I was watching a news program in early March when a commercial for a funeral parlor popped onto my screen. Seriously? Aside from the fact that it was ghoulish in the extreme, it made me laugh because of what it signaled. Here it comes… Advertising in the pandemic!
Advertisers are poised between their clients and the buying public and it’s their job to make a match. In most cases they do this by creating ads that promote all the ways their client’s services or products fill the needs of a world they’ve studied and understand. Only now COVID19 is forcing them to make an abrupt pivot into imaging how their client’s products and services will serve a world we can’t even imagine yet.
But they’re trying. So yes, funeral parlors — although I can’t imagine that the parlor’s phone was ringing off the hook after that ad ran. But also loungewear. Because, hello — we’re all lounging. At least that’s what the advertisers are imagining. I’m sure you’ve seen the ads but the real question is are you lounging? What does that even mean? “Lounging.” Does it require a lounge? And what is a lounge other than a fancy word for a restroom or an empty space off the bar proper. And as far as I know you’re still allowed to wear what you want to a bathroom or a bar. Except I guess if you exist in the imagination of an advertiser fond of Turner Classic Movies because doesn’t it sound like something Ann Margret would do in silk pajamas and kitten heels?
Only no. Loungewear is apparently what people wear at home these days, i.e. yoga duds and sweats. So hooray! I’m already wearing loungewear! My daughter calls it Mom’s “Inside Yoga Clothes” and Mom’s “Outside Yoga Clothes” because hey, I respect the folks at Stop & Shop and I’m not going to trot in there in droopy Lulu Lemons.
But I’m also not about to lay down good money for new loungewear — not now, not ever. You don’t buy loungewear – not in my world. You just retire “Outside Yoga Clothes.” And since nobody’s going outside much these days, there’s no shortage of clothes to retire and reclassify as fit only for home viewing.
Which brings me to “viewing” and what advertisers are calling “tops,” i.e. what we’re all wearing from the waist up while Zooming or FaceTiming or otherwise being halfway seen. How many ads have you received for “tops”? I am constantly scrolling past “tops” these days in my feed. Because advertisers have determined that while some of us may indeed be wearing silk pajamas, most of us are wearing yoga pants - or sweatpants if you’re a guy - and something a bit more… “more” on top. Like a sweater you’d wear to work. Or an ironed shirt. Because people are seeing us on Zoom from the waist up and advertisers are convinced that we care.
Do you care? Here’s my care scale: if it’s a Zoom lunch with a friend, my face is washed and my teeth are brushed. If it’s a work meeting on Zoom, it’s a clean face and teeth and maybe, depending on whether it’s a work meeting with someone I know, I’ve done something to my eyebrows, which tend to disappear if I don’t. And folks, that’s about it. Yoga pants, a clean sweater and eyebrow goop. Not much room for advertisers there.
Not that they aren’t trying. Last week I got several ads for “fashion masks.” Seriously? The copy claimed they were contributing to society by making these masks — which you could now pay for — and that they came in different styles. I particularly liked the “office mask” — presumably for guys — in grey flannel. Because even in World 2.0, guys are gonna need a more “serious” mask than gals who were offered florals.
But it’s not all biased. When it comes to financial services, they’re targeting both men and women. The number of helpful folks willing to drop everything and refinance my house for me is staggering. And brand new credit cards? If I gave a nod, I’d be buried in plastic. Not that the loan companies and debt refinancing companies wouldn’t be happy to dig me out of whatever debt I’m poised to create.
Because I’m on a spending spree — according to the advertisers. And what am I buying? Classes. Zoom classes to be specific. I’m Reorienting my Chakras… while I’m Losing Twenty Pounds overnight… while Cooking Animals/Plants/Sweets… while Learning French/Chinese/Arabic… while finishing my novel/screenplay/pilot…while Decluttering with Nancy/Randy/Lakshmi. In other words I’m obviously bored out of my gourd and busier than ever.
And about to get divorced. Because what I’ve discovered after being locked up with my one and only for two plus months is that it’s time to call it quits. Nothing like never getting a time-out from your choices to force the issue. So divorce it is and the online legal services and therapists are lining up. Except of course if I’ve fallen in love with my COVID Sweetheart in which case meet any of a number of “wedding wagons” – they’ll drive right up to your door and you can stand 6 feet apart and swear your love. And for 10 dollars more, you can sign up for a conference call with an associate who’d be happy to email you the perfect pre-nup.
So the advertisers are on it. They’ve analyzed us, they know what we need and they’re serving it up. Only I don’t know about you but I don’t have it in me to make that many choices at the moment and the only thing I’m buying is groceries. Except maybe this. A few months ago, I saw a television ad for a meditation app. There were no words. No music. Just 60 seconds of quiet. That was the ad. A little breathing space. Sounds good about now.
(Thank you so much for all your emails. Reach me at WelcomeToThePandemic@gmail.com. And find me on Twitter at @epagenyc or on Facebook at ElizabethPage.)