Commentary

Media X: The American Nightmare

It's almost dawn on the Westside. I make a pit stop at Chevron, looking to gas up and score a cup of Joe before going into the office.

But this is no ordinary morning. In a minute, I will bear witness to brand loyalty run amuck. I will see firsthand the consequences of over-marketing in America. And it all starts with a guy making a cup of coffee in the Chevron Food Mart.

He's big, this dude, maybe six-two, wearing a soiled gray T-shirt, dark-blue carpenter jeans, white socks and black shoes. His hands are large-knuckled and calloused. His hair is thinning, and he's working on a bald patch. He looks to be in his late thirties.

Slowly, carefully, delicately, the guy opens one of those little containers of Coffee Mate and pours it into his 24-oz., Chevron special, dark roast coffee. He opens another in exactly the same way and pours it into his cup in precisely the same manner -- from the left side, steady flow, a little upward flourish at the end, and an elegant sideways toss of the empty container onto the counter.

Then another container, exactly the same way.

Another.

And another.

He empties 10 containers into his cup before the ritual is finished, and then looks at the counter -- he's searching for something. He looks behind the coffee machine. Rummages through the few containers of unopened Coffee Mate that survived him. Even sticks his head down into the wastebasket.

No luck. He straightens, face mottling red, and turns to the cashier.

"Where's your Equal?" the guy demands.

"Eez no Equal," she answers, pointing to the sugar packets in the basket on the counter. "Shoogah."

The guy's beady little Joe the Plumber eyes bore into the cashier. "You don't have Equal?" he asks again.

"Ees no Equal."

"Are you kidding?"

"No, meesta. You want shoogah?"

"How do you not have Equal? Huh? How do you not have Equal?" he barks, then stomps out. His sickly, brownish-white coffee still steams in the cup on the counter. Surrounding it like fallen soldiers are the mangled carcasses of 10 little containers of Coffee Mate.

The cashier shrugs, then looks at me, grins, and says, "He no like shoogah."

And I can't hold it in anymore. I break out laughing so hard my eyes water and my stomach hurts. Talk about the dark side of brand indoctrination.

What if this really is the ultimate outcome of successful modern communications? What if the most dire challenge isn't clutter, Google, digital chaos or an economy in a coma? What if advertisers are just marketing too much and instead of encouraging consumers to listen up and opt in, they're creating a nation of homicidal brand maniacs?

I can see the PSA now: "Lack of Equal access afflicts Americans in every age group and income level. Please help. Stock appropriately."

Imagine the carnage at the supermarket if the new Pepsi logo doesn't catch on, especially in states with open carry gun laws. Maybe consumers really are having babies for German engineering.

Or maybe we should all just lay off the 24-oz. dark roast coffees.

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