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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Marketing Zealotry

An excess of concentration by the mercantile mind can lead to displays of genuine commercial derangement. Consider two recent episodes.

The first is a report that talking and scented supermarket shelves may be tried on consumers in selected markets.
The sponsors of this new marketing technique would place devices that trigger a taped selling message when you walk by a shelf in the store. Anheiser-Busch has ordered several hundred talking displays from a Kansas manufacturer to promote six-packs of Budweiser -Light at the point-of-sale. One can only wonder about the sales pitch at this time.

While the consumer’s ear is to be reached, the nose is not to be neglected. The same machine that talks to the prospective buyer can also be programmed to release an aroma — say of cooking bacon. In fact, Daniel Leo, president of Ledan Inc., a New York promotion company, says, “Just imagine what the smell of bacon would do in a supermarket. You’d start salivating like Pavlov’s dog.” Ledan’s contribution to the gross national sales drive is in developing scented materials that stick to displays, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Presumably yet to come is a delicate machine to evaporate the droolings of customers on supermarket floors in order to avert slips and falls by the unwary.

The other episode is more patently serious. After the U.S. Army announced this month strict controls on smoking in military buildings and a prohibition on smoking in Army vehicles and aircraft, the tobacco industry counterattacked. “It is unjustifiable, unenforceable, and unfortunate in its second-class treatment of servicemen,” trumpeted Scott Stapf of the Tobacco Institute. Lt. Colonel John Williams simply said: “We are trying to get these soldiers fit.”

Mr. Stapf was not mollified, vowing to fight the directive, though not specifying how his powerful lobby intends to proceed. But he said enough to illustrate just how far an industry will go to preserve its sales. Interfering with a military health, economic, and logistics mission — smoking relates to all three concerns — is deemed necessary by the tobacco forces because soldiers smoking have helped give cigarettes their macho image. Next to the Marlboro man, the army man, performing daring missions with cigarette betwixt the lips, has exuded the right vibrations for the hucksters of the cancer straws.

Back in the fifties, television quiz shows featured guests who knew incredible details about certain subjects like geography or sports. Because their knowledge was so narrow, commentators called them “idiot-savants.”

Invitations are now open for the appropriate colloquialism to describe a monomaniacal zealotry in selling intensity that goes beyond the outer fringes of even abnormal profit-seeking. Send your words and phrases to Louis Nemeth, Box 19367, Washington, D.C. 20036. Who knows, your suggestion may someday find its way into the dictionary.