Ad that up


The Buenos Aires managers of a multi-national advertising agency were speaking candidly about the superfluous nature of their business – and I was only a factitious journalist.

Blake teaches English to a few Argentine business professionals. When Pessa and I tagged along to classes one day, he told the small groups we were reporters for some advertising magazine. We would make up questions; they would answer in their already fluent English. (Since it was a “classroom activity,” I will leave the sources and companies anonymous.)

This well-known advertising agency has clients that make products that everyone has consumed – cigarettes in every convenience store, fast food joints on every other corner and cars dealerships in every other city.

“There are three Cs we represent: cancer, cholesterol, contamination,” a top manager joked.

The three other students in the first class laughed, albeit kind of apprehensively.

But these English students, who get paid to advertise, understand the importance of image.

“We have a ton of cancer; that’s why we work for the Red Cross,” another director quipped in reference to the pro-bono work the agency does for the worldwide humanitarian organization.

In the second class, Pessa and I pushed to how they could morally work for a company that tries to get people to smoke harmful cancer sticks.

The creative director for the tobacco ads said flatly, “I don’t think about it.”

His more talkative colleague said, “It’s evil but … look at the harms of alcohol, and they get praised for their ads. They get good press, but they have many social problems. People get drunk, drive. Then there are the problems for women [when they are around the drunken men].”

At that point, their other colleague, an account manager for the automobile ads, cuts them short and says, “It’s not the same given the health concerns and addictiveness of cigarettes.”

The advertisers for tobacco then tried to justify their work by talking about the addictiveness of alcohol. They, however, didn’t speak with much conviction. Then they mentioned how they never advertise about the cigarettes themselves, but rather the relationships people have, the moments they share.

From there, the conversation began to meander to other subjects.

…And now, from people who try to get you to buy things you don’t need to people who don’t have many things they need…

Rich and poor


Suzie, the farm lady from El Bolson, warned us about the startling disparity between rich and poor in this metropolis.

In our first 10 days here, we didn’t leave the city center, and didn’t see what she was talking about. For our second weekend, Blake, Pessa, Laura and I rented a Volkswagen and drove to the Argentina’s Atlantic coast.

On the highway a few kilometers outside the city center, we saw startling slums.

Our red car zoomed by at about 100 kilometers per hour, but the scene wasn’t a blur.

A layer of garbage and debris covered the ground, street and ditch like a February snowstorm in Minnesota. Shacks about the size of your small guest bedroom — or office cubicle — were crammed next to each other.

A woman sat on a stump at the edge of the slum looking out as traffic passed her by. What was she thinking about?

A boy ran across the garbage-strewn street and into the dry ditch. He brought his hands to his head as if he were engulfed in his imagination.

These images stuck with me as we arrived at the high-class, sea-side resort community of Carilo. This manufactured village is an array of wooden condos, steel suites and outdoor malls with ice cream stands, leather shops and an Audi dealership amid soaring pine trees.  

We found a nice resort for a cheap price because it was the off-season. Our suite had starched sheets, fluffy pillows, a large bathroom, a complete kitchen, a living room with TV and a patio with a wood-burning stove.

Looking out at the pool, I couldn’t help but think about the images I saw on the roadside. I felt guilt.        

From another mouth             


Criticizing your our country is required, I believe. But when an outsider criticizes, it’s natural to say, “What? Wait a second!”

One night here, Pessa genuinely asked Blake’s roommate, Lolly, what she thought were the best and the worst things about the U.S.

Lolly, a friendly 20-something who had welcomed us into her home, said without hesitation that she does not like the U.S. because of its immigration policy.

“I don’t like it,” she said, with Blake interpreting and me paraphrasing. “We are not welcome. It’s very difficult for people to get in. It costs a lot to get a U.S. visa and a lot of people are denied.”

Lolly gave an example of how her philosophy professor was accosted with questions when he went to Philadelphia for an academic conference.

Now, in a move to reciprocate the unwelcoming measures, fellow U.S. travelers told us they were charged $130 dollars when they arrive at a Buenos Aires airport.

The travelers who had to fork over the cash were quick to bitch about the charge.

However, the fee doesn’t seem to compare to the denials and costs of visas and the interrogations Argentines receive before and when they arrive on U.S. soil. 

About the beard 

I last shaved on February 27; I don’t plan on shaving again until late August.

This barba is blazing red, can get granola and other food stuck in it and can tickle the upper lip when left untrimmed. 

It, a living thing, as drawn some comments from readers and Pessa. The best have come from the woman who is supposed to love me the most.

I was kidding Pessa about her height, and she retorts, “I’m short, but at least I don’t have a cat attached to my face.”



7 responses to “Ad that up

  1. The silhouette of the cigarette suggests you lack appreciation for the true damage the ‘harmful cancer sticks’ are doing to your body. Just a thought……

  2. You look a wee bit Amish there Greder and I would know having grown up in a town where the local grocery store once had stalls for buggy parking. You could move back to Minnesota, buy a minivan and then pass for a Mennonite. Your options are limitless at this point.

  3. Catface,

    Your brother makes a good point…..

    Good commentary.

  4. If anything, Pessa’s smoking and my occassional cigarette make us more knowledgeable to how troublesome the tar and nicotine are in these death darts. But the point here is not “smoking is bad,” it’s trying to hear how people justify making a living by promoting something so bad. Furthermore, when Pessa and I have an after-dinner smoke, we don’t tell passerbys: “Wanna smoke. Wanna smoke. See how cool it is to smoke.”

  5. Can journalists justify the % of revenue that ad sales bring in to keep a paper or magazine afloat? And the % of those ads being Cigs or liquor spots?

  6. Gracias for the question, Mr. Wakefield. First off, journalists are not responsible for the ad content of their publications. The newsroom is independent from the advertising department. But there is a paradox here. Journalists’ paychecks come from the same conglomerates that advertise in it’s publication’s pages. The same conglomerates journalists try to hold accountable. For years Rick Reilly’s column in Sports Illustrated was next Camel ads. And New York Times stories on world hunger, war and political strife are next to ads for Chanel, Gucci, etc. The UMD student newspaper had a steady stream of ad revenue coming from sleezy dance clubs. The clubs wanted to put pictures of half-naked women in their ads. For the decency of the newspaper, we had to edit their ads. To the public, we justified the club ads as only 25 percent of all ads. Not perfect, but that was reality.

  7. Raymond Wakefield

    I agree that the two are separate. But they are separate like two hands. One washes the other. To take it a step further… some media is controlled by large conglomerates, most I would say. These conglomerates do have control in both govt. and which way their media lean. The political and social interests of these conglomerates use their media share as a front line offense and defense for there own agenda.

    Who’s to blame? Is it big business, buying their max in media outlets to quarterback their agendas? Or is it, the outlets allowing partiality to take a back seat to continued publication?

    **Keep in mind, I’m playing devils advocate**

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