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Sales pitch society - The Lowbrow Lowdown

It was months and months ago. Web publications were wilting left and right. My sweet $1/word monthly column- and feature-writing gig was kaput. The other publications for which I wrote regularly were either dropping like flies, slashing their freelance budgets or offering me the wondrous privilege of writing for free in exchange for a photo, byline and dubious glory, writes Kate Kaye.

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"Screw that," I thought in typical lady-like fashion. I'll use this free time wisely -- I'll write a book! Yeah... I'll write a book and it'll get published and the next thing I know, I'll be swapping niceties with NPR radio talk show hosts and appearing on Politically Incorrect alongside a throng of inarticulate c-list celebs, thwarting Bill Maher's criticism of my last comment as "the dumb opinion". Maybe I'll get a cool column in some magazine or newspaper. It'll be great!

Luckily, I'm too much of a realist to have honestly anticipated any of this.

To make a long story short, I discovered that if you don't like to kiss ass, set yourself up to be shot down, know that ubiquitous "somebody", or if you haven't had at least a brief brush with fame, you're not getting a book published any time soon. The best you can hope for is to leave your work of genius placed strategically in a sock drawer, die tragically, have your mother discover it and bring it to some lit professor at the nearest university who's blown away by the first paragraph and insists that it be published.

So, the book idea fizzled. But the subject matter was so riveting. I truly wanted other people to know about it -- I still do. Call me a drama queen, but I really believe that our society is shifting now that self is being co-opted by slogans and sales pitches.

In recent times, we've heard a lot about the ill-effects of advertising. It's commandeered our public spaces in the forms of corporate naming rights, towering billboards and sidewalk stencils. Nearly all forms of media and entertainment, from television sitcoms to news programming to novels have increasingly integrated advertising into content. Even our schools have been infiltrated by advertising. However, there's one place in which we may have neglected to recognise the presence of advertising -- ourselves.

This isn't an alarmist sermon. It's just a heads up. You see, as more and more marketing campaigns hinge upon our willing participation in product promotion, it's becoming easier and more advantageous for advertisers to rely upon us to do their dirty work for them.

Like billboards, TV commercial breaks, phone booths and subway cars, the words we speak, the actions we take and the choices we make have become the latest spaces in which to place ads. No longer will our logo-emblazoned clothing suffice. Now advertisers want what's underneath it to promote their wares as well.

Some human media buys wilfully choose to be used in such a way by advertisers and marketers. They offer themselves up to the highest bidder, begging to have their personal, everyday conversations tainted with promo pitches. Some take part unwittingly, gaining little compensation for pushing products and services to others. Some go undercover, promoting brands to friends and acquaintances without letting on that they're getting paid to do so.

Forget the Tupperware parties, forget your Amway-hawking co-worker, forget the guy who wanted to sell his kid's name to some corporation -- the new human ad phenomenon takes word-of-mouth marketing and product endorsement to a whole new level.

Today, there are sponsored college students grovelling for the chance to spread corporate messages to their peers in exchange for tuition payments. There are brides-to-be setting their friends and family up as marketing targets in misguided attempts at reducing the cost of those all-important wedding videos and floral arrangements. There are nightclub-goers initiating seemingly innocent conversations with smokers to get them to switch cigarette brands -- all the while being paid to do so. There are huge corporations who are no longer satisfied with word-of-mouth promotion occurring naturally. Now, they're triggering buzz by purposely integrating person-to-person marketing strategies into campaigns. The outcome of these promo prompts depends as much on us corrupting our personal relationships with marketing messages as it does on the expertise of the ad agency's creative team.

We have no crystal ball to show us what sorts of effects this phenomenon will have on relationships among individuals and on society as a whole. If we did, there's no doubt it would run a few 30-second spots before it played the foreboding footage. Certainly, if this marketing trend persists, it will have an impact and chances are it won't be a good one. From the looks of things, we're already becoming a sales pitch society.

It's happening in small doses, so we may fail to realise the magnitude of the situation. In Sales Pitch Society, a free document available for download here, I've attempted to open up the topic for further conversation. Read about it. Contemplate it. Discuss it. Believe it. Dispute it. Eschew it. Embrace it. No matter what, you can count on the sales pitch society in which we're all living to impact on your life.

That's not all. For additional commentary on these and other stories, visit The Lowbrow Lowdown.

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