Running, Not Hiding

Advertising almost made my cat kill me last weekend. She had deposited herself on my computer keyboard, and I was reaching to pluck her off it when a blood-curdling shriek rang out from the living room, causing the startled little carnivore to spring, claws fully extended in bird-gutting mode, straight at my face.

I managed to twist my head around at the very last instant. A second scream, even more ferocious, vibrated from the living room as tabby came to ground on my nightstand, knocked over the Buffy the Vampire Slayer coffee mug and disappeared in a blur under the bed.

A third scream, this time followed by a string of impassioned invective even a Soprano would be hard-pressed to match.

Torn between digging under the bed to find and dismantle the cat and finding out what was up in the living room, I opted for the latter. And there was my son and his friend, banging on the DVD remote and snarling at the TV screen.

I glared at him. He glared back. I asked what the problem was. He said it was the commercials.

A music-focused Web site that pitches itself as yet another way for clients to reach the elusive youth demo had sent me a DVD to review. I gave it to my focus group of two 14-year-olds, because I wanted to see if they connected with it. That’s what Feuer Jr. was watching when the screaming started.

The disc had music videos and interview snippets on it, with spots and assorted messages in front of the content. Every time my kid pressed a button to get to a video, he saw an ad first and didn’t realize the music came later. Sure, he noticed the messages. But he was hardly persuaded by them. On the contrary, he threw a world-class teenage fit when he realized he couldn’t avoid them.

Clearly, this form of entertainment marketing has its downside. But I realized it was also symptomatic of a new reality among the consuming hordes.

People no longer complain about ads, or even simply ignore them. They have become active combatants in a war of avoidance with advertisers.

As if to underscore this unsettling epiphany, I took the heir to the Feuer fortune and his friends to see Daredevil later that weekend, and the kids refused to go into the theater until 15 minutes after the show was supposed to start.

Because they didn’t want to see all the commercials.

OK, kids don’t listen to anybody, let alone advertisers. But this has gone way beyond the punk-rock cohort. Everybody, it seems, is enlisting in this conflict.

There’s been no overt declaration that hostilities have commenced. Still, I’ve seen people disdainfully skip around the Microsoft butterfly on sidewalks and duck their heads when they pass a wild posting so as not to be the object of desire’s invention. When I’m watching TV with friends and a commercial break begins, my guests often march to the bathroom with a seriousness of purpose, a firm step that declares, “This is my protest.”

So it’s gone way beyond zapping, hasn’t it?

This is dire, I think. As the most marketed-to population that has ever lived, we all like to tweak advertisers now and then, play a little coy, a little hard to get. Even, when asked by pollsters and such, get all righteous about how Advertising Is Ubiquitous and A Threat to Civilization. But deep down, we’ve all been secretly rather fond of advertising. Especially the good kind, which really entertains us for 30 seconds without asking us to, you know, buy something.

But that’s gone now, or at least, it’s going. We live in an anxious, angry, suspicious culture. What we don’t like, we blow up. Zap first and never even both to ask questions later.

In fact, if my experience is any indication, and I think it is, we’ve reached the point where advertising literally makes us so mad we want to scream.

Which is not just bad for business, it can also be deadly for pet owners.