non-fiction

Stop the insidious spread of unwanted sales pitches

Yes, it’s ironic. I’ve made a career of helping people sell things, but I’ve got a real hang-up with unsolicited selling.

My intolerance boiled over on a recent business trip to Las Vegas. Once I was settled in seat 23F, Frontier Airlines began playing enticing snippets of entertainment — three-point shots, celebrity chests, Hollywood fireballs — on the small screen in front of me, all interspersed with ads. Ten minutes into our flight, the entertainment temporarily stopped, replaced by a request for a credit card swipe through the reader slot on the back of the seat. The guy next to me fell for it and swiped his plastic. His entertainment continued — with all the advertising included.

That’s the part I don’t get.

When cable TV first arrived in the 1980s, the world of broadcast entertainment presented us with a new choice: We could receive programming over the air and pay for that privilege by watching the ads. Or we could subscribe to cable, pay with our monthly subscription, and watch ad-free programming. Either way, we paid, with our cash or our attention.

Of course, that’s not how it worked out. There are premium channels for an extra fee that omit the ads, but most cable packages demand both our money and our time to watch pitches for glossy cars, frothy beers and balm for our greatest fears.

The skip-ads-for-a-fee models play out on the Internet, too. Take cloud-based services. Pandora, the popular music selection and streaming service, has two subscription plans: a free one supported by advertisements — which most listeners choose — and a fee-based subscription without ads. But how long will that last?

Companies treasure ad exposure. Just how much? In parts of New York, instead of being charged a $1 or $2 fee to make an ATM withdrawal, you can watch a 30-second ad. Do the math. That’s $120 to $240 per hour. I’m flattered someone thinks my time is so valuable.

Globally, companies spend more than $600 billion annually to pitch us their products. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, Americans are exposed to about 3,000 advertising messages daily.

At the Las Vegas airport, all 3,000 bombard you simultaneously. Via down escalator, you enter baggage claim, an arena-sized bowl of advertising on signs and screens that ring in your ears and vibrate in your chest. I tried to imagine what would happen if a simple farmer from the 1800s were transported “Star Trek” style into that cacophony. For a split second, his eyelids would snap open, his jaw would drop, and then his heart would seize up.

I was relieved to climb into the relative quiet of the taxi. We pulled away from the curb. Then, queued to the start of the cab’s meter, two TV screens blinked on before me, accompanied by an audio track. It was the voice of Steve Wynn, casino magnate — net worth $2.5 billion — telling me about the treasures awaiting me at his umpteen casinos. Following my query, the cabbie informed me he was not allowed to turn off the screens or lower the volume. “Company policy.”

Mr. Wynn, by my calculations you owe me $60 for the 20 minutes I was forced to listen to your throaty spiel. But deduct $10 for your time reading this column.

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