July 2005 - Per Inquiry

High Def Jam

By Rick Petry

My link to impresario Russell Simmons dates back to the 1980s when I attended the “Fresh Fest.” This event was a rap concert that featured the seminal hip hop group he managed, Run DMC, and, for me, a moment of great trepidation when I realized I was the only one in the men’s room not wearing a hairnet. However, the jam referred to in the title refers not to Mr. Simmon’s record label or poetry happenings, but to the FCC’s attempts to force television networks to carry programming in high definition. What are the consequences for non-compliance you may wonder? Basically, Washington is demanding broadcasters “Walk This Way” or else they will face a different kind of music. The threat of steep fines may soon signal high noon for those who fail to carry a high def signal and its correspondingly superior picture. Might I suggest that while the Feds are on this bender that Casual Fridays be expanded by a government mandate?

All of this get in-line with the new order of things is apparently intended to serve the public interest by stimulating the economy, for it will result in the sale of oodles of new technology. For consumers, it should have the effect of making most men feel haplessly inadequate as they wander through the electronics department at Costco where, with each passing visit, the screens get bigger as the prices shrink. Now it’s not only size that matters, but picture clarity as well, and they’ve strategically positioned these digital temptresses as you enter, making comparison to that 24 inch that once made you glow when it did, unavoidable. Alas, love fades. But wives take note: there’s nothing like a spanking new gadget to resuscitate passion. And if you make your living selling stuff via electronic retailing, there is additional good news-now Americans will be motivated to spend even more time glued to their TV sets. Although I can’t help thinking that down the road the costs associated with producing paid programming in high definition may have us crying Uncle…uh, Sam.

Recently, I guest lectured the local high school’s marketing classes. Among the students who weren’t splayed across the table asleep or snapping the morning newspaper back directly below the lectern, it became apparent that adolescent males delight in Geico’s series of self-reflexive ads that play off pop TV conventions. One spot features the industry’s own Tony Little in a fastidious recreation of a glider infomercial. With smile and biceps glistening, Tony subverts the viewer’s expectations by extolling the virtues of saving a bunch of money on auto insurance with an authenticity worthy of Stanislavsky. Perhaps that’s why we need high definition television-so we can look into men’s souls through the whites of their eyes and separate artifice from reality…or simply catch them winking.

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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