The Dark Side Of Stuff

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This commentary was written by's Dick Meyer.

Few things irk me more than the use of the word "care" in advertising — and I'm easily irked.

"We care about you!" zillions of ads declare. Of course, they're all big, fat lies. They're lies by definition. Multinational corporations do not have feelings and caring is a feeling.

Furthermore, an entity can't care about me if it doesn't know me and I have actually never been introduced to a corporation. I've never had a drink with a brand, played poker with a product line or gone fishing with a customer service department. (OK, I did date a retail chain briefly once, but that was in the '80s.)

Marketers use the word "care" because they think we are dim-witted suckers. They know we resent lousy service and impersonal commerce and they prey on those frustrations. They think we can be subliminally seduced by the c-word.

Egregiously dishonest marketing aggravates me disproportionately to any material discomfort it brings me. And a certain kind of marketing Big Lie that preys on a simmering social irritation — "We Care About You" — is my special nemesis.

That is why it is a bad thing that my wife was given a subscription to Real Simple magazine by a well-intentioned but misguided friend.

Real Simple's motto is "life made easier." The magazine in fact offers a mind-boggling array of ways to complicate your life. It forces you consider chores and body parts that you've never thought about for more than a nanosecond because Real Simple wants you to make aesthetic and consumer choices about, well, everything.

Thus the magazine helps foster, as it might say, a frisky potpourri of anxieties about making bad choices — albeit about extraordinarily trivial things like "the best" flower pots, nail enamel and cropped pants. What if you don't get the best? Real Simple palpably makes life harder, not easier.

Real Simple's Big Lie is that it exacerbates a problem it promises to help solve. The publishers certainly know that many Americans in their target demographic group (I'm guessing it's women 34-59 with household incomes over $100,000) are stressed by the complications of everyday life.

They do not have enough time to juggle work, family home and, often, parents — much less a social life and fun. They are, to use the title of an interesting, new book, "Crazy Busy." They are also, though far less consciously, mind-fried by a pornographic range of choices available for every consumer decision: Plasma or flat screen? What kind of hair conditioner? Latte or cappuccino? Carbs or no carbs? Sienna or burnt umber trim? Viking or Aga? It all matters so very much.

Time Warner, the publisher, knows about these anxieties with precision; market research was invented to know stuff like that. That's why they call the magazine Real Simple. They want to prey on that anxiety.