Su Lum: Prime-time war
I couldn’t stand to watch it, but I listened to Bush’s address to the nation Monday night. I sure wouldn’t want the job of being his speech writer these days, and you’d probably have to have a Ph.D. in advertising and marketing to get it. This war has been packaged and marketed to the public the same way an advertising agency would introduce a new toothpaste to the public – they know just how to convince us that we’re dying to get our hands on their new product. Let us hope that Bush is not being advised by those wonderful folks who convinced Coca-Cola to change their recipe.A friend of mine sent me an Internet cartoon captioned, “How to pay for the War on Iraq,” which showed a huge tank covered with ads for Dunkin’ Donuts, Bud Light, AT&T, Marlboro cigarettes, Coke, GM, Starbucks and Taco Bell, and the sad thing is that it doesn’t sound so far-fetched.I heard on the radio this afternoon that our troops are complaining about the unavailability of cigarettes, raising a severe moral dilemma for our health-conscious government. Should we send them tobacco supplies, risking the perception that the evil Joe Camel is sponsoring the war, or do we insist that our military forces quit smoking at the same time they’re putting their lives on the line?The media faced some critical questions during the Desert Storm war. The situation was unprecedented – a pre-announced war with heavy, albeit heavily censored, media coverage. In short, an ideal time, much like the Super Bowl, for advertisers to reach a vast captive audience.Not having thought it through, all the TV channels leapt into coverage of the war 24 hours a day, without commercial breaks. Then they all realized: OOPS! Their ratings were diffused because all the channels were showing the same thing (that smart bomb going into the building, up the stairs, around the corner and then BOOM, which we saw hundreds of times), and no one was making any money since it was hardly politically correct to break for commercials, saying “We’ll get back to the war after these messages,” and no advertisers would be willing to take the heat for interrupting the war.It will be interesting to see how, or if, the advertisers and the networks will resolve this impasse. Maybe they’re hoping that it will be over so quickly that it won’t hit their purses. Maybe the ad breaks will go on as usual. Maybe the networks will take turns covering it.A couple of weeks ago, an Associated Press story was headlined, “MTV gearing up for Iraqi war coverage.” “Much like the broadcast and cable news networks, MTV is laying out plans to cover a potential war with Iraq, expecting to be both a news source and sounding board for teenagers and young adults. MTV, with its special hold on young viewers, has a chance to reach those who might not regularly watch news.”In war, the winners and losers are not just confined to the battles. Look around Aspen, and you’ll see that one of the true winners of Desert Storm was the manufacturer of the Hummer. Seeing that success, perhaps there will be “product placements” instead of ads: of all the military personnel drinking Pepsi (wouldn’t that be a coup!), or eating Twinkies, the official war snack.The 48-hour warning was delivered during prime time, so the war will probably commence at 6 p.m. MST tonight. Stay tuned.[Su Lum is a longtime local with a jaundiced eye. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.]
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