Does she want you to use your brain? Better ask!

Jeff and I have a great amount of fun carping at stupid commercials. One of our favorites to harangue is a Rogaine commercial that says, "Does she want you to use Rogaine? Better ask!"

I sometimes wonder if we were dumb consumers to begin with, or if years and years of idiotic commercials like this have—well—brainwashed us into believing that this kind of thinking is all that we're capable of as adults. My year of doing marketing and PR work led me to believe the latter.

Design ads so that the company's message is conveyed even if the reader only sees it for a second or two. What a self-referential surprise that is! The MTV generation has been inundated with ads practically since birth (after all, no name-brand product was ever too good for baby!), and any advertising that is going to catch their collectively jaded eyes has to be subtly different. Most companies choose to go for flashier—faster, louder, harder, more colorful.

Don't believe me? Go look up how newspapers handled headlines in the early 1900s. Small type, nothing spanning more than two columns. Now, even the commuting skim-readers can get the headlines just from walking past the newspaper dispensing machine—the headlines are blared across the entire page in 25-point type, telling us what someone thinks we need to know.

That's another story, for another day…

Somewhere along the way we began to ever-so-subtly let the commercials tell us what to think. The endpoint of advertising is not to tell you, but to convince you, that you need the product being advertised. Advertising is pointless unless it creates a need in the consumer to buy a product.

So, we come full circle. Go back to the Rogaine commercial, showing a conversation between a man and woman, obviously a couple, in their early thirties. He has a full head of hair, but the commercial's voiceover warns him, ever so subtly, that this woman that loves him now might not love him anymore if he loses his hair.

To which my husband and I yell at the television, "And if she's so shallow and stupid, you deserve better than her!"

Commercials such as this work best when they tap into someone's insecurities or deep-seated fears.

Afraid your wife's going to leave you?
Here's a product that will keep her love focused on you.

Does [feature x, y, or z] make you unattractive?
Use this, and people will think you are attractive and therefore love you, thus proving your worth as a person.

Are you a good person, but do you just not have the material things that other people find important?
Buy this item and you'll be instantly popular, sexier, more worthy of love.

Sure, we could learn to accept ourselves with our foibles—thin/frizzy/mousy/riotous/vanished hair, for starters—but that's the last thing that advertisers want. Their bottom line is sales, and self-acceptance sells nothing but books.

Realizing that we learn what's acceptable for ourselves through commercials is disturbing enough. Realizing that what the commercials are saying and what they're telling us are two different things is even more disturbing. The external message ("Does she want you to use Rogaine? Better ask!") is silly enough, but the underlying message is not silly at all:

What you are isn't good enough, and the only way you can ever be good enough to be loved, to be liked, to be popular, to be sexy, to be worthwhile, is if you use our product.

Thirty seconds from now, it'll be the same message, another product. We buy into rampant consumerism to feed our need to be accepted and loved, and to build a wall between our naked, blemished, unworthy selves and the outside world (seemingly populated with better-looking, happier, more loved people who are in fact seeing the same situation when they look at you).

We buy the products, use them, and throw them away when they don't provide us the panacea we crave—and move on to the next commercial.