Why Advertising Won't Ask Why

Or, Why Buy Nikes? Because you can!

Naturally, "should" has its own ad campaign, playing the bad guy in PepsiCo's Josta commercials. In one spot, an old man confides to a teen that he wasted his youth on "shoulda coulda woulda" when he coulda been out drinking and chasing women. "Shoulda coulda woulda...better do the good stuff," the tag line advises, the good stuff being rebellion and Josta.

The message isn't lost on a couple of Josta's biggest fans. Azure Reznor, a 17-year-old in Virginia, has undertaken a consumer campaign to "save Josta." PepsiCo hasn't necessarily indicated that there's anything to save--so why the effort?

"I remember Crystal Pepsi and how PepsiCo took it off the market," says Reznor. "I'm not letting that happen to Josta. I'm doing something."

Meanwhile, John Blaylock, a psychology graduate at Oklahoma State, has organized a Josta-themed scavenger hunt for his residence hall, edited movies and TV pictures to include Josta, and made a Josta clock and Web site, among other projects, as a tribute to the drink.

Via e-mail, I asked him what he thinks of the commercials. "Damn cool," writes Blaylock, then explains, "If your conscience gets in the way most of the time, take the steel rod out of your ass and live a little. I mean, if you feel like dancing in class, do it, or if you feel like yelling in the middle of Wal-Mart, just do it."

Why? Because you can.

"Can" is why we have technology to clone humans, why socially conscious software programmers end up creating technologies that invade privacy. We do what we're good at. We create. And we do what we want.

Several months ago, I got into an e-mail debate with a sales rep at an online intelligence engine (my day job involves buying advertising for a record company). I asked him why we need to "automate the word-of-mouth process." Why have robots recommend music? Why take a fun, interesting process--talking to people, record hunting, reading zines--and hand it over to machines? Mr. Sales Rep agreed, "It's not that people need this. We're just providing another option."

Because we can.

Don't worry about the consequences, just do it. Remember AT&T's campaign from 1994? One ad read, "Ever tuck your baby in from the airport? You will." Another: "Ever send a fax from the beach? You will..."

Should you tuck your baby in from the airport? Ever want to send a fax from the beach? These questions are irrelevant. Technology is inevitable. Only a chump would resist. And so it is with the market--essentially a machine--where the only "should" that matters is the buy-and-sell. "Because I can" is the mantra for a society that has so internalized the mechanisms of the market that we see ourselves as little machines. Capability equals justification equals destiny. If you can, you will. For some reason, when I think of "choice" and "possibility" and "freedom," this isn't what I have in mind.

e-mail: stayfree@sunsite.unc.edu

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