Sunday, June 24, 2007

Life takes carelessness with your finances

Perhaps the worst of bad commercials are the ones that promote a product to the potential detriment of consumers. Mix in some unrelenting smugness and, well, this is just one of the worst ones ever.

It's a shame, because the first 30-40 seconds of this ad are pretty good. Sure, they mean nothing without the "punchline," which sucks, but the choreography is decent. Unfortunately, then we have the end of the ad, which makes Apple's ad campaigns look like an ad for Paxil.

Oh no! Cash! Not cash! Not actual bank notes! Paper money is the currency of the dinosaur! Only jerks and poor people still carry cash. And I mean, keeping track of your expenses? That's for losers. Receipts are for assholes who want to slow down the rest of the world. Here's a conversation between the annoyed old guy behind our cash-carrying friend and the cashier, once Mr. Cash has moved on:

Old Guy: Jesus, can you believe that asshole? Carrying cash. He just wasted at least three seconds of my day. This food isn't going to wolf itself down so I have time to smoke a cigarette before my break's over.
Cashier: Ugh, I know. I mean, the nerve of that guy to make me actually do my job. If only everyone used the Visa Check Card, I could be rendered totally obsolete and have to find another thankless, low-paying job to supplement my writing income. But that's okay - I almost sold an article to Harper's last week!
Old Guy: Wait a minute - why are we even having this conversation? I don't have time for human interaction, let alone five seconds of actual financial accountability!
Cashier: Good point. So, your total is -
Old Guy: Doesn't matter. [swipes card] Bye!

It's bad enough that we live in a society that hands out credit cards to college students willy-nilly, encouraging them to run up sizable debts that they'll be paying down for years. Or one where customers are pressured to sign up for credit cards to get discounts at department stores. Remember, credit card companies aren't giving you huge lines of credit out of the goodness of their hearts; they're doing it in the hope that you get stuck paying exorbitant interest fees for years, lining their pockets. To be fair, this isn't the same problem with check cards; the money is withdrawn directly from the purchaser's bank account, taking away the middleman issues that create such problems with credit for many people. But check cards (and other debit cards) have an entirely different problem: because there is often a delay in posting, someone using their check card a lot and with a relatively low bank balance on the linked account might not realize that they've overdrawn their checking account until it's too late - and overdrawing can be an even bigger problem than maxing out one's credit card.

All this is what makes ads like this one so dangerous. Most debit cards still require a PIN if not a signature, but Visa is promoting their check card as "swipe it and you're done," because what the world needs is "faster money." Because there's so much fucking difference between a two-second transaction and a seven-second transaction. And what's with the look the cashier gives the guy? Is she afraid her dark secret - that she doesn't actually know how to count - will be exposed now that someone is actually paying with cash?

It's a super-smug commercial, to be sure - which is weird, because it's not like Visa is some upstart company taking aim at the conglomerate Big Dollar - but the real crime lies in its social irresponsibility. People should not be encouraged to be freewheeling spenders who don't keep track of their finances. (Okay, they're buying lunch, not plasma-screen TVs, but it's the principle of the thing.) And I just don't get the idea behind "people who carry cash are outdated fools." It's cash! What is the big fucking deal?

Yes, there are people out there perfectly capable of having a Visa Check Card and keeping track of their finances. I'm not worried about them. I'm worried about the millions of people who can't handle it. And believe me, they're out there - if this country weren't full of people who were careless with money, the credit card companies wouldn't even still be in business. The idea of encouraging the entire country to switch to fully digital money just scares me - a world with no hard currency is a world where people have shakier and shakier handles on their day-to-day financial situations. And the more careless people are with their money, the better things are for companies like Visa.

So, well done, Visa. Not only is your ad insufferably smug, it's also reprehensibly dangerous. Couldn't you just have endorsed your product in a reasonable manner? Something like, "When you can't get to an ATM, the Visa Check Card is as good as cash?" Or, "Some places don't take checks, but since you may not want to use a credit card, the Visa Check Card is as good as a check?" Oh, yeah, you did that second one. (And I'm pretty sure the first one too, I just can't find an example on YouTube.) Can I safely presume, since you've moved on to making commercial about the shitty, stupid people who use checks and cash, that you haven't made the inroads you've wanted with the check card? Maybe, in spite of what you want to happen, people are willing to just use cash, keeping their spending in better check? Is that possible? I guess the next series of ads will just have to feature someone getting shot in a robbery because they were slowed down by their cash. "Visa Check Card: You do want to live, don't you?"


Quivering P. Landmass said...

Visa and other credit card companies also get a small cut from every use of a credit or debit card from the retailer (much like Paypay takes a percentage of any sale paid through its services.) So, they probably would still be in business if people didn't run balances and all that.

Still, not a responsible commercial -- cash is better for the retailer (no CC fees) and better for the consumer (can be used ANYWHERE.) Visa Check Cards are better for Visa.

Windier E. Megatons said...

Okay, they'd still be in business, but they wouldn't be living so high on the hog.

Anonymous said...

I can't say how many ways I hate those Visa commercials. So, I'll only post one. Anyone who has worked in retail knows... the server is down, waiting, waiting, waiting. What arrogant pompous #*%!