Are White Men the Dumbest People in the World? TV Advertisers Seem to Think So

I admit it; I am a TV addict. Being a writer is a lonely job. I write two blogs and I’m now marketing a book. My dog Ozzie and my TV sets keep me company. It’s mostly news show that I watch . . . or listen to . . . or just have on in the background to keep me company.
But I catch enough of junk TV to see a lot of commercials. Actually, commercials keep me up on what crap a lot of advertisers are foisting upon the American consumer. By the way, is there ever a day when Kohl’s is not having a huge sale?

TV commercial
Yoplait commercial in which the husband is clueless that his desserts are really Yoplait yogurt . . . duh!

Here’s what I’ve noticed about a certain technique advertisers employ in order to make certain segments of their target audience feel good about themselves. In humorous commercials at least 90 percent of the time, white men are dolts. Idiots. Morons.  At the top of the intelligence heap are black women. They are followed closely by Asian and white women. Then come Asian men, followed by black men and children of any ethnicity. Finally comes the lowly white guy.
Now these are not hard and fast rules. There is some limited upward and downward mobility between levels, but just a little. Forgive me for leaving out Latinos, but advertisers don’t identify them much in commercials and when they do, the families seem to be stuck just interacting within their own culture.
Let me demonstrate a few examples. There’s the former State Farm Insurance customer who calls his former agent and cries that he ran his car up a pole. She’s compassionate. He’s an idiot.
There’s the AT&T Internet customer whose whole family understands that their Web connection is wireless but he just can’t understand it, much to the disdain of his daughter.
How about the guy who walks into the kitchen, overhears his wife talking on the phone about the delicious dessert flavors of Yoplait yogurt, and starts looking for the desserts in the fridge? That is until she derisively asks him, “What are you doing?”
In commercials, there are mostly black doctors of either sex. There are no dumb Asian or black women. Black men are only dumb in comparison to others above them in the hierarchy.
After much contemplation I have figured out the why the world of humorous commercials is so ordered. There are two prongs to my theory. White guys have a disproportionate influence in society. And they are not all that sensitive to being at the bottom of the TV commercial pile. They can laugh at being made fun of.
But by making women, and particularly minorities, feel good in relation to the product being sold, the advertiser creates a humorous and positive association with its product or service.
The second aspect of this phenomenon is that men – particularly white men –– control “Madison Avenue,” as the ad business is often called. So white guys flatter minorities and women in order to dupe them into buying the stuff the advertisers and their ad agencies are hawking. So while everyone else gets to feel superior, white guys (predominantly) are manipulating them.

Personally, I find this phenomenon disturbing. Sexism is sexism. Racism is racism. Period. The John Gray book Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus, did a lot to promote the “men do this, women do that” mentality that pervades so much of television, radio, and publishing. It leads to viewpoints that generalize sex-defined behavior and ignore the behaviors of sensitive men, coarse women, and everything in between.
As a white man, while I enjoy funny beer commercials I also resent being generalized as a sex crazed oaf (no matter how true it is of me personally) who makes consistently stupid choices.

I don’t give a damn what it sells.


Here’s a Bright Idea – Energy Efficient Lightbulbs

In case you haven’t heard, the federal government is about to rock your dark little world. Before you go out and buy a lamp that uses a traditional incandescent bulb, keep in mind that buying replacement bulbs will be very difficult.
Here are the who, what, when, where, why and how of these changes:
Most ordinary bulbs, the type introduced by Tom Edison more than a century and a quarter ago, waste their energy consumption by putting out lots of heat. That’s why you can’t touch such a bulb with your bare hand after it’s been on for a moment or two. So, most of the energy is expended as heat, not light. The government wants less of that energy wasted. The aim is to save Americans $13 billion per year and reduce CO2 emissions by 100 million tons annually.
Starting next January, it will be lights out for traditional 100-watt bulbs. Manufacturers will be prohibited from making those bulbs as of that date. 75-watters go the following year. As of 2014, 60- and 40-watters will be discontinued. If you have a fixture that uses candelabra, appliance, or three-way bulbs (the ones that typically have two elements and can click to 50, 100 or 150 watts), not to worry; you’re protected for the foreseeable future.

Sylvania LED Bulb

     So what can we do to keep the lights on when we run out of old-style bulbs? There are plenty of alternatives around with more to come than you can shake a filament at. You probably already have compact fluorescent lights, or CFLs, in your home already. They are the ones that look like swirled soft ice cream cones. Some folks don’t like their spirally looks, the color of their light, or the fact that you can’t clip light shades onto them. The first two objections are being dealt with. Some newer versions encase the swirls in an outer globe. And there is a growing variety of shades of light available.
Halogen bulbs produce more light per watt than do incandescent bulbs. They’ve been around a while in the form of tubes that snap into clips at either end for use in lamps that are designed to accommodate them. They can, however, get very hot.  A greater variety of halogens is now available, including those that screw in like the incandescents.
I recently bought a bunch of flashlights that were on sale at a local electronics store for a buck apiece.
Each one is about the size of a lipstick except that it’s a little thicker. At the front end are nine tiny LED (short for light emitting diode) bulbs. The amount of light this thing emits is awesome. The LEDs don’t get hot because most of their energy – which comes from three AAA batteries (side note: how come there are no A or B batteries?) – goes to making light. The little suckers are amazingly bright. LEDs are the light of the future because of their small size, exceptionally long life, and their efficiency.
All of these alternative bulbs (while most of them are no longer bulb shaped, the term has come to mean almost any man-made item that gives off light) are much more expensive than traditional incandescents, they earn back their initial cost by using way less energy. And they tend to last a lot longer.
The October 2011 edition of Consumer Reports has a nice breakdown of a variety of bulb types, by function. It rates them according to brightness, expected bulb life, light color, warm-up time (for CFLs), and other characteristics.
Briefly, when shopping for bulbs, look for price, life expectancy in hours, brightness (in lumens), and color of the light. The colors can be cool or warm, daylight bright or slightly yellowish.

