where the writers are
Words influence people. Not us. Other people.

No one is affected by advertising. No one. Just walk up to anyone in the street and ask ’em:

You: See that Coca-Cola billboard right there? Does that make you more
inclined to buy Coke?

Random Stranger: No.

You: But what about the pretty girl in the billboard? Surely her wholesome, toothy smile is
giving you a warm fuzzy feeling that’s making you thirsty.

Random Stranger: Not at all. Advertising doesn’t affect me.

You: But it says right there, ‘Have a Coke and a smile.’ How can you resist such a persuasive imperative?

Random Stranger: I suppose I’m just smarter and stronger willed and more
independent and more savvy than everyone else in the country.

You: I see. Say, what about that 976-SLE-Z-GIRLS billboard over there? That one have any effect?

Random Stranger: (Grabbing pen and writing down number on own forearm.) None in the slightest.

I’ve always been baffled by advertising. Especially the mathematics of it. I remember being a little kid – old enough to know that TV commercials cost big money – and being unable reconcile the numbers.

I asked my mom something like: “So people see a commercial that says Windex is new and improved and millions run out and buy it and that more than makes up for the cost of the commercial? That many people who weren’t going to buy Windex go and buy it because it’s supposed to be a little better?” (Mom: "Go play in traffic under that Coca-Cola billboard.")

Then, sometime after, I started to think about all the advertising to sell advertising -- the television spots trying to get you to watch television shows, the billboards trying to get you to listen to radio programs. It’s like a pyramid:

  1. One hundred thousand motorists see a billboard for the KWZZ “Morning Zoo”
  2. For a fraction of them, one in sayten (a number I just made up because I have no idea what the real number is), the billboard is just what they needed to nudge them over the edge of deciding to listen to the radio station.
  3. Of those one in sayten, one in sayten hear a commercial for Hennessy’s.
  4. Of those, one in sayten run out and buy Hennessy’s.
  5. That’s about a hundred bottles of Hennessy’s, which, after manufacturing, distribution, overhead, lawyers, and advertising costs, Hennessy’s makes saytwo bucks a bottle (total $200).
  6. One in sayten of these dollars go to KWZZ (total $20).
  7. One in sayten of those dollars go to the billboard company ($2).

Yeah, yeah, I know: Those ad dollars also buy brand recognition, which has greater, longer-lasting value. And, yeah, yeah, I know: Clearly my math and logic demonstrate that I don’t know jack about how it really works. And, yeah, yeah, I know that if it didn’t work, nobody would do it. Still, I can’t wrap my head around it.

And if you think that’s stupid of me, consider this: Advertising has been my sole means of support for about ten of the last twelve years (much of which I spent working for newspapers). Advertising bought our house. My husband’s in the business, too – the most mathematically unlikely aspect of it. He’s an editor for a company that makes TV promos for TV shows. Here’s his most famous.


(I’m very proud! A shorter version ran during the Super Bowl two years ago and he won an award for it.)

Anyway, the reason all this advertising stuff is on my unable-to-grasp-it, bite-the-hand-that-feeds-me mind has to do with the presidential campaign and the convention. Specifically, I’m flabbergasted by the nature of punditry. We watch a convention speech and then the pundits “analyze” the speech and then we go to our little jobs and where we offer to co-workers our own brilliant analysis the speech and how it will affect others.

But none of us are affected ourselves.

We’re all above it. Too smart. We sit in judgment, but we’re above being judged. We analyze, but we’re too clever to be the subject of another’s analysis. It’s downright freaky.

Somewhere out there is person who saw an ad for “new and improved” Windex and immediately ran out to buy some, burning rubber and exceeding the speed limit and endangering countless squirrels and pedestrians in his red-hot haste to get his hands on this amazing new product.

Still, it’s smarter than listening to Joe Scarborough.

(Unrelated note: I chose to treat “one in ten” and some instances of “none” as plurals. It was a choice, not a boo-boo. So don’t yell at me. Have a Coke and a smile instead. Or, if you really think I deserve to be yelled out, go to Scarborough country.)

8 Comment count
Comment Bubble Tip

Not Addicted

So - what really happens on LOST?

See - I ignored all the words.

Comment Bubble Tip

Like all smart folks, I eschew TV. Now let me tell you about it.

I don't really watch TV. Except for all that TV I watch.


  • Under very bizarre magnetic/climatic circumstances, a plane crashes thousands of miles off course.
  • The survivors begin to observe bizarre phenomena on the island.
  • One of them, Sawyer, takes his shirt off.
  • Then they discover signs of previous inhabitants who were conducting bizarre experiements.
  • Sawyer walks around with shirt off. 
  • Then, they discover current inhabitants who steal their children, nab the pregnant woman, and terrorize the hell out of them.
  • Sawyer takes his pants off. 
  • Then, all kinds of exciting crap happens between the "good guys" and the "bad guys," including lots of references suggesting the good guys are really the bad and vice versa.
  • Sawyer takes his pants off and gets someone else to take her pants off. 
  • And then there's Ben. Right on, Ben.

The DVDs are rentable at Blockbuster. It's a damn fine form of escapism, especially if you like Sawyer. 

Comment Bubble Tip

No Man Is An Island

Sawyer - he's the one who takes his shirt off, right?

Comment Bubble Tip

Good one

But, you're right, he's more like a whole continent. (Or, at the very least, an archipelago.)

And, yes, the best way to identify the shirtless one is to look for the guy with no shirt on.

: )

Comment Bubble Tip

What's even more baffling

What's even more baffling than overt advertising is spam.  I've read industry statistics that prove that less than 1 out of 100,000 people respond to spam (other than to delete it).  Even with such abysmal returns, spammers find it highly profitable.....that minuscule margin pays for all their multimegabuck servers, not to mention the salaries of all the spam writers.  It's not a trivial exercise.


Comment Bubble Tip


Hearing it in real numbers floors me. One in a freakin' hundred thousand people sees, "Enhance you're love rod" and thinks, "Yeah, I'm going to put my physical health into the hands of someone who flunked third-grade English."

And, as a result, the flunkies win.

So surreal.

Comment Bubble Tip

Yikes! Speaking of third grade grammer flunking....

I can't believe I actually wrote "less than 1 in 100,00" rather than "fewer than 1 in 100,000"!   I an now condemned to serving time in Casagrande's "Big House" for an indeterminate period of time.   How can I survive?


Comment Bubble Tip

You've come to the write place

For pretty much every grammar crime, I can find a legal loophole (call me the Johnny Cochran of language). I have preached the less-fewer distinction you know. But there's a case to be made against it.

 This is reportedly from "Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage," as excerpted on LanguageLog.com:

The OED shows that less has been used of countables since the time of King Alfred the Great -- he used it that way in one of his own translations from Latin -- more than a thousand years ago (in about 888). So essentially less has been used of countables in English for just about as long as there has been a written English language. After about 900 years Robert Baker opined that fewer might be more elegant and proper. Almost every usage writer since Baker has followed Baker's lead, and generations of English teachers have swelled the chorus. The result seems to be a fairly large number of people who now believe less used of countables to be wrong, though its standardness is easily demonstrated.

I'll probably do a whole blog entry about this later when I get a minute. So don't think less of me if I reuse the Johnny Cochran joke.