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Selling symptoms

August 25, 2010

If the media has taught me one thing, it’s that I’m a failure as a human being. In fact, we all are. And the only solution is copious creams, pills and procedures. It’s part of our evolutionary drive to seek perfection but having 18 inch penises and the sexual stamina of eight stallions is probably pushing it.

What struck me in the U.S. was the sheer amount of ads for pharmaceutical products. It’s beyond easy to come up with a list of vague symptoms that your miracle pill can fix, and better yet if you can make it compatible with other drugs already on the market. I can recall one ad for a pill that boasted of being able to be taken in conjunction with three other drugs. That’s a hell of a lot of pills being taken for the same thing you convinced yourself you had.

Creating symptoms is a simple way to sell. Case in point: premature ejaculation is a ‘surprisingly common’ disease that has been accompanied by all sorts of sprays and pills. ‘Surprisingly common’ serves to reassure the male that he is not alone with his problem (or indeed make him wonder if he might have one), but thanks to all the products available, hallelujah! It can be fixed! Sex needs to last longer. Why? Because you’re not a man if it doesn’t! How long should it last, then? Longer than it does now!

Advertising is built on selling an ideal. Take the Old Spice tag line: what a man could be. The Old Spice man is something to be aspired to by men because he is – in a stereotyped, what all women want way – perfect. It’s the same principle for selling a car, a TV or a loaf of bread: you will be happier if you had this, and people would love you for it.

But avertising also sells by playing on our biggest insecurities. The entire cosmetics industry built itself on this by telling women that they needed to fight ageing, that dry hair is a turn off, and that lips must be plump and glossy. Would women be insecure about their appearance without cosmetics companies? Would we have billboards screaming that men should last longer if their masculinity wasn’t such a sensitive issue?

Evidently more and more people are becoming interested in advertising: The Gruen Transfer has gained enormous popularity. Increased awareness of the processes and tricks used in advertising can only make consumers smarter, but perfection will always be marketed…and sold.

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