Cindy - Column for 1/31

Anti-mercials

So I have a business prospect for you, if you have investment cash for me.

It's an advertising concept. I don't have a lot of formal training in advertising, but I've come up with some of the most successful ideas used today.

For instance, when I was a pill-popping teenager, I could never get a prescription for anything good unless I ran over my own foot with the family station wagon. Which was difficult to make look like an accident once, and impossible to replicate believably a second time. But I knew that somewhere, out there, there were prescription medications that were fun to take, and could be had by merely describing certain vague symptoms to your doctor.

"Oh doctor," you'd say. "I feel this intense cramping in my calves every so often. And I get so anxious when confronted with tense situations. Whatever can I do to feel better? Oh, did I mention that I have no family history of diabetes or liver disorder, which would contraindicate Valium and instead lead you to consider some lame over-the-counter aspirin substitute?" And your doctor would look in his little book and see that, yes, given your described symptoms, the recommended medication of choice was Happy Fun Drug. You're happy, he's off the hook, and your insurance buys you a pint-sized bottle of the stuff for five bucks. No down side to anyone.

Only you'd have to know what was in the doctor's little book. Otherwise you could say the wrong symptom and they'd make a note in your permanent file "Do Not Prescribe Happy Fun Drug, Ever", and then drill into your skull looking for that brain tumor you described.

My idea was that someone could write a book of symptoms, tailor made for the drugs you wanted. Or better yet the drug companies themselves could start telling people what symptoms were required for the pills they were selling…

And this simple idea became the cornerstone of pharmaceutical marketing from the late 1990's until today! Do you have social anxiety disorder? Do you have trouble relating in groups of people? Well today's Science Fiction Channel Robocop Marathon is brought to you by the makers of Paxil!

I would have made millions if I had, in fact, been the one to market the idea. But I can honestly claim that I had the idea all by myself years before it went into place. I'm a proven genius, just a somewhat lazy one.

(And for the record, when I first looked at someone's homepage on an early version of Mosaic back in 1992, I specifically remember thinking "Oh, you could use this web thing to sell books and stuff." An idea I would definitely have followed up on if I didn't need to finish level 6 on Sonic the Hedgehog.)

So now I've got this other idea.

Anti-mercials.

Let's say you're watching teevee. There's this ad for Circuit City. Advertising their "Price Match Plus Guarantee!" If you buy one of their products and find it for sale elsewhere for less, you get 110% of the difference! Why, there's no way they wouldn't have the lower price. You want the product. What have you got to lose?

And immediately following their ad is MY ad. My Anti-mercial. Calmly explaining that, sure, you're going to buy the Zenith XL3100 23" television or the AIWA X5 5-disc CD player. But Circuit City has an exclusive arrangement with Zenith and AIWA for the XL3100 and X5's. In fact 95% of their inventory are specific model numbers sold only to them. Sears has 23" Zenith TV's too, with mostly the same features but different model numbers. If they have a sale for $50 cheaper than Circuit City, you're not seeing squat because they aren't the same product. The only way you're going to save any money ever is on crappy little $5-$10 CD carriers, and that'll mean a special trip and a lot of waiting for 110% of a $2 difference. And they'd pay the 20 cents anyway just to get you to come in the store and look around.

Next, on comes an ad for 10-10-220. MY ad for 10-10-220. You can get all your phone calls for $1.00! Did you get their answering machine? Congratulations! You just paid $1.00 for a 15 second phone call! SUCKER.

Then an ad explaining that by not calling 1-800-CALL-ATT you can get Carrot Top off your television screen forever.

You get the idea.

But where, you ask, is the money to be made? Commercials are expensive. Expensive to make, expensive to air, and you're not really selling anything so there's no payoff.

Easy. First you start by targeting specific companies with large rivals. Their rivals bankroll your early commercials, and you demonstrate an ability to negatively affect a company's bottom line by showing the commercials.

Then you start charging companies not to air your commercials. You put together a prototype, you show it to some test audiences, and demonstrate that it's likely to cost a certain company X million dollars a year if it runs. Then you offer to lease that company exclusive rights to broadcast (or not, if that's what they'd, uh prefer…) said commercial. Say, half as much as it's likely to cost them if it's aired regularly. Hire a good law firm to keep this on the legal side of blackmail and you're set.

As you make more and more money, you hire greater talent. To do nothing. The more potential you have for damage, the more they have to pay. You may have to make good on your threats now and again, but this employs an awful lot of artists, writers, and filmmakers with relatively little actual work to do. Which is what artists, writers, and filmmakers like best, so everyone's happy.

It's flawless.

If it isn't already being done.

Columns by Cindy