Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Schmios Put Spotlight on Advertising Excesses

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Schmios Put Spotlight on Advertising Excesses

Article excerpt

In a blend of mockery and righteous outrage, a consortium of public-interest advocates -- such as California Newsreel and the University of Wisconsin's Center for the Analysis of Commercialism in Education -- and media critics recently presented the second annual Schmio Awards to companies such as Budweiser and Coca Cola, whose advertising campaigns had done the most to harm the planet or diminish human dignity.

The ceremony was timed to ridicule the annual Clio Awards in which the advertising industry honors its own. The Clio group, according to New York University professor and culture critic Mark Crispin Miller, had a "hell of a nerve" threatening legal action against the Schmios if they "made fun" of advertisers. Advertisers, said Miller, "make fun of everything. They ridicule the past, other ads, the public -- but never the product"

His award went to a commercial for MTV that depicts Keanu Reeves as an alienated teenager hungry for junk food and his girlfriend, but completely frustrated in his attempts to satisfy his cravings. Ultimately he is empowered by the TV remote control, which allows him to zap an infinite number of realities in and out of his life in split seconds.

Neil Postman, author of Amusing Ourselves to Death and 19 other books on education and technology, opened the evening by welcoming the audience to the 23rd annual Schmio Awards, knowing full well it was only the second. The award had been named, he said, for Henry Wadsworth Schmio, media adviser to Thomas Jefferson and creator of the first campaign jingle: "If you've got any guts in'ya/y'll vote Virginia." After the election, Postman joked, Schmio retired to a bee farm in the British countryside.

With each "award" and critique, the offending commercial was projected behind the speaker' on the big screen. One devastating moment came when a panel of children tested the products, only to discover that their dolls don't fly, swim or tumble in real life the way they do on the screen.

For Postman, who has written against the overuse of technological gimmicks like computers in the classroom, the high point of the evening came when elaborate equipment intended to project a computer image onto a big onstage screen -- thus demonstrating a Web site that hoodwinks teenagers into participating in a marketing survey when they think they're playing a game -- failed to work. …

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