Sunday, March 23, 2008

W. C. Fields, Where Are You Now That We Need You?

One of the more famous sayings of the late vaudeville and movie comedian W. C. Fields had it that "anyone who hates children and dogs can't be all bad." A concomitant, to my way of thinking, might be, "anyone who uses children or dogs in TV commercials can't be any good."

Commercials featuring children and dogs for infant formula, diapers, and dog food are OK: they don't exploit children and dogs except insofar as their use of them is to sell the very product they're hawking. This type of commercial is almost exclusively limited to a nationwide audience and pays for programming on the broadcast and cable networks. It is local advertising that exploits children and dogs to sell products having little or nothing to do with the goods or services they're selling. This is odious -- shameless exploitation.

Take our local mattress retailer, who calls his business "Chubby's Mattress Company." A chubby little man himself, the owner is shown sitting next to a bed, holding a medium-sized shaggy dog in his lap. That's Chubby. (The owner has also been shown snoozing on one of his mattresses, and the dog has, too.)

I've been tempted to drop by his store and ask if I can see Chubby. More than likely, the pet is at home where, no doubt, the owner beats him regularly, feeds him 25-cent canned dog food, and never lets him in the house. When the salespersons tells me that Chubby is not there, I will go back to my office and and prepare a petition for deceptive trade lawsuit; after all, the TV ads imply that I will get to see Chubby if I stop by the mattress store. Lest you wonder if such a suit might be "frivolous," asking, for example, "How have you been damaged?" I respond: "Like George W. Bush, are you totally ignorant about the cost of gasoline?"

The same could be said of a local automobile tire dealer, Delta. The owner himself started out appearing as a child on his dad's TV ads. Now grown up and a father himself, he regularly holds up his 3- or 4-year-old son, a cute little blond boy, to hype "lowest tire prices in town." I used to enjoy this guy's commercials, but now that he's selling his son on TV, I can't bear to watch them. And that is precisely what he's up to: selling his son. If you have a good product or services, you shouldn't have to rely on cutesy pets and offspring to sell what you're offering. It cheapens the product or services, and it prostitutes dogs and children.

I wouldn't trade with this mattress store or tire outlet if they were the last such establishment in town. I'd drive 140 miles north to the next large city where, hopefully, they eschew use of small beings to sell merchandise. Oh, by the way, there is another mattress store in town that features the son of the owner, directly competing with Chubby's dog. As ours is a South Texas city with a disproportionately Hispanic population ("Anglos" being in the minority), the commercial itself is in English; but when it ends, a small boys beams, saying, "Donde su compra con mucho gusto!" I'd rather shop elsewhere, thank you.