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LIFT THE NOZZLE on the gas pump and a voice begins to list all the great deals inside the convenience store. Log on to the Internet and pop-up ads fill the screen; check your e-mail and dozens of unwanted advertising messages appear. And by the way, it's no longer horse racing's Triple Crown, it's the Visa Triple Crown. You don't need to look for advertising anymore--it finds you.
The Media Awareness Network, an online resource for teachers and parents, relates that we see an average of 3,000 advertisements a day. Some companies, the network reports, have investigated placing ads in space that would be visible from Earth. ("Weather? Not a cloud in the sky--just a couple of ads.") The word "ubiquitous," defined as "present, or seeming to be present, everywhere at the same time," might as well have "advertising" as a synonym.
Now, advertising often provides worthwhile information. People count on it to help them find good deals on the things they need and want. It offers essential reminders: If you forget that Father's Day is June 20, don't blame advertisers. It also pays our salaries here at the newspaper, and that's extremely important. People come to count on newspaper ads, or radio ads, or even the billboards to find a restaurant at the next exit. And ads can be entertaining--some on television are more clever and amusing than the shows they are sponsoring.
But people don't appreciate advertising they find intrusive or unexpected or unnecessary, and might even avoid the offending product or service. You expect to find coconut in a macaroon--but it might be disconcerting to find coconut flecks in your smooth, chocolate chiffon pie--and you might pitch it out.
Advertisers can become aware when they cross the line, and would do well to learn from the experience. A recent plan to advertise the release of a summertime Hollywood blockbuster at Major League Baseball ballparks was scaled back after a public outcry against it. Speaking of ballparks, how long before every stadium is linked to a corporate sponsor?
Life in America seems to have become a continuous series of sales pitches. There is no product that we don't need, and for every product we do use, there is a new and improved one we must try instead. Finding casual clothes to wear that are logo- and brand-name-free has become a challenge. Perhaps eventually our lives and landscape will become so cluttered with ads that we'll grow numb to the pitches, and advertisers will realize that saturating the marketplace has become counterproductive. But when?