Change Your Existence


MAYBE YOU also saw that ad for Extra Rich Edge Gel in the most recent Newsweek on Campus, and asked yourself the same question: is that the same thing I do every morning?

You don't have to look too closely to notice that there are no less than five randy women draped in creamy shaving lotion on the man's smiling face. Three curvaceous nymphs are peering into his nasal hair, another, blissfully supine, is nearing a crescendo of ecstasy on his chin, and a naughty fifth, ruby lips in a pout, flashes her best "come hither" eyes at you.

When he finally gets around to shaving. Fred also better look out for the well-hung surfer gliding off his neck, his rainbow-striped surfboard jutting out like a monstrous fiberglass phallus. Not to mention avoiding getting lost in the tropical rain forest or falling off the water fall over to the left.

"Not Your Ordinary Shave," reads the legend on the bottom of the page. No, not at all. This is not a man who will slice his chin in a hurry to make the shuttle bus, and run around his suite with a dab of toilet paper stuck on his still-damp face, praying that it will stop bleeding before he goes and he won't have to look stupid. This is not a man who will need industrial-strength Vaseline Intensive Care Lotion to heal his face after the razor has left it as dry as Utah. This is not a man who will accidentally leave a spot of shaving cream on his carlobe and not notice it until 4 p.m., by which time countless people will have determined that be is an idiot

In short, this is not real. This is not shaving cream they are shaving cream they are selling as you probably already guessed all the wiser for having read Vance Packard then you were probably. This is the logical extreme of modern advertising.


ONE OF THE reasons advertising from the 1980s--or even the 1940s--generally looks so laughable is that it is predicated on entirely different assumptions. Back then, the advertising had something to do with the product. It noted that you could buy Post Grape Nuts or Freestone Deluxe tires, told you how much you would expect to pay for them, and told you why these particular grape nuts or tires were objectively superior to other kinds of grape nuts or tires.

All this was, of course, before the age when advertising began to hinge on what kind of person you would be if you used the product. You remember from the '60s those giddily idealistic United Nations-style Coca Cola ads, with 100 different races of people drinking frosty bottles of Coke and singing "I'd like to Teach the World to Sing in Perfect Harmony." Looking up from' Mission Impossible,' you felt that the next time you slugged down a pop, you would be joining hands with the oppressed people of the world.

Back then, of course, the people were still drinking Coca-Cola. The product had something do with the ad.

Since the '60s, that trend of advertising to tell you how you will feel it you buy the corporation's product and how it will change your wearying existence--has accelerated And by the 1980s, it has reached its extreme. It's gone farther, really, than just ads for shaving which are really ads for a Club Med style in the morning.

Take that Geraldine A. Ferraro spot for Diet Pepsi. It opens with Geraldine having a poignant heart-to-heart with her daughter, the American heroine--mom, wife and would-be vice president--talking with her attractive daughter about life and success. But no, she never mentions Diet Pepsi. In fact, you never realize it's Diet Pepsi. In fact, you never realize it's Diet Pepsi they're hawking until the announcer comes on.

Or take those ads for Salem Menthols. "Salem Spirit" has very little to do with smoking. In fact, in most ads it has nothing to do with smoking, because in several of those Salem ads no one has a cigarette in his hand at all. But Salem Spirit has a lot to do with sexy, happy Yuppies eating watermelon and plunging off tire swings into warm rivers.

In short, we have entered the cra of non-material materialism. What's for sale is not the action, but the reaction: not the goods, but the good felling: not the product, but what it produces in you. Insofar as there is something for sale, it doesn't matter how much it costs or whether it's better than others of its kind. In fact, it the product doesn't even have to be shown in the advertisement. All that matters is the mood, the intangible, the emotion.

What's the logical extreme? How much farther can this go? Not far off, it seems, is the hirsute man plunging into the churning, blood warm waters of the Amazon with live steamy Nordic goddesses, a virile Californian casing his board down the vertiginous drop of the falls and no can of the within 10,000 miles.