Super Bowl Sunday aside, I have for the most part never been one to pay much attention to commercials. I have made it a practice to toss most direct mail solicitations that contaminate my mailbox. I'm the kind of guy that pretty much knows what I want from the merchants that I tend to do business with. For example if Jos. A. Bank announces a sale, and if I am in the market for a new suit, then I will pay attention because I buy most of my clothes from the Jos. A. Bank store a mile or so from my house. If an ad for Men's Warehouse comes on, it's in one ear and out the other.
Without going into inordinate detail, I have been encouraged to start paying more attention to all of the propaganda with which all of us are bombarded on a daily basis. The reason for my newly found interest in these communications will be disclosed in the fullness of time. For now it will suffice to say that I am paying attention.
I had ESPN Radio on in the car while I was out running errands. Many spots for insurance, both life and casualty. There were ads hawking credit repair services and ads for outfits that will intercede upon your behalf with the IRS ("Do you owe more than $10,000 to the IRS?). There were ads touting cut-rate Viagra you can buy on the Internet to ads offering participation in a "clinical trial" to the first 50 sufferers from "decreased male vitality" that called in. The latter was swiftly followed by a disclaimer delivered at live auction speed which stated that these claims had not been evaluated by the FDA and that the product was not intended to be used to treat any medical condition or disease. Finally, I noted an ad for a certain brand of gin that the ad claimed was "so smooth you could drink it straight."
The only conclusion that I could draw from my afternoon swim in the media was that ESPN Radio's target audience is a frequently red-lined drunk and tax deadbeat that can't get it up. I switched to classical programming as I am none of these things.
Things weren't much better back at the house. During the Razorback game, I noticed a spot for a financial service that was dedicated to "saving your house" if you were behind on your mortgage or had lost your job using "local attorneys" to intercede with your lender. Not long after that appeared an ad for a tax service that made the assertion that the IRS had gotten "lenient" and that this service's "team of lawyers and enrolled agents" was waiting to spring into action to lower my tax debt and get that pesky levy discharged.
I know one divorced couple that is not making much headway with the Service on their compromise offer on back taxes. And I know one guy who is spectacularly unsuccessful in getting them to make the levy on him go away. Ask these folks about how frigging "lenient" the IRS is. And they, too, have local tax professionals in there pitching for them.
Finally, today's mail brought me a cardboard item of correspondence ominously marked "2nd Attempt" and "Respond Within Five Days." It looked very much like the tax documents I have been getting from the government the last week or so. Alas, it was a solicitation for an extended warranty on my vehicle. This would explain the 2nd attempt. Undoubtedly, I had tossed the first.
As H.L. Mencken said, "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public." Conversely, the purveyors of the various shifty services (Well, not the gin. That one was pretty straight up. Pardon the expression.) that I described above are obviously moving product and reeling in clients. Otherwise, they wouldn't be spending the money to put out the word.
And, all kidding aside, the target audience for these products are obviously the desperate and the incompetent. Times are hard. People are strapped. Shady actors slither out from every other rock during times like these.
I found another ad I heard yesterday to be exceptionally pernicious and misleading. The ad was for an outfit that was touting gold as the only "safe" investment. This pitch has gained some cache in recent times with lunatic Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul advocating eliminating the Federal Reserve and returning to the gold standard.
The ad was pretty slick. A woman's voice, choked with emotion, is heard telling of how her husband lost his job and can't find work. I paraphrase the pitch. "The economy is getting worse and the government is proposing even more wasteful spending that will put our country even further in debt. That's why I rolled my 401k into gold, the only truly safe investment."
Of course, the ad is disingenuous on numerous fronts. The speaker is most likely paid voice talent and not some harried wife and mother. The economy is growing and more people are finding work. The government is proposing spending cuts. And gold prices are unstable. Indeed, if our speaker had her 401k in a FDIC insured account she wouldn't have to worry about losing any money if the bank collapsed.
But again, the target audience for these pitches are the desperate, the unsophisticated and the paranoid. Who evidently listen to and watch a lot of sports.
I have said it before and I will say it again. If you have tax problems go a CPA or a tax lawyer. If you are having financial problems, go see your lender. Trust me. They don't want your stuff. They want your money. Odds are that unless your situation is truly unworkable or if you have gone strictly deadbeat on them in the past, they will try to work with you. If it can't be worked out go see a bankruptcy lawyer to see what relief is available. If you aren't feeling well go see the doctor.
But stay off the Internet. Lay off the 1-800 numbers.
Like I said, I've never much paid any attention to advertising. I'm paying attention now, boy. And it is really interesting to hear what people will say to get you to part with your money.