Bob Garfield is the Castro of consumerism; a bearded rebel leader with ideas that unify people. The host of NPR's On the Media, and author of what is widely regarded as the most influential advertising column in the world in Advertising Age magazine, he's leading the charge of customers against mega-corporations with no regard for the consumers propping them up. Comcast is the first corporation in his sights, and others are sure to be targeted. He'll speak about the media on Monday as part of MPR's Broadcast Journalist Series.
City Pages: You recently took issue with a Hillary Clinton TV ad in which she quotes Barack Obama out of context to make it appear he supports Republican ideas. You called her a liar, but said you assumed Obama will follow suit soon enough. What, then, do you want to see from presidential candidates' TV ads?
Bob Garfield: First of all, I did call Clinton a liar, but she's scarcely alone. Most candidates for high public office lie in their ad campaigns about their opponents. What I'd like to see is a combination of policy discussion and simple branding; the art of defining yourself to the electorate.
CP: Is this any different from ads for a product that slightly mislead consumers in order to sell it? Isn't it the same principle?
BG: For First Amendment reasons, politicians can lie with impunity. Consumer products have no such luxury. Competitors vet every claim, and if the advertiser lies, he will wind up in federal court. I'm not speaking of puffery, of course, which regulators have always presumed to be filtered by consumer skepticism, nor strategic lack of full disclosure. McDonald's obviously doesn't mention that it sells crap.
CP: As an expert on advertising, do you find yourself immune to advertisements? Can anybody ever be truly immune?
BG: I'm not immune. I once sent away for a box of fishing lures based on an infomercial. I fish about once every eight years.
Learn something new about the media and consumer uprising from Garfield on Monday at Weyerhauser Chapel in St. Paul at 7 p.m. Tickets are free, but required and available at Bibelot stores. Call MPR at 1.800.228.7123 for more info.
Mon., March 24, 7-8:30 p.m., 2008