We live in a capitalistic society. And while capitalism does have its advantages, it seems that the drive for profit and its accompanying advertising are omnipresent. Years ago, highways were littered with billboards of every shape and size. Sure, occasionally one found humor in ads, like the series of signs erected by Burma Shave. But by and large this type of publicity was unsightly and defaced our land’s natural beauty. In the early sixties, the environmental movement had its beginning. Rachel Carson published her landmark book, Silent Spring, in 1962 and a few years later Lady Bird Johnson advocated the passage of the Highway Beautification Act. The First Lady’s intentions were good and probably did limit the proliferation of advertisements on our nation's roadways, but from the start her efforts were crippled by the powerful billboard lobby. The pushing of products and services continues and has become rather ridiculous and even annoying at times.
We have all noticed jarring instances of ads in movies and during TV shows. Whether it’s the camera centering on J. C. Penney in one of the Back to the Future films or the judges drinking out of plastic Coca-Cola glasses on American Idol, we can’t seem to escape the barrage of advertisements in our culture. Who hasn’t been annoyed also at the persistent promos during television programs which sometimes block someone’s name or something else that you’re trying to read at the bottom of the screen? This kind of placement must work to the company's advantage, though, or advertisers wouldn’t persist in doing it.
I suppose that you could say that publicity people can be quite clever. Instead of simply lining the highways with signs, they’ve now taken their products on the road—literally. We’ve all seen pictures at least of the Oscar Meyer Wiener Mobile; apparently there’s even a 787 jet liner designed to resemble one of their hot dogs. On a recent road trip, we were parked in a service area on the Mass Pike next to what I guess could be described as a hot pink donutmobile. Courtesy of Dunkin’ Donuts, of course. It may have been later that same day that we saw a pick-up in the shape of an L. L. Bean boot.
Not even local buildings are exempt from advertising. Albany’s downtown arena has gone through so many names that I always have to stop and think of what it’s now called. It’s the Times Union Center (after our local newspaper) and before that it was the Pepsi Arena. Yet, I think the most disturbing form of advertising occurs on my laptop. Whether I'm on Amazon or another shopping site, cyberspace seems to know what items I've searched before—there or elsewhere. Google, too, keeps track of significant words I've mentioned in private emails and offers shopping suggestions. George Orwell might have had something in that Big Brother idea of his.