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Consider Spam for What It Really Is

by Harry W. Yeatts Jr.


Most everyone with e-mail these days gets lots of spam – unwanted messages flowing into In boxes like traffic on the interstate. We all grind our teeth and delete them. We set filters to get rid of them. We buy programs that remove them for us. It's obvious that we really hate them.

Some good can come from spam nonetheless. What we have to do is to stop calling these unwanted e-mail messages by a cute name and call them what they really are: advertisements. (At least those damnable pop-up ads on web pages are rightly called "ads.")

But that's what spam is: advertisements, pure and simple. Once we realize what they are, then we can more clearly think about the pervasiveness of advertising in all aspects of our lives.

We call unwanted surface mail we receive "junk mail." That's a better name than spam, but it still skirts the issue: junk mail mainly consists of advertisements. After each day's postal delivery, stacks of it can be found on our tables, counters, and chairs, sometimes added to previous stacks of ads till it teeters precariously. It's obvious we hate junk mail; just think of the vigor with which we throw it away (when we get around to it, that is).

With some regularity can also be heard laments about all those billboards beside our roadways. The lament usually centers around messing up the view of our beautiful countryside. But, again, let's call them what they are: advertisements (albeit, BIG advertisements).

Some ads in newspapers do have a beneficial effect, though. Opening up the morning paper can be good exercise because of the deep-knee bends required to pick up all the ad flyers that fall on the floor. (I must say, though, that ads printed in newspapers and magazines are my least unfavorites because I have some control over whether I look at them or not; I also don't have to wait for them to download, check each one to see if it's legit, and then drag them to the trash.)

Television, on the other hand, gives you no control at all (except for the Mute button and the Fast-Forward button, bless 'em).

Want to see the local weather on the "eights" on the Weather Channel? Unless you can time it perfectly, you have to sit through three minutes of ads for a minute or so of forecast (and even then there are ads running across the bottom of the screen).

Want to watch a movie on TV? Get ready for tons of ads…especially in the last part of the movie where they almost match up minute for minute with the movie itself.

How about a ballgame on the tube? Games are now much longer than they used to be because there are so many ads peppered through out. (What's an "official's timeout"? It's a timeout specifically for ads!) A particularly nasty phenomenon just now rearing its ugly head is the tendency to have almost every graphic during a game "brought to you by [insert company name here]." And stadiums and bowl games are not just venues for sport anymore, but vehicles for blatant advertising.

And why do companies put ads everywhere they can? Because advertising works. Simply put, companies spend lots of money on advertisements because they make considerably more on sales of their products. People buy products because they see them advertised. (And I'm not talking about a price-reduction sale, either; I'm talking about the psychology of making people believe that a product will make them happy or satisfied or whole or sexy or successful.)

So, since we're inundated with ads, what should we do?

Should we just embrace the phenomenon? Considering Virginia's budget crunch, maybe advertising is the way out. We can have the Enron University of Virginia. (Oh, that's right, Enron went belly up and face down; no problem, just change the sponsor: The Fiesta Tortilla Chip University of Virginia.) We could go even further: The Outback Steakhouse State of Virginia. (Our sponsor likes "state" better than "commonwealth" because of the alliteration.)

And we, as individuals, could get our share of the ad money. We could plaster our cars with business logos so that we all drive around in stock-car look-alikes. We already wear clothing with company names featured prominently, but for advertising purposes, they're way too discreet. We'll need some neon, blinking neon. Yep, that might work.

But is that enough? I'm sure that some business somewhere would pay you to have their logo tattooed on your forehead. Forget your pride and disfigurement, think of the money you'd make!

Don't blame businesses for all this, either. Advertising works, remember, and businesses are just trying to make money. Think about who is letting advertisers in the door. Who is allowing that "official's time out"? Who is scrunching that television program so we have to endure more ads? Who is selling our addresses so we'll get more spam and junk mail? They're the ones we should be having a little chat with.


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