When did it all start? Who can say? Not I. My earliest recollection was a sugary breakfast cereal for children advertising the radio broadcasts of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Up to that time, Gem razors and Shaefer beer, along with Abe Stark’s clothing store, were acceptable commercial elements in my life.
This past weekend, as I watched both the Chicago Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds emerge victorious from conflict, I could not escape intrusive advertising. At one time, commercials were reserved for periods between innings. Then, following the fashion of professional football, commercials were inserted when play stopped for other reasons.
Now commercials are dribbled into baseball broadcasts and present in most shots on TV. It might be a Nike swoop silent on a uniform. Ads appear on the backdrop behind the batters as they await the next pitch. At the home of the Reds, there is now a changing ad superimposed on the edge of the pitching mound.
Commercials adorn courtside panels at college basketball games. Not just fixed signs, but electronic billboards that change during the course of play. Perhaps worse, if such is possible, are the established TV timeouts, set to stop play, if action on the field or court has not stopped of its own accord.
It’s not sporting events alone. PBS and NPR seem to be increasing their appeals for money as well as their “acknowledgments” of funding by for- and not-for-profit organizations. The seasonal “pledge weeks” are now daily reminders of our obligations.
Where once ambulance chasers debased themselves, now hospitals and physicians are doing likewise. In the past, snake oil remedies were marketed with tales of heartfelt tragedies averted by remarkable potions. Today sudden death, or less social embarrassment, will be averted by a timely question asked of your doctor. The latter is to oblige with a prescription for the advertised product.
The survival of the US Postal Service seemingly depends on the extraordinary needs of worthy causes. Environmental calamity is assured if your funds are not received in time to be matched by a generous contribution. Thousands, nay millions, of persons afflicted with cruel diseases will suffer… unless your contribution for research and education is sent today.
Business schools once taught accounting, production, management, real estate, and some communication skills. Today they teach marketing, finance, business law, and entrepreneurship. Given such a curriculum, it is no wonder they also teach ethics.
Also preparing youth for employment are schools of philanthropy, with the most prominent located at IUPUI. What do they teach beyond fund-raising from the masses and the cultivation of affluent people?
Perhaps a new generation of executives in business and in not-for-profit agencies will constrain the addiction to fundraising and focus instead on the beneficial aspects of their activities.