Monday, August 12, 2013

What are they selling?

I suspect the creators of this ad tortured themselves getting the wording of this one just right.

This is from a magazine that I saw at my dentist's office this morning. She's not a model. The ad gives her name and place of residence. They paid her to do this. (If I remember correctly, she lives in Nova Scotia.)

The reason why I suspect they tortured themselves over the wording is that it would be all too easy to hate this woman. She doesn't deserve hatred. She's a typical enough baby boomer. Even as it is written there is an obvious moral reproach.

The funny thing is that I suspect that is part of the appeal for the intended audience. To get why that might be imagine how this woman's mother, who grew up during the depression and spent her early adulthood on the sacrifices of the second world war, might have viewed the same  problem. Her mother lived for the future, paid off her mortgage and was grateful for a retirement that didn't involve poverty. Our baby boomer lived for the moment and produced nothing during the most productive years of her life, started a family at an age when prudence would have recommended otherwise and didn't pay off her mortgage. And yet, even though her husband died, she is still able to have a retirement that is more like an extended vacation than simply being able to take care of herself. It doesn't say "Nyah nyah!" but ...

The theme of this ad is defiance. The thing boomer women now in or rapidly approaching retirement value most is their pride. Or, to put it more accurately, what they fear most is being humiliated for their "selfish" lives. I put the word in scare quotes because it's not you are me but them whom thinks they have lived morally questionable lives. They live in a welfare state and they live in a welfare state because their votes that made sure we have a welfare state. They know full well, although they won't admit it for reasons of pride, that the welfare state is not sustainable, at least not as we know it. But even if it fails they can be certain that they will not starve. Survival is not the issue. Image is. And the image they want is one in which they feel no shame. And this ad says they can have it.

In the words of Don Draper:
Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It's freedom from fear. It's a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you're doing is OK. You are OK. 
And why not? If there is a moral irony here, it's not the one you're thinking of. The moral irony is that this retirement is only possible because of capitalism. It is only because of the incredible productive around baby boomer women that enough wealth was developed that women like the woman in this ad can retire comfortably despite having lived irresponsible lives.

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