We all have our own “If I ruled the world, this is how I’d fix it” fantasies. They don’t need to be reasonable, or part of a comprehensive strategy, so they’re self-indulgent and fun. I’d ban advertising as one of my first moves, or at least restrict it to words only: no pictures, no music or jingles, just cortex stuff. Miles per gallon, nutritional content, ease of installation, peppermint flavor. Well, the advertiser could wax poetic about how his product would transform your love life, turn commuting into a Le Mans experience, and make sadness and boredom as extinct as the dodo, but if the pitch is just in words printed in black and white, how many of our fellow citizens these days would bother to read it? And if they did, how convincing would it be?
Here’s an example of what vexes me about ads:
I photographed this ad in one of those gargantuan one-stop-shopping stores which also has a house bank. In fact, their bank used to be Washington Mutual, distinguished for being “the United States’ largest savings and loan association until it became the largest bank failure in U.S. history.” [Wikipedia]
As I recall, it was a WaMu ad way back in the early 90’s that told me all was not well with the American banking industry: it showed a car racing through one of those cones-in-a-line tests of driving skill, and posting a smoking-hot speed by the simple expedient of running over most of the cones. The voice-over and text said, “We break the rules for you”. Gives you a glow of confidence, like the surgeon rushing into your operating room bloody to the elbow, saying, “I didn’t bother washing up after that bowel resection, more important to get here in a hurry for your case!” It seemed obvious to me that this was not a good philosophy for a bank. But what did I know, since it actually worked great for all the big banks, until suddenly the bottom fell out. Who could have known? Then we bailed them out, so no harm done.
Take another look at the ad. Its ostensible purpose is to encourage us to put our money in savings accounts. Seriously? How likely is that? With savings interest rates running between 1.14% and 1.44%, and annual inflation at 2.63% (or more, if you are a living person rather than a statistical construct), we’ll all be rushing to get that deal. “Lose money while you save”, what a terrific idea. No, the real intent here is to convince us rubes that the bank is a serious trustworthy institution that cares about our welfare. The face of the woman is carefully chosen to be seductive yet serious. We don’t need the financial system reform bills that the administration has asked for, we can just rely upon the banks to do the right thing. The House bill barely passed back in December, on a party-line 223-to-202 vote, and the Senate is still trying to figure out how to get it past the Republicans.
Nor should we resent the past and present behavior of the banks and investment companies. Don’t be bothered that
The nation’s six largest banks — all committed to this balls-out, I drink your milkshake! strategy of flagrantly gorging themselves as America goes hungry — set aside a whopping $140 billion for executive compensation last year, a sum only slightly less than the $164 billion they paid themselves in the pre-crash year of 2007.
Those are the words of Matt Taibbi, who has done his homework, and reports in Rolling Stone on just how the big money guys managed to: make tons of money through dishonest dealing; leave us all holding the bag of devalued real estate, foreclosures, and lost jobs; get bailed out by our tax money; and then start the same process over again, generating new excessive profits from unsound and possibly illegal investment practices. Taibbi systematically details the various con games utilized by the financial institutions.
Maybe counter-ads are the answer. I could create ads instead of longing to ban them.
[painting by Laura Givens, entitled ‘Wild Abandon’]
Or, for consumers who like authority figures,
[if you’re not up on old James Bond villains, that’s Donald Pleasance as Ernst Blofeld, SPECTRE leader who has sensibly turned international banker after the Cold War ended]
On a more positive note, remember that there is an alternative to doing business with Scrooge, Blofeld, and Salome of the Seven Veils. Visit your local credit union. Ours offers overdraft protection (no $35 fees), various kinds of accounts, loans, and debit cards. Credit unions used to restrict membership to certain groups (teachers, employees of a certain company or industry, etc.) but now many exist to serve all the residents of a certain area. Executives don’t get million-dollar bonuses, and the emphasis is on local service and steady management.
A credit union is a cooperative financial institution that is owned and controlled by its members, and operated for the purpose of promoting thrift, providing credit at reasonable rates, and providing other financial services to its members. Many credit unions exist to further community development or sustainable international development on a local level… Credit unions are “not-for-profit” because they operate to serve their members rather than to maximize profits. [Wikipedia]
Find a credit union in your area in the phone book, or use this directory.
Even credit unions have to advertise. But I won’t quibble with this ad.