Advertising: The product matters less than the idea that happiness can be bought.
THERE'S an ad on Irish radio at the moment, which annoys me so much when I hear it, I have to turn off the radio immediately.
The ad isn't the most obviously annoying one doing the rounds. It's not loud, or garish, it's not delivered in a fake foreign accent (aargh!) and it doesn't demand that you get to a particular shop RIGHT NOW or EVERYTHING WILL BE GONE.
Instead, it's pitched at a particular niche. A modulated, middle-class female voice kicks off mid-sentence, as if you've just stumbled upon her rather annoying conversation with herself.
The ad, like all ads, tries to sell happiness.
She lists some of the wonderful (expensive) items that you can buy in this store, and intersperses with mad little things about the season and the weather and all the delightful things you can be doing when you've re-mortgaged your house to buy out half the shop.
In other words, the ad, like all ads, admittedly, tries to sell a lifestyle, an idea. It tries to sell happiness!
What makes it more annoying than other ads, though, is how coy it is about it all. There's a certain part of me that can almost handle loud, pushy product advertising. "Buy this now, or be a complete loser for life."
This one however, is all about subtlety and seduction and soothing tones.
It has, unfortunately, the opposite effect on me. I hear it and think, God, we've really lost the run of ourselves. Or words to that effect. This is a family-friendly site!
There's another ad a bit like it. This time, delivered in a chocolate-smooth-with-just-a-hint-of-roughness-around-the-edges male voice. It goes a bit like this: "You've always dreamt of owning this car. Now is the time."
If they were really big, then they were massive.
Hello? The time for what? To borrow to the hilt in order to buy something, that's going to instantly depreciate by thousands, the second you drive out of the forecourt? Trust me when I tell you this is an ad for a luxury marque. I mean, why else would you dream of it?
And am I the only one who's never, ever dreamt about a car?
But back to shops. It isn't that long ago, that shops in this country were just that: shops. They were not stores. Even the big ones weren't stores. They were just, well, big shops. If they were really big, then they were massive.
The word massive, of course, has a couple of meanings in Dublin.
"Ah missus, your skirt is only massive," actually means "your skirt is quite lovely." But I digress.
In big shops (the sort where Santa Claus would establish his grotto every December, long before malls, and Santa popping up just about everywhere) there were departments. Women's clothes would be one department, children's toys would be another...you get the idea.
Now there are department stores with franchises. Loads more choice. And you can find nothing.
But it hardly matters. Because shopping - like the ads that entice us in to these stores - has nothing to do with buying what you actually need or even want.
It's about creating an experience, a feel-good factor, a smile on your face when your wallet is empty and your arms are heavy with stuff you'll never use.
I've fallen into the trap often enough myself. I have a white Summer dress hanging in my wardrobe. The sort of dress you buy when you are twenty and tanned. And wonderfully thin. It even has bikini straps.
I bought it in a rush of happiness and complete and utter self-delusion.
I've never worn it. Mainly because it is the same colour as my skin. Not a good look.
But I can't bring myself to throw it out, because I only bought it a few years ago, in Spain. It was hanging outside a cute shop, full of artfully-arranged, eclectic, beautiful things. I bought it in a rush of happiness and complete and utter self-delusion.
The practical side of me has decided I might dye it. Although then, it'll probably just be a blue dress with bikini straps hanging in my wardrobe. Mocking me.
Meanwhile, the best stuff is never advertised. I don't mean walks on the beach or hanging out with friends.
When was the last time you heard an ad for a playground? Or an art gallery? Or a library?
Do retailers only advertise things we don't need?
But surely that's a cynical step too far. I mean, who doesn't want happiness?
Or picnic blankets? Or storm lanterns? Or silk flowers? Or scented candles? Or a new sofa? Or throw cushions?
Actually, I quite like throw cushions....and storm lanterns.
That's it. I'm just never turning on the damned radio again.
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