Happiness is a new cellphone

Cellphone marketing seems to have undergone a change recently. Cellphones at first were a status symbol, something that only the supposed elite possessed. But thanks to good marketing, and of course the fact that they’re extremely useful, almost everyone who could afford one soon got one. As an article in the Christian Science Monitor eloquently points out, they became a necessity, with being late or unavailable without excuse no longer unacceptable in the business world.

I remember being told a few years ago when I was resisting being given a company cellphone that I was being selfish, not by the company, but by a friend, annoyed she couldn’t get hold of me as easily as she could others.

Parents on the whole seem to have bought into the belief that teens have to have a cellphone, mainly for safety reasons. Makes me quite nostalgic for my wildly irresponsible youth when I could leave the house with no way of being contacted.

But it’s the ads that interest me right now. I must be strange, never having been much interested in material things. I argue it allows me to focus on more important things, and has allowed me to “retire” with an income a fraction that of some friends who’re juggling their credit card debt with their overdraft debt. The ads clearly aren’t aimed at me then. But I find it hard to believe that people actually fall for them, in the sense of unconciously and unquestioningly accepting the message without any further awareness.

The first is an ad for a particular brand of cellphone, I forget which, perhaps Siemens, which very loosely goes something along the lines of:

Some think it’s your watch that gives you status, others your sunglasses, or your car. They’re wrong.

On first viewing, at this point I thought they were being consciously ironic, and there was to follow a clever punchline about the really important things in life, and the ad would actually be for the Nelson mandela Children’s fund. But no, it continued:

It’s actually your cellphone.
I had to stifle my gagging reflex. Surely an advertiser cannot be so purely vomitous? Are people really that stupid? Is the irony intentional, people being aware of it, and thus rendering the ad humourous. I fear not. Either way, it’s quite a depressing ad, and the manufacturer must be grateful I’m reeling so much I’m not entirely certain of the brand.

The second ad features an archetypal American dream family in the car. The dad puts on some old music, and the kids start laughing. Then the dad, slightly balding, brushes his hair trying to hide his bald spot, and the son laughs at him. The dad then walks in with an outdated suit, gets laughed at again, before finally pulling out an ancient cellphone, and again getting laughed out. The punchline indicates that MTN (I think) allows you to upgrade regularly to avoid such embarassment. Clearly aimed at teenagers, the messages are that cellphones are a status symbol, they must be new to be good.

As Jason used to put it, subverting the immortal lines from the beginning of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl,
I have seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by advertising

(though perhaps he, being in advertising, left out the word destroy). The most creative types are being lured into the advertising industry, with its large budgets, and many are putting their best efforts into propaganda of the most subtle kind. The other side of the destroyed are those who do not find lasting happiness from buying the latest trinket, but again fall for the followup ad, and replace “I’ll be happy when I get X” with “I’ll be happy when I get Y”. Listen out for that phrase. It’s amazing how often it appears in conversation.

1 comment

  1. Since we can’t, unfortunately, ban advertising, I would like to see advertising and marketing budgets turned into social awareness budgets instead. A cell phone company could enjoy high visibility by sponsoring all sorts of communication projects, since that is the territory that they supposedly facilitate. Imagine if they sponsored a volunteer network, for example. A challenge to cell phone users that for every 10 hours of time spent on the cellphone, that person spends 1 hour in a volunteer capacity in their community…if this is co-ordinated and a time bank is registered, it could be a great way for cellphone users to meet each other whilst giving something to their community…swopping their cellphone volunteer id’s and therefore generating more interaction…

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