Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Free at last! Free at last! Free at last from that damn election. Win or lose, no matter which way you wanted it to go, it’s over and done with.
And now we’re suddenly free to notice more important things.
Things like TV commercials, mostly, now that the airwaves are free of those hate-him’s and vote-for-me’s. But before we go any further, let me just say one minor thing about that damn election: As we all stagger on as winners or losers, we must bear in mind that both those roles ” winner and loser, it makes no difference ” have all too often turned out badly. Both the bitterness of defeat and the pride of victory, when overblown, lead to catastrophe. So watch it. One day at a time. No looking back.
Anyway … now we have time for TV commercials.
And, had we perhaps not been so obsessed with politics for these many, many months, perhaps we could have seen our fortune foretold in the commercials. We might have peered more closely ” like a Babylonian seer studying chicken entrails ” and seen the grim signs of the coming economic apocalypse.
Perhaps we might have seen it far enough in advance to pull our savings out of the stock market and stuff them all into our mattresses. (Call it “investing in mattress futures.” That sounds so much classier.)
Seen it where?
In a series of ads for credit cards.
“What’s in your wallet?” (Yes, those guys. Now you all know who I mean and I won’t have to mention their name.)
Think back to the go-go, heady days before Wall Street began feeling all those shots of tequila it had been slamming down while it danced on the bar. It wasn’t that long ago. Back then, the credit card was the power, the Force in those 30-second high-stakes dramas.
In those ads, pirate hordes or raging Norse Berserkers or God knows what would be about to destroy you when the Magic Card appeared and saved the day. The card was an invincible weapon, wielded by the man who had earned it, a hero banishing the forces of chaos with a wave of his plastic.
And really, who among us, when handed a magic weapon, could refuse to be a hero. Particularly when it comes to spending. Gimme that plastic. Lemme at ’em!
Those were the days, my friends.
And then those ads changed. The punch line was the same ” What’s in your wallet? ” but the man with the card was suddenly a boob. In the first one I recall, he was a hopeless fool, a General who fails to launch a missile because he’s too busy “designing” his own credit card.
He’s a buffoon, a fool. The people all around him are desperately trying to get him to save the world, but he’s too busy preening over his credit card choices ” does he want miles? or cash back? or a picture of his battle-axe mother on the card? He’s so engrossed that he can’t be bothered to pay attention to his sworn duty.
And maybe that should have been enough right there to tip us off that something was going wrong.
One moment, the credit is a magic sword. The power of a prince.
And then, suddenly, it’s something for buffoons.
When they advertise that their product is preferred three-to-one by idiots ” when the message they pay to put on TV is “Fools love us!” ” they are spending money to show contempt for their customers.
That can’t be healthy. Not when the “product” they’re selling is credit.
You see that approach (“Fools love us!”) often enough for products when there isn’t really much to advertise one way or the other.
You see it in beer commercials, because, after all, what real reason is there to choose between Bud and Miller and Coors?
Certainly Budweiser does it a lot. You’ve seen the ads: The fool at the baseball game who gets hit in the head by a fly ball because he’s got a Bud in each hand and he can’t bear to put either of them down so he can catch the ball. Let’s see … spill my beer or get knocked unconscious? Easy choice. Thunk!
Makes sense, I guess. For beer. “Our stuff works! It makes you dumb.” Fair enough.
But nobody wants a drunken banker.
And yet that’s who the “What’s in Your Wallet?” guys were suddenly selling us. Drunken heroes. Fools who love their product.
That’s a great advertising approach for a banking company: Idiots love us! You should too.
It’s an attitude that should have made mattress futures suddenly look mighty attractive. But we didn’t notice it.
Did the credit card companies know subconsciously that they were about to make fools of us all? That first “Idiots love us” ad had the damn fool general accidentally saving the day at the end. (And please do note that it was accidentally. After all, the bank is telling us, he’s an irredeemable fool, that customer of theirs. If he succeeds, it has to be by accident.) Later on in that series of ads, the damn fool just failed completely.
The man with the credit card never, ever saved the day.
Use our credit card and you’re a doomed fool!
How could we have missed that signal?
And recently, I saw yet another development. This one was the most revealing of all. Too late, of course.
It’s still the “Our Customer Is an Idiot” series, but now the fool who has the credit card is not just a fool ” he’s a Super Fool. An Idiot Super Hero.
He orders up a custom card with a picture of his family ” and then, when his rapt contemplation of the family portrait is interrupted and he’s suddenly face-to-face with his actual wife, he recoils at the horror of it all and snaps into a hard, impenetrable ball. Like a panicked armadillo.
Ta-da! Our customer, the panicked armadillo.
And his shell snapping shut is a door slammed in your face.
You want what? You want credit?
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