Thursday, July 15, 2021

In advertising and in Lebanon: Problems shared are not problems halved.

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

Prologue: Recently, my very exciting life has been centering around locating boxes of medicine (chiefly for mother, less so for me). 

All of this reminded me of a WhatsApp conversation I had with someone, who - when I told him about me frantically looking for the medicine in question, said (and I am quoting the conversation as it happened), "everyone is in the same boat, we all have that problem". Truth be told, it was the umpteenth time the person in question implied that since everyone had the same problem, it is no longer a problem (we previously discussed bank accounts, fuel, etc...).

What surprised me what the snap of an answer I gave him (which I did not for other issues), and here too am quoting from a conversation in writing: "Yes, but she is still MY mother, it is still HER health, she is still under MY care, and if other people cannot locate THEIR meds, this does not solve MY conundrum". I suppose all these capital letters gave the person the hint and he changed topics.

Still, it is true, I am someone who is extremely capable, who is always there solving problems, scotch taping situations, or as my kind Dutch friend said yesterday "from a distance you look rather balanced" (the distance in question was Amsterdam - Beirut mind you), to which I replied "OK, then hand me the Oscar for my performance". How other Lebanese are reacting to their problems, truth be told, involves hoopla and festivities at gas stations (see here).

Now, I can see the logic of not worrying about locating medicines. It is out of my control, it is under the helm of cartels who are hoarding them to benefit from potential higher prices, it is being smuggled out of Lebanon, etc... But honestly, when you are down to 2 last pills, I cannot not worry.

Well, advertising has built a full industry out of that. If you have a problem, then other people having it does not diminish yours. Constipation? Sore throat? Lack of housing? Old unreliable car? Leaking roof? Keeping up with the Joneses? We all shared such problems at one point, and advertisers found that miracle formula: What applies to you applies to me as well. And if we share that problem, mine does not diminish yours and just like public goods in economics, my own consumption does not diminish yours (theoretically at least, "while supplies last" - as any advertising lawyer would tell you to place such a disclaimer).

Epilogue: 11 days after the start of the quest, and in a deus ex machina move, our capable village pharmacist found me the long-lost elusive box of meds in question (the one of which my mother only had two pills left). Granted, the box had an expiry date of July 2021, and it was delivered on July 13, but like everything else, expiry date gives you a leeway of about 3 months, so we're on the safe side (at least for this month).