I turned thirty-two a couple of weeks ago. Seeing as this was a major milestone (I’ve turned 0x20!), I figured it was time to get into better shape. I’ve had some chronic back pain the last few months, and when I was undergoing physical therapy the therapists recommended that walking and running would be a very good way to strengthen my back muscles.
The past few days I’ve really gotten into my running. I go to a local park at which during the day music from a local radio station is played over the loudspeaker. Since I’m probably one of the few people in the country remaining that does not have an iPod or other MP3 player for exercising, the music is at least something to take my mind off of the almost-pleasant torture that is running in a circle for a half-hour.
In particular, this radio station prides itself on providing a “safe” listening environment for mothers and their children. There’s nothing wrong with that. The result is that most of the ads are intended towards women. Three times I’ve heard an ad now for a local shopping center chain, Hannaford. The ad describes Hannaford’s efforts to remain environmentally-friendly as they do business.
I don’t have a problem with this. Most companies don’t make much of an effort to be green because there’s no financial incentive. If Hannaford wants to make this a selling point, good for them. As people increasingly see a company’s environmental policy as a reason to go there, there will be an economic incentive for companies to think about the environment as they do business.
Two things struck me as odd, though. First, as the chipper woman in the ad is proud to mention, “Hannaford recycles over one hundred million pounds of waste per year! That’s fifty thousand tons, more than the Titanic!” Fair enough, that’s all correct. I applaud Hannaford’s efforts, but wouldn’t it be more valuable for Hannaford to not waste anything at all? The old adage goes that reuse is better than recycling. It seems a little silly to me to be advertising that you waste a cruise-ship-size mass of junk every year, but whatever. Then again, I also don’t have anything to which to compare that number. Other local chains don’t readily publish their waste amounts, so for all I know the others waste ten times that amount.
The second thing was just plain weird. “By using environmentally friendly lighting, Hannaford saves 24,000,000 kilowatt-hours per year. Those 24,000,000 kilo-… umm, jiggers, *confused pause*, …is enough energy to power two thousand homes for a year!”
I would have loved to be in the ad company meeting where this script was pitched. What good does it do anyone to have the actor fake stupidity, especially when the real information has already been stated?
In the words of H. L. Mencken, “No one ever went broke underestimating the stupidity of the American public.” This may be true, and perhaps it is this guiding principle that Hannaford’s advertising firm lives by.
At best, this ad passively laughs at the science-illiteracy which pervades the public consciousness. At worst, the ad tells its listeners that science is just something for “those eggheads” to do. These small and arguably meaningless words in its monologue tells these stay-at-home parents, mostly moms, that they have no hope of understanding energy or environmental concerns. The messages then being sent from parent to child are that “science is too hard; you won’t understand!” Science is hard, but by making kids disqualify themselves from science from the beginning, they don’t have a fighting chance.
Rather than use this as a teaching moment, the ad company (and Hannaford by extension) continues to propagate the idea that science is for smart men, not everyone. Certainly, science as a career is usually pursued by smart men and women, but science literacy is important for every single citizen of the world.
I applaud Hannaford’s efforts at environmental progress, but certainly they could use some help in educating their listeners. Maybe I’m splitting hairs too much and looking too deeply into meaningless ad banter. Then again, that’s what we old fogies are supposed to do.