The following is not a commentary on our business, but our culture. It's about anthropology, not advertising.
Over the last 25 years we have done a pretty good job of finally confronting some difficult subjects that affect Americans of all ages: depression, bi-polar disorder, and suicide, among teenagers and others. (Our own industry has made a positive contribution to this education and dialogue, through public service announcements, pro bono campaigns, and other efforts.)
But while we have become more aware of this crisis in our country, at the same time, we have become more cavalier about it.
Think about it. We can come home from the funeral of a victim of suicide, where we heard a sermon about the seriousness of the diseases that can result in it, and where we engaged in hushed conversation, saying such things as, "What's this world coming to?" We can then loosen our tie and turn on the TV, and see a sleep aid spot that promises a good night's sleep, with the risk that side effects include "suicidal tendencies."
And we don't flinch. "A good night's sleep? Maybe I'll try that stuff."
Does anyone else see this? In the morning we say, "Suicide is becoming a terrible epidemic. What is this world coming to?" And in the evening, we say, "Hmmm... I'll risk wanting to commit suicide if there's an extra hour of sleep in there."
Believe me, I know about legal copy. I know lottery ads have to say that the ads are not meant to induce you to play the lottery. Pharmaceutical ads have to be transparent about side effects, no matter how remote the odds.
To me what's striking is that our audience accepts the side effect of suicidal tendencies. The same audience that decries the increase in teenage suicide.
What's this world coming to?