I was listening to ESPN radio before the All-Star game last week. I seldom listen to commercial-supported radio so it was interesting to hear the flow of invitations to spend money.
The first commercial I heard was for Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. There was an excited announcer talking about the special available for a limited time only. Two people, full dinner, $89. We heard the price and the limited time repeatedly.
I started thinking about how much that would be per person. I wondered what was included for that price. I wondered how much the meals would be at regular price.
My thinking was interrupted by the next commercial, with an announcer telling us that one in six children in this country are living under the poverty level. There were several other ways of talking about the same facts. There was a link for more information: povertyusa.org.
I’m not sure what the next commercial was. I was too busy dealing with the whiplash. In one commercial, $89 was a great special for two meals. In the next, $89 would feed one child for a couple weeks.
I’m not opposed to steak. I’m not aware of how effective povertyusa.org is. I’m not opposed to commercial radio.
- There are significantly different ways to use $89. (or even $1).
- The rapid flow of information can keep us from stopping long enough to think about either of the choices.
- The existence of the two ads can divert our attention from the fact that any of the players in the All-Star game could buy several meals for either group without even noticing. In fact, for making it into the game, players together received almost $2 million in bonuses.
- And my critique of rich baseball players means I don’t have to think about how my tall half-caf coffee would pay for a school meal for one of those kids.
What scares me is that I often let all of these messages fade into a background hum. Hungry children, food ads, baseball games, RSS feeds, all are noted–briefly–and then recede as I drink my coffee.