Advertising’s Cash for Clunkers

Green shoots are springing up all around us. Solar panels glitter like diamonds in dun-colored subdivisions. Shovels rhythmically turn topsoil to lay the foundation for a clean, smooth, buttery new infrastructure, the construction of which has started on every road you really need to take to the airport. Especially gratifying for the Office of the New Era of Responsibility was the twofer cash-for-clunkers auto program: a right smart jolt of stimulus for the automakers and — this seldom runs in tandem — a boost for Planet Earth.

The nation is on the move.

Now this office turns its attention to ginning up the giant engine of persuasion. We introduce the Cash-for-Clunkers Program for Advertisers, with the goal of fostering sustainable and responsible communications, or Clean Communications.

What qualifies as a clunker? The rules and conditions will be posted at, but for now it’s worth noting that qualifying clunker practices include, but are not limited to, belching voiceovers that importune one to act in a hurried manner; blaring soundtracks that pay homage to U2, but do not, in fact, pay U2; wheezing executional devices (e.g., anthropomorphized animals promoting products that actually harm their own species); various compounds of greenwash;  the dumping of package designs in increasingly toxic Pantone colors onto supermarket shelves; and releasing into the atmosphere headlines that begin with gerunds.

Many more practices qualify. The catalog won’t surprise anyone. Some of these have been spoiling our public health and morals for some time now.

In return for surrendering these rattletrap tricks of the trade, advertisers will begin to produce communications vehicles that are sleek, sustainable, modern and healthful.

What will Clean Communications look and feel like? Going forward, advertising copy will be fact-based and free of exaggeration; it will appeal to reason in a reasonable way. Voiceover talent will speak slowly and enunciate clearly. Music tracks will be of a soothing, not exciting, variety. Celebrity spokespeople and/or their voiceovers will not be permitted as they encourage unrealistic emulation — unless the celebrity can verify he or she is a user of the product first and a celebrity second. Are you beginning to breathe easier already?

For the first time, the environmental impact of different media will be considered. Volumes will be lowered on broadcast spots. Banners will dim on computer screens. And print — that most voracious energy consumer (trees + poison inks + transportation + recycling costs) — will become a rarity and a luxury, and will be taxed accordingly. In the era of Clean Communications there will be winners and losers.

All advertising will be opt-in. The audience will have to consent to receive the advertising message and will need to affirm they’re not tired, ill nor slightly inebriated while viewing the messages. Clean Communications does not prey on the unwilling or the weak.

Each new campaign will be approved by the newly formed Committee for Clean Communications and Public Morals, but only after expeditious public hearings, a waiting period and an interval allowing for public comment. Plus, the usual rounds of focus groups. The committee will issue warrants of accuracy, pleasantness, lack of shrillness, nonviolent physical comedy and legibility of fine print.

The bad old days of churning out communications fast and cheap and loud, with headlines honking and banners blinking, are gone. The power of persuasion will no longer be concentrated in the hands of a few oddly dressed art directors and copywriters sitting in coffee shops without regulatory oversight, polluting the public with cleverness, irony and “creativity.” And the people, long choking on this nation’s advertising productions, will be treated as rational citizens, not gullible consumers. We’re now well on the way to creating a communications landscape that is purer, nobler, more nourishing and more sustainable. Future generations will look back on this day and ask, “Do you believe there was ever a time when there was no Committee for Clean Communications and Public Morals?”

We have not, indeed, let a good crisis go to waste.

Steve Simpson is a copywriter, creative director and partner at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.

Recommended articles