Thursday, July 09, 2015

Dear Lord, but You're Dumb!

Disclaimer: The title of this blog is not the personal opinion of the writer, but apparently that of just about everyone out to get something from you. Please read on.

I never cease to be amazed by the extent to which those trying to sell something, be it a product or an idea, will go in their blatant assumption of your stupidity. This phenomenon is personified in a cartoon I once saw, in which a bunch of ad executives are seated at a table surrounded by graphs and charts and blown-up ads, and one is saying, "Ok, let's get down on all fours and look at it from the customer's point of view." Paraphrasing my favorite quote from H.L. Mencken, "no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American consumer." 

You've seen the ads for drugs to treat atrial fibrillation and atherosclerosis in which they go to great pains to introduce them as "Atrial fibrillation, or 'Afib'", and "Atherosclerosis, or 'Athro.'" They apparently are reluctant to just use the full and correct name for the conditions throughout the commercial because they are obviously convinced you are too stupid to handle the complexities of polysyllabics. I suppose we should be grateful that the one time in the commercial they do use the proper name of the condition they do not pause to stare intently into the camera and carefully mouth each syllable as they pronounce it (“A…tree…" and “").

There are two main types of assumption of stupidity. The first—the most common and most reprehensible—is the contemptuous attitude taken by spammers, religious zealots, and self-appointed pundits, who don’t bother to even pretend that you have any degree of intelligence whatsoever. In fact, intelligence and independent thinking are utterly anathema to them. (If you do believe them without question, a good case may be made for charging you with at least complicit stupidity.)

The second and equally bothersome but somewhat understandable assumption of stupidity is that routinely employed by corporations fearing lawsuits. I call this "covering our asses stupidity." In all fairness, companies and corporations have little choice but to emphasize the lowest common denominator. Directions on bottles of bleach saying "Do Not Drink" are, sadly, necessary in our increasingly litigious society to prevent costly lawsuits by those—or their survivors—who would otherwise sue claiming "but it didn't say not to drink it!" As a result, almost every prescription and even over-the-counter medication today comes with literally pages of cautions about possible side effects, even if realistically the chance of those side effects may be one in ten million or more. In television commercials relating the list of side effects is often as long as the commercial itself.

Corporations are, however, not above displaying mild contempt for your intelligence by assuming you will simply accept without question their claims that whatever they are offering at the moment is superior to every other similar product out there on the market. I must admit to being pleased by the apparent waning of the old favorite sales pitch, "New! Improved!" showing up on products every six weeks. I hope it is because the advertisers finally realized that spending millions of dollars to convince you Burp-O is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and then turning around six weeks later with a "New! Improved!" ad campaign implying that what they've been selling you wasn't really all that good might not be the best idea.

TV abounds in assumptions of stupidity. Every single time you fall for a "A $999 value for only $19.99," a "Not sold in Stores," or a "But wait! There's more!" scam, you're proving their point. (They do not want anyone to stop to think that if the product were worth the powder to blow it to hell they wouldn't need to offer you six of them "for the price of one” to get you to buy it.)

Every spam folder is heavily sprinkled with notices by glorified ambulance chasers looking to make money by convincing you to sign up for some egregious class action suit ("Have you suffered a paper cut while reading Time magazine? You may be entitled to millions in compensation!"). Of course, before you get your share of the booty, the lawyers will have taken the bulk of the total settlement for their herculean efforts on your behalf. 

But don't you worry your pretty little head about any of the above. I need your financial backing for the guaranteed best-seller I'm ghost-writing for Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee: “The Truth About Barack Obama, Spawn of Satan!” 

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (

1 comment:

Kage Alan said...

I liken today's ads to those of when I was a child watching ads for toys. They always look so much better on the screen. And the kids who played with them? They looked as if they had months of adventures. The sad reality is it never lived up to the hype. The same with ads today aimed at adults.