Debit Card Fees by the big Banks may be Just What the Doctor Ordered

While thousands of angry people across America are joining Occupy Wall Street and its nationwide clones, Bank of America seems oblivious to the upsurge. Here’s how it works: If you use your debit card during any month, your account is debited five bucks for that month. If you don’t use your card, there’s no penalty.
The banks are saying they are forced to raise fees because of all the new restrictions on them. The most relevant rule, which went into effect on October 1, restricts the amount banks can charge retailers for debit card transactions to 21 cents. That’s down from 44 cents.

Even the Pentagon has a credit union!

Ohhh, poor banks! Chase Bank and Wells Fargo are testing $3 monthly fees. Sun Trust is jumping on the $5 bandwagon.
Good! Good? The Consumer Guy® likes bank fees? Nah. But I do like the idea that the big boys are making the small ones more appealing. I closed two Chase accounts last year and moved the dough over to the financial institution where The Consumer Gal keeps her money (yeah, we know, it’s strange that a couple has independent solo accounts) – a Credit union across the parking lot from Chase. Now these accounts are subject to virtually no fees. Citibank is standing pat with no debit fee as well.
In case you do not remember, the big banks are partly responsible for the meltdown of the U.S. economy, no small part of which had to do with bad mortgages. Then they took massive bailouts from U.S. taxpayers, only to deny hundreds of thousands of needy homeowners a break on their mortgages. So it warms the cockles of my heart, whatever they may be, to know that as the banks are finding an array of fees with which to hit their depositors, they are also giving those customers an incentive to say hasta la vista, and to look for better deals at local banks and credit unions.
It’s my hope that bank depositors will be willing to look at local financial institutions for free – or at least low cost – services. In other words, support local businesses. Just make sure they don’t charge other fees, like checking account or teller fees.
Here are some other ways to save on debit card charges.
• Pay cash. Just make sure that you extract the money from an ATM that doesn’t charge a fee. Either use your own bank’s ATM or one on its no-fee network.
• Use a credit card, but only if you pay off your entire bill each month. If you carry a balance, that’s costing you interest each month and makes credit purchases impractical. For information on choosing credit cards with the best benefits, do a web search for ‘best credit cards” – avoiding search results paid for by credit card issuers – and decide if you want money back, airline miles, or whether you want to pay an annual fee for expanded benefits.
• Try online banking. I am not a big fan of online banking because I’m fearful of compromising my personal information and becoming a victim of identity theft, or worse. If you are an Internet whiz kid, check out the services at  institutions like Ally Bank, Discover Bank and ING Direct, among others.
If you decide to switch banks, Consumers Union offers a checklist for consumers who want to switch at
Don’t feel locked into your current financial institution. Free competition can be a very good thing for consumers.

What’s with Those Direct Marketing Commercials that Offer a Second Item . . . for Free?

What’s with Those Direct Marketing Commercials that Offer a Second Item . . . for Free?

If you watch much television, you are familiar with those adds that promise a second item for free. The bonus offer usually starts with, “But wait! If you order now, we’ll send you a second widget . . .  for free!” Then, in a somewhat more muted voice, and stated very fast, is the phrase, “Just pay processing and handling.” Aha!
Let’s parse this marketing technique, using the ChefDini as an example. About that name, my best guess is that it’s a Houdini reference. The ChefDini is a food processor without all the inconveniences of an electric processor because you crank it by hand. Wow!
It’s $39.99. But wait! We’ll send you a second ChefDini for free. Just pay additional processing. Processing costs $7.99. So when you order, you end up paying $53.97.
Why do they do that? Here’s why. Putting a second item in the box costs the vendor just pennies for shipping. The balance of the additional $7.99 means they are still making a profit on the second gadget.
The Ped Egg is a small grater that has an integrated container. It removes rough skin from feet. Price? 10 smackers. Gimmick? $6.99 shipping and handling. Handling? Really? When I go into a local store, how come they don’t charge me for handling? So, sure enough, you can get a second Ped Egg free. Just pay shipping and handling. So when you order a 10-dollar Ped Egg, the yolk is on you (I couldn’t resist). It ends up costing you $23.98.
If you send any of this stuff back because you don’t like it, guess who pays the return postage. Yep, you do. But here’s the unkindest cut of all. They refund the purchase price but not the processing (or shipping and handling) costs. So, in the case of the Ped Egg, you send them 24 bucks, they refund 10 dollars, and you also lose the return postage. Let’s say you pay five bucks to return the stuff. You are now out 19 dollars and you have zero product.
Some malls have As Seen On TV stores where you can buy the direct marketing products that are “not sold in stores.” The trouble with these outlets? They typically charge a 15 percent restocking fee. Here’s the pitfall. You buy a product for, say, $20. You decide the product sucks – or at least doesn’t meet expectations. You bring it back. They charge you a restocking fee of 15 percent, which means you get 17 bucks back. The store keeps three dollars. Then they put the item back on the shelf. So you are out three dollars and they keep their profit anyway.
The bottom line:
Don’t buy direct marketing products from TV. It’s too risky. The two items I ever bought that were both junk. Wait for the products to come to traditional retail stores. If that doesn’t happen, it’s probably for a good reason.
If you decide to buy at an As Seen On TV store, have them cross out the restocking fee notice on the bottom of the receipt. If there is no notice, but a sign posted in the store instead, have the salesperson right on the receipt “No restocking fee” and sign it. If they won’t do it, repeat after me: “Sayonara.” (Hasta la vista or ciao will suffice.)