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A Word From
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by Stephen Lautens


September 8, 2000

I have to be careful what I say. After all, the advertising in this newspaper pays my salary.

But I've noticed a new trend in the way big corporations present themselves to the world. It's not enough anymore for a company to take out ad space just to sell their goods and services. Now they want to be understood.

Darn it, they want to be loved.

They don't want us to form a bad opinion of them based on what we read in the news. Forget those oil spills, two-headed genetically modified cows or exploding gas tanks. They care about us. They really do. And they want you to know it.

Like the cigarette companies in the US. They've been running commercials non-stop about how they've cleaned up their act. No more sports advertising or glamourous lifestyle ads. No more selling to kiddies. And they want to help you quit.

Of course they're running the ads because they were beaten up so badly in the American courts. That was after denying for forty years that smoking did anything more harmful than make you more appealing to the opposite sex.

Like my grandmother said, you might as well make a virtue of necessity.

Microsoft used the newspapers to try to rally public opinion behind them when the US Department of Justice was smacking them around pretty good. They took out full page ads to appeal directly to the people to stop the federal government's bullying. Of course the total value of Microsoft's stock last year was about $600 billion.

Microsoft never really meant to take over the world. Hey, US Federal Government, why don't you pick on someone your own size? Like Europe.

The list goes on. We've recently had ads about defective tire recalls. And whenever there's a labour dispute both union and management assert the reasonableness of their demands by taking out ads.

More and more I see full page ads and television commercials 'explaining' why a company has had to make hard decisions. Hard decisions include closing factories, moving to Mexico, or cutting back wages while the president cashes in his stock options.

From time to time utility companies explain what a good job they're doing managing our resources and providing us with essential services. We're always part of their "family". Family or not, when a monopoly issues a full page explanation of their 'responsibility' and 'commitment', you can be sure that they are about to stick it to you good in your next bill.

Air Canada's new president has taken his personal message to the streets. You can't turn on the TV or open a paper without reading about his promise that within 180 days Air Canada will be run like a friendly and efficient airline. Sort of like Canadian Airlines used to be.

At the moment Air Canada makes me think of what an airline would be like if it was run by Revenue Canada and the Post Office.

I'm not sure I'd be taking out full page ads giving my personal word on making it better, even if I gave myself half a year to do it.

Still, like I said, those ads pay my salary. And there's some job security in knowing that they're probably already written the next series of ads for 180 days from now, congratulating everyone on meeting their goals and a job well done.


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