Thursday, December 09, 2004


If you get the impression that the title of this post has a bit of an outraged tone, you’re correct.

As a rule, I don’t like advertising much. I’m not referring to what I call “straight advertising,” the purpose of which is to let us know that a particular service or product is available. I think that’s fine. What I don’t like is hype, buzz, gonzo—all the sophisticated tricks of the advertising trade meant to persuade us that we cannot live without a certain item or that possessing said item will make us more beautiful, classy or sexy, automatically and effortlessly—all of which is merely a smoothed-over version of what I believe is the true oldest profession: separating people from their hard-earned cash. (Thank you, Mr. McTamaney and my high-school English teachers, for the unit you taught us about advertising techniques. I appreciate those classes to this day.)

This morning the local Yellow Pages held a promotion downtown. The idea is that if you give your name and phone number and answer some easy questions, you will be entered in a lottery whose prize is a kilogram (approximately 2.2 pounds, for my US readers) of solid gold. Usually I’m wary of giving my name to advertisers, but I figure that this is the Yellow Pages; they know where to find me anyway.

So what was it that outraged me so much? Was it the shameless promotion by a firm that puts out a gigantic book of advertisements every year? Could it have been the Gold Card included in every phone book that gets buyers benefits at various local companies? (Great, yet another ploy to get us to spend money we don’t have, says my cynical side; no, it’s a legitimate attempt to pick up business in an economically struggling city, says my charitable side.) Was it the loud Day-Glo yellow on the flyers and the uniforms of the intrepid and energetic young people who were hired, probably at minimum wage, to make the pitches?

It wasn’t any of that. It was the candy bar they handed out together with the information flyer as a further enticement to participating in their lottery—a deal-sweetener, if you will.

It looked like a chocolate bar. It felt like one. Yet when I looked for the name of a familiar candy firm on the label and didn’t find one, my cynical side came to the fore again, claiming that Israel Yellow Pages must have engaged some cheap, unknown candy company to make these bars, which were probably made of the lowest-quality chocolate they could possibly get away with.

I was wrong. It was worse.

I read the ingredients list in the small print on the back of the bar. The word “chocolate” wasn’t written anywhere. Not chocolate? Then what on earth is this? I wondered.

I blinked harder and looked again. And then I saw it.


Carob?! These people were handing out carob bars as a promotion?

Now, I have nothing against carob. I have bought and eaten it willingly on occasion. One of the most unusual rice cakes I ever ate was coated with carob. It’s a gorgeous tree, and once I planted and grew carob seedlings in a pot, hoping to put them in the ground later on. (Unfortunately, I didn’t get to do it. They all died.)

Outraged as only a true chocolate addict can be, I looked more closely at the label on the candy bar. Sure enough, Israel Yellow Pages hadn’t violated any truth-in-advertising laws. They simply had not indicated what was inside on the front of the label, leaving that piece of supremely important information for the ingredient list with its teeny-tiny print. I couldn’t help but feel betrayed. Why did they do it? Why didn’t they tell us right off that they were handing us carob and not chocolate? Does Israel Yellow Pages have some secret interest in keeping consumers healthy without their realizing it? (I guess that makes sense. It benefits them to make sure we can consume in robust health for many decades to come.)

All right, fine, Israel Yellow Pages execs. Keep me healthy if you like, but at least be up front about it. The next time you hold a promotion downtown, hand out salads. (I prefer vinaigrette dressing, and hold the tomato.) Or, since winter is in full swing, give out bowls of hot vegetable soup. Hey, there’s an idea; treat me to the cream of broccoli or squash soup at the restaurant down the street and I’ll seriously consider buying whatever you’re selling, provided it’s not on the order of a Bentley.

But carob? Unmarked carob? That’s just plain sneaky. Even for an advertiser.

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