The Commercialism of Daily Life is Nearly Complete

Originally posted: May 6, 2005

Coming soon to a police department near you: NASCAR-style advertising plastered all over police cruisers. The Charlotte-based racing giant has graciously offered police cars for $1 each, in exchange for the free publicity. More than 20 cities have signed up, and 200 more have expressed interest.

Other cities are also exploring commercialization deals. St. Charles, Mo., voted to sell advertising space on its garbage trucks. The California Milk Processing Board sent offers to dozens of small towns, asking one of them to change their name to “Got Milk? California.” In exchange, the milk board will make the town the focus of an advertising campaign, contribute an undetermined amount to the local school system and construct a “Got Milk?” Museum.

Perhaps the king of commercialism is San Diego. The city considered an offer from General Motors for 35 free cars, in exchange for placing advertisements on lifeguard towers. San Diego has declared Pepsi the city’s official soft drink. The city sold naming rights to Jack Murphy Stadium to a high-tech firm. Now a city councilman is suggesting that the city sell naming rights to East VIllage, part of a 26-block development.

The commercialization of daily life is virtually complete. Most Americans are now assaulted by at least 2,500 commercial messages every day. There are corporate ads on park benches, postal boxes and library cards. Earthlink placed ads in the restrooms of 40 restaurants. ABC slapped stickers on bananas (“Another Fine Use of Yellow: ABC”), as well as urinals, candy bars, bar glasses and door hangers. NASA has announced plans to solicit ads on its space station. Professional boxers and Arena League cheerleaders have advertisements on their stomachs.

Several months ago, talk show host Star Jones had commercial “sponsors” for her wedding. She had donated invitations (from Stationary Studio), donated tuxedos (from Sarno & Son) and donated bridesmaids’ gowns (from Lazaro Bridal). She even had an “official airline” (Continental).

Schools have also fallen prey to commercialism. Cafeterias and sports stadiums are increasingly littered with corporate logos. Public schools have exclusive marketing deals with Coke and Pepsi, as well as Apple and Microsoft. Channel One, an in-school broadcaster, is in 12,000 schools, subjecting its commercials to 8 million captive students.

College students are another target of corporate influence. Many universities grant exclusive marketing deals to computer manufacturers, credit card and soft drink companies. Washington State University has a Taco Bell Distinguished Professor of Hotel and Restaurant Administration, and Wayne State University has a Kmart Chair of Marketing.

In contemporary America, everything needs a sponsor — rock concerts, PBS shows, sporting events, the Olympics, and church bulletins. Two New Jersey students pitched themselves as “spokesguys” for any corporation willing to fund their college education. First Bank USA signed them up, for $40,000 a year. The pair, now attending Pepperdine and USC, will wear clothing with First Bank USA logos and speak with students about the joys of getting into debt.

Naomi Klein, in “No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies,” argues that successful corporations primarily market brands, rather than products. The chairman of Polaroid’s advertising agency stated that Polaroid “is not a camera — it’s a social lubricant.” The owner of Diesel Jeans said, “We don’t sell a product; we sell a style of life.” In a youth-dominated culture, the goal is to market “cool.” As Andre Agassi notes, “Image is everything.”

While corporations are in the business of selling cool, Tommy Hilfiger is in the business of signing his name. The company manufactures nothing; it simply establishes licensing agreements. As Naomi Klein notes, “Jockey International makes Hilfiger underwear. Pepe Jeans London makes Hilfiger jeans, Oxford Industries makes Tommy shirts, and Stride Rite Corporation makes its footwear. What does Tommy Hilfiger manufacture? Nothing at all.”

And the proper response if corporations seek sponsorship deals with city governments? Nothing at all.

Ted Rueter is an assistant professor of political science

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