Here's the argument from media expert Turow (Annenberg School of Communications/Univ. of Penn.): The current price of targeting advertising to highly defined market segments is dividing the country into increasingly insular groups of people who care only about others like themselves. Turow (Playing Doctor: Television, Storytelling, and Medical Power, 1989) shows how advertising has evolved from a force ``making a homogenous people out of a nation of immigrants,'' as one ad-agency president claimed in the 1920s, to an industry concerned only with making the most money in the most cost- effective manner—by targeting those most likely to purchase the product or service in question. Advertising in the 1950s and early '60s could be generalized as a broad-based pitch to the American people via dominant network television, major radio stations, and mainstream magazines. Since then, cable television has separated the TV audience into specialized viewing segments. Magazines preceded cable television in this regard. Mass-market media are now most useful in promoting products with wide appeal, such as fast food, soft drinks, and sneakers. Another, rather perverse use of mass marketing was employed recently by the Lamborghini automobile company. They advertised in large-circulation US magazines to let the majority of Americans know that their car was prohibitively expensive. This exclusivity would make the car more desirable to the 100 US buyers the company hoped ultimately to reach. Stories such as these keep one entertained throughout this brief, informative book. But Turow, after carefully setting up the facts in his case against the ad industry, never delivers the final blow. He suggests that in many instances advertisers were reacting to societal changes, not necessarily creating them. And he isn't convincing on the gravity of the implied loss of national community resulting from the lack of a shared ad culture. Will society really be worse off if we can't all sing the Oscar Mayer wiener song together? An intriguing book if you ignore its dramatic, somewhat unsubstantiated premise.
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