It seems that the ugly face of capitalism becomes even more frenzied around certain times of the year, the beginning of summer being one of them. Look no further than the typical media channels to see all types of summer sales events, buzz around "season finales," and the upcoming "movie of the year." For whatever reason, consumers are as eager to open their wallets as they are their barbecues.
As if the annual plug of goods and services wasn’t enough, several examples of turning a quick buck that I have read about in the news over the last several months are particularly distasteful. Marketing and advertising is essential for everything from cowbells to curtain rods in today’s competitive environment, but every year more unwritten rules and boundaries are broken or crossed.
Consider the story of Bethany Hamilton, the girl who found herself on the business end of a very large shark off the coast of Hawaii on Halloween 2003. To hear Bethany interviewed just after the attack, which left her with only one arm, one had to wonder how a young teenager faced with such a horrific experience could be so calm, cool and collected. Not only did she harbor no hard feelings, but she became a figure of inspiration, immediately getting back to her normal routine (which incidentally included professional surfing).
At no point did this person feel she was entitled to anything or deserved some sort of payback for her suffering. It was as if she had been protected from the evil ideas of mainstream commercialism by her Pacific locale.
No matter how remote the location, however, it seems commercialism can flush you out.
Again, this is a truly amazing and inspirational story of courage, which (to Bethany’s credit) should be told. But one visit to her Web site and the events, books and upcoming movie listed there simply reek of shameful PR pushers.
Another sad example of the dollar (or in this case, overzealous father) misguiding a young teenager has to be Ashlee Simpson. It's likely all she ever wanted to do was step out of the shadow cast by her phenomenon of an older sister. But alas, as we have seen on several occasions, in the absence of the "PR machine" and left to her own devices, Ashlee’s actual singing is more reminiscent of a wounded Howler monkey than a current pop sensation.
I guess even in super-sized America, miracles are limited to one per family.
As illustrated in a recent Fortune magazine article, the "legal wrangling" between several claimants over the rights and subsequent licensing fees for the Christian writing "Footprints in the Sand" depicted on coffee mugs, greeting cards and calendars across America, also provides an example of this disturbing trend. Literally dozens of people are claiming credit for the words in hopes of getting a piece of the profit pie. Very sad stuff indeed.
Before you renounce this post as idol gossip, consider the benefits this environment affords someone who is trying to sell some cars. If no topic is sacred and nothing is off limits, then conventional wisdom would suggest we should be seeing some of the most interesting, edgy, and ingenious advertising campaigns in history. Where at least one of the big Three is concerned, however, this simply isn’t the case.
Our domestic automakers have taken such a beating lately that I really don’t see the utility in identifying the copycat advertiser at hand (though I will link to it...), but you may have noticed a current TV spot depicting a consumer on a test-drive who repeatedly avoids returning to the dealership that's remarkably reminiscent of a previous Volkswagen campaign.
In spite of the endless opportunities to shock and amaze, this company chose instead to ride the coat tails of a manufacturer that does dare to be different (the original ad campaign managed to raise some eyebrows). One would think commercialism, capitalism, and the PR
machine would at least produce a few original car commercials -- especially when we have to suffer through another shark attack movie or Simpson concert.