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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Advertising and Jacobsen’s Book

Hucksters, barkers, hawkers unite. In your relentless quest for new surfaces for your advertisements, could you imagine these places? Air Force One flies all over the world — consider using the side of the president’s plane to advertise Timex watches. How about a billboard on the Washington Monument featuring the newest new detergent? Haven’t we celebrated too many national heroes on postage stamps? Postage stamps could be used to promote breakfast cereal. Collect 200 cereal stamps and you can compete for a trip to an American history theme park. Why visit real historical sites when Coca Cola and Disney World offer the almost-real-thing package for an unbelievable price?

That which was once unimaginable seems possible. Just think:

The average American spends an hour each day reading, viewing, or listening to advertising. That amounts to four full years in a lifetime. And if you think you can just skip over the print ads and mute the broadcasters pleas to buy some trinket -a diabolically clever advertiser has suggested using mile-long space billboards orbiting the earth to display corporate logos. (Businesses in America spend $265 billion — $1,000 per person each year — to sell people products and services.)

Unfortunately, the direct ads are only the tip of the iceberg. Channel One is in our public schools wrapping some current events in underarm deodorant ads. Orkin Pest Control gives money to the Smithsonian Museum’s Insect Zoo and Smithsonian displays the company logo. Philip Morris donated $600,000 to the National Archives in 1989 in order to participate in the National Archives promotion of the Bill of Rights — an association that helps cloud the image of the tobacco company as a merchant trafficking in a product that kills and injures hundreds of thousands of people. According to Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, “Cigarette smoking is the chief, single, avoidable cause of death in our society and the most important public health issue of our time.” The Centers for Disease Control report that cigarettes take the lives of 434,000 Americans each year — more deaths than those attributable to automobile crashes, fires, accidents, murder, AIDS, suicide, cocaine, heroin, and alcohol related causes combined.

Hold the presses. Marketing Madness: A Survival Guide for Consumer Society by Michael Jacobson and Laurie Mazur is a new book about these and the countless other excesses of commercialism. The book exposes the ways commercialism assaults children, degrades women, co-opts civic groups, taints public spaces, promotes dangerous products, and demeans historical figures. But don’t despair, Marketing Madness does more than just diagnose the sickness of today’s mass-marketing — it offers a prescription for those seeking a cure.

Jacobson and Mazur provide a menu of options starting with simple and easy things individuals can do to help themselves to turn their backs on the ad flacks. They also offer suggestions for systemic actions communities can collectively launch. The individual actions include:

— Declaring yourself an ad-free zone and refuse to wear clothing that features corporate logos.

— Using the television remote control to mute out the ads.

— Boycotting companies whose advertising or sales practices offend you and telling the company president why you stopped buying from the company.

For those with a flair for organizing campaigns, aroused citizens can press to restrict advertising aimed at children, or to limit the number of billboards along our roadways, or to compare quality, and prices for products so as to limit the impact of ads.

As the authors note:

“Commercialism encompasses ubiquitous, noisy, manipulative advertising. But commercialism is also a philosophy that shapes the very way we think and live our daily lives…. America is at a crossroads. One road is that of continued commercialism and wasteful consumption in a culture overtaken by Marketing Madness. The other road leads to a society more concerned about personal development and satisfaction of common needs. The choice is ours, both individually and collectively.

If you can’t find Marketing Madness in your bookstores contact the publisher: Westview Press, 5500 Central Avenue, Boulder, CO 80301 (303)-444-3541.