April 2005 - Per Inquiry

Top 100 Signs of the Apocalypse

By Rick Petry

One aspect of the continuing proliferation of media and its insatiable appetite for cheap and fast content is that with each passing year what populates the airwaves is becoming increasingly…weird. TV pundits compete to identify the most glaring signs that the apocalypse is imminent.

Is it the recreations of the Michael Jackson trial featured on E! that play like La Cage Au Folles in the land of Sideways? The Donald’s third wedding threatening to be broadcast as a yuge, classy affair? Or perhaps it’s a sense that what qualifies as “nostalgia” is being compressed at a rate of acceleration that is truly terrifying.

Hence a network such as VH-1 is largely devoted to combing over yesterday’s pop culture detritus in the form of endless countdown lists. During one such program I recently came across, the actor who played the engineer in our Thermos Grill2Go infomercial was weighing in along with the “Bachelorette” on some heavy matter such as Britney Spears’ Viva Las Vegas wedding folly. It would appear nowadays, everyone’s opinion does indeed count. Such programs are designed to invoke knowing reminiscence, yet as viewers we may pause and think, “Wait a minute, wasn’t that like…last week?”

Thus, the foundation of great media empires is built on the conceit that you can “live it today, and consume it tomorrow!” and frankly, that dovetails nicely into what we direct marketers do for a living. For example, the Dean Martin Roasts, riddled with impressions of Frank Gorshin (Unholy puns, Batman!) as well as arguably offensive gender and racial stereotypes and rumored to be a $50 million business, becomes counter-programming in a world neutered by well-intended P.C. police. And if that recycling of memories isn’t fresh enough for you, a common practice of networks-such as A&E, Biography and The History Channel-feeds our need for immediate gratification with a pitch that goes something like this: “If you’d like to own the program you just watched and that in all likelihood will be repeated on cable television for the rest of your life, then call now and it can be yours for one easy payment of $29.95, whereupon it can sit on your shelf and collect dust until at some point you ask yourself, ‘Why the hell did I buy that?’”

If the U.S. consumes two-thirds of the world’s natural resources, it would appear its appetite for mining the manmade variations remains equally unabated. From Tony Robbins’ self-improvement nuggets to the comic pearls of Johnny Carson, the reaping of opportunity awaits resourceful marketers. After all, if a continuity program can be built out of “Benny Hill Show” reruns and the locusts didn’t arrive, perhaps God is listening to Kids Bop 7.

Rick Petry is president of agency services for Euro RSCG 4D DRTV, a full-service direct marketing agency based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].


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