Saturday, July 22, 2006

Reverse advertising

So we all know that now and then commercials have one message upfront and another one that they're really trying to drive home. Anti-smoking ads funded by Phillip Morris, for example - they list a lot of good reasons to smoke while they say that you shouldn't do it.

I just saw a commercial for a hand sanitizer. The explicit message in the commercial is that with their hand sanitizer, the world is a clean, touchable place. The imagery shows various public places - I remember a toilet in a train and a gas station - through the "lense" of the bottle of sanitizer. Outside the frame created by the bottle, the places are seen to be covered in dirt. The train is old, grey, and graffitied, and the toilet has no seat. Seen through the bottle, the train is clean and new, and the toilet has clean, new residential fixtures. The gas station is similarly dirty and there's a man fueling a pickup truck. The man has a beard and a belly and he and the truck are both covered in dirt. There's assorted building supplies in the back of the truck. Seen through the bottle, the truck has pristine red paint and nothing in the bed, the man's stomach is flat and his face clean shaven, and he's wearing a polo or a short-sleeved dress shirt.

I think that the target demographic for this commercial is the middle class. It's on at 9:30 on a Saturday night, during a number of Law & Order episodes back-to-back. The world that they experience would be the one seen through the "lense." So to me, the way this commercial works is to sell not the idea of cleanliness, but a fearful perspective of the world in which everything is suspect without that bottle.

A health teacher of mine once said that when a drug addict does drugs, it's not to get high, but because it brings them back up to the level that most of us exist on on a daily basis. This commercial is trying to create a similar effect - that in order to exist at the level of cleanliness most of us exist at in reality, it's necessary to use hand sanitizer.

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