Advertisements meant to lead us astray

Don’t you just love it when people give you problems you don’t have? Truth is, this is how a lot of advertisements work. The commercial convinces you 1) there is a problem, and 2) it’s a problem you have, and then 3) they have a solution for the problem you didn’t know you had until a few moments ago!

For me, the icon of this seduction is the now defunct McDonald’s McDLT. They doubled the size of the (then) signature Styrofoam burger box. On one side of this environmental nightmare (since banished to eco-hell by all faithful stewards of birds, fish, streams and landfills) they put the bottom half of the bun and the burger. On the other side of this StyroFest Motel went the top half of the bun, lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayo. Over this television image came a voice both soothing and excited: “We’ve found a way to keep the hot side hot and the cool side cool.”

And I remember laughing. Just giggling. I couldn’t stop.

We’ve found a way? I assume “we” means the crack team of culinary scientists employed by all modern fast food corporations. Scientists who have given their lives to solving our thorniest culinary dilemmas. Step aside, Louis Pasteur. Make way, Johannes Gutenberg. What have you done for me lately, Bette Nesmith Graham? (A Dairy Queen Blizzard to the first reader who remembers what Bette invented.)

I pictured some retired guy, watching TV. Wife in the kitchen. He calls out – voice cracking, tears streaming – “Martha … they’ve found a way!” They collapse into an embrace.

I remember thinking, “I have to get out more.” I had never once stared balefully into the half-eaten burger I was holding, chewing forlornly and saying to a friend, “Geez, if only they could find a way ….” But apparently legions of Americans were suffering the burger blur of hot and cool in silence. It was a hope beyond hope, I suppose.

I think of these things as I dive into my RJ email box and am told of another “We” who have “found a way.” Specifically, a way to save Valentine’s Day. I’m not making this up. That’s the exact wording of the email: “… to save Valentine’s Day.”

The marketer greets me by first name, and then asks if I’ve ever misinterpreted a conversation based on a look. She continues: “Evidence suggests that our facial expressions are a central driving force of our emotions.” So, I experiment. I stand in front of the bathroom mirror and frown, but I don’t feel frowny. Next I scowl, but I don’t feel scowly. Now I stick my lip out and make my chin tremble, yet I don’t feel sad. Maybe I’m not doing this right. Or, maybe this marketer is M.S.U. (M.S.U. is a diagnostic term, used by clinicians. It means “Making Stuff Up,” except we don’t necessarily use the word “stuff.”)

Regardless, this marketer informs me they’ve found a way “to keep the romantic dinner conversation loving and friendly.” They’ve found a way to make you appear “less mean” and “more happy.” Botox! And Ultherapy! She even names the doctor who has found the way to do these revolutionary things. She calls him the “Looks Can Kill expert.”

The marketer writes, “Statements can be misinterpreted based merely on the look a person is giving off and this experience is ESPECIALLY true for patients who have undergone procedures such as Botox and Ultherapy.” I don’t get it. Botox fixes faces that are often misinterpreted? Or Botox is the cause of faces being often misinterpreted?

The email includes “before and after” faces so absurdly and obviously staged that I wonder how this kind of campaign actually works on anyone who’s not a sheep. Actually, sheep might be smarter than this. I almost never misinterpret the facial expressions of sheep.

Truth is, I’ve never met anyone who says, “The problem with Steven is I often misinterpret what he’s feeling, based on his facial expressions.” But, maybe people say this behind my back. Maybe my Valentine’s Day is in serious jeopardy.

And maybe sheep are smarter than us. Because, obviously, this crap works. In the words of George Carlin, “If you nail two things together that have never been nailed together before, some schmuck will buy it.”

The marketer says Dr. Lookscankill “can speak about the impact of nonsurgical procedures on facial and emotional appearances to save Valentine’s Day,” and wants to know if I’d like to schedule an interview with him for Human Matters.

Nah. I’ve got everything I need for a column right here.

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Sundays. Contact him at 227-4165 or

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