way-too-lengthy shot of her feet, which must be aching from so much underpaid manual labor.

A helpful mom advises her to call the number for the medical training. Other spots in this genre are for making money using the Internet, or for buying real estate and reselling it for a profit.

The other subgroup is the grifters, the true Springer nation, the people who don’t want to work, don’t care about their credit rating and are looking for a way to put some quick cash in their pockets any way they can.

Have you been in an accident? Have you ever wanted to be in an accident? Do you want to make the insurance companies know you mean business by suing the hell out of them? It’s possible you can get a fat settlement and watch Jerry from the backseat of a limo.

Given a choice between cashing an insurance check for 20 large and taking someone’s blood pressure and handing them a robe, I’ll ride in the limo all day long.

If you have the title to your car, you can now borrow money against your ride. If you don’t pay it back, wave goodbye to your vehicle.

I’ve used payday advance loans in the past. They can provide a valuable service when you’re strapped for cash between checks. The ads for them scream desperation, however, in a way that Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller would envy.

In one, a woman’s home is accidentally burned down by her kids. She needs money until the insurance adjuster arrives. In another, a man’s parents need $300 to avoid losing their house. I’m surprised an ad doesn’t show a comatose grandmother about to have her ventilator removed unless the kids can come up with $250 within the hour.

The saddest ads on television are the ones for emergency medical alert systems and mobility carts for the elderly. They always portray the elderly as about to fall down a flight of stairs, whereas a motorized scooter will make their grandkids want to build model ships with them.

Cable networks have become so numerous and so specialized that you get some interesting advertising matchups. Woe be unto the man who’s so female-whipped that he’s forced to spend Sunday nights watching a week’s worth of The Days of Our Lives on the Soap Channel Network. No football, no HBO, not even Simpsons — just ads for Tampax and Haagen-Dazs. Maybe divorce attorneys should seize the opportunity.

It all serves to remind us that the mainstream media is not about what it says it is. Its only purpose is to serve as placeholders between ads finely tuned to appeal to who the media think you are.

We all exist, or at least I think we do, but to big business and the media, you’re not the finely nuanced, intelligent being you see in the mirror. You’re just a potential mark.

Again, like I said, this is hardly Earth shattering information, but it is something that we each should maybe ponder from time to time.


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