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Michael S. True

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Advertising Man
By Michael S. True
Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Rated "PG" by the Author.

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My father was an advertising man.

My father was an advertising man. During the nineteen fifties, he briefly studied the modern science of psychology. Although he never talked directly to his kids as kids, when I was five or six years old I overheard an excited conversation.

My father was telling someone that he was amazed that words or pictures, when quickly flashed upon a movie screen in a fast and repetitious state, would transfer that word or picture to the brain, as visual stimuli, an unseen image that could evoke a subconscious urge that had to be acted upon.

In the beginning it was used in the theater matinee sales of popcorn and sodas, he had told his small audience. Unfortunately, that hat trick was banned immediately, by somebody somewhere, according to whatever he had read or heard. Regardless, he was so impressed with the idea of creating instant, unwitting consumers that he dedicated his entire adult life to the task.

The idea of manipulating people’s thoughts seemed inspired in his darkly depressed and often fearful mind. My father, in reality, was little more than a big city dreamer relegated to a small rural pond. And therein, he aspired to see himself as a hidden manipulator, a practitioner of the dark arts. This, ignoring the fact that he was anchored firmly in the middle of the mid-western Bible Belt. Perhaps this was part of the allure of the con. He always seemed an unapologetic Attila the Hun, laying low the kings and the surfs, at least verbally.

There were spoils to be had and so he became one man driven, an advertising man. He would graciously provide his many retail sales associates with a weapon, a tool of immense power and promise. Like Thor’s hammer, my father saw himself wielding the power of persuasion! This populist propaganda was such that it could not be left to black and white, to simple truths, and so our presses printed mostly in color, the tabloid newspapers and weekly circulars bearing little, if any, real news.

Mixing red, yellow, and blue into holiday hues and heralding mythical events with gaudy banners, he would proclaim on paper the need to save, save, save by buy, buy, buying something, anything! The message was always to be simple and direct, with little pictures and a ninety-nine cent tease to trigger the flow of the unwitting shopper’s Pavlovian saliva. For nearly thirty years he conveyed his advertising intent by saying to everyone he employed, “Don’t get too artsy with the ads and remember, news is filler.”

Throughout my childhood and into my teens I spent most of my time trying to stay out of the man’s way. His heavy handed persuasion held me in the thick of it, however, as I watched holiday after holiday implode, learning that nothing was sacred and when it came right down to it, it was all about the money,

In a world of hustle and alcohol my father carved out a small, dark, and shallow niche with his little Indiana publishing company, True Publications. Then he proceeded to drink and smoke himself to death. Ironically, when it came to advertising, the alcohol and tobacco companies proved to be the best in the business.

Michael S. True


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Reviewed by Edward Phillips 1/22/2014
There's not much difference between the snake oil salesmen of the old West, religionists of any stripe, and whatever the Madison Avenue boys are peddling these days. They require only a dumbed down dimwit with big eyes and an empty head, and the sale is on. How else can someone who can hit, throw, kick, or slam dunk a ball get paid a hundred million bucks?
Reviewed by Odin Roark 1/4/2014
A somewhat sad tale, but one that obviously became a bit of an inspiration for you. Probably only after a number of years did you shed that skin he so deftly laid upon you, but like any parental impact, time is a child's most reliable friend.
Reviewed by Ronald Hull 1/2/2014
Very revealing. His actions shaped your character. As I read I thought of "Tin Men" (who sold my aunt aluminum siding that got dented in the first hailstorm that came along). More than one of our master's degree students were enthralled with the idea of "subliminal perception" that is still argued today as to its value. Your father was a real "hustler" in his day.

My wife worked for a very successful local hustler whose biggest hustle was the Central Wisconsin State Fair. He also owned billboards all over Wisconsin and my wife would travel around the state selling billboard space to local businesses over lunch. She had to leave that pleasant job to marry me.

My father wanted to be a farmer, and one time, almost bought a little resort/bar/grocery store. When offered to join my uncle's trucking firm, he declined, and stayed a Teamsters trucker until he retired at 62 with a nice Teamsters pension, thanks to their hustle in buying Las Vegas and no thanks to their skimming from the pension fund.

Reviewed by Jansen Estrup 1/2/2014
Those 'dark arts' ride amok even more brutally today, Michael. We have always been assailed by snake oil salesmen. Your father simply rode it to a new level. Thanks for your insights and honesty. I know it must still hurt, this proof of truisms like 'live by the sword ..." (especially the holidays) and I hope this fine story
helps make it bearable. Best, Jan
Reviewed by Budd Nelson 1/2/2014
a very relavent story, thank you

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