Jim Thompson
Jim Thompson
By Jim Thompson
HCP columnist


At one point in time, James Cash Penney, founder of Penney’s department stores, was approached by his executive team with a new idea. They had been noticing the initiatives of their competitors. These competitors were coming out with what were called back in the day, “charge cards,” the precursor to today’s credit cards.

They told Mr. Penney they could sell a lot more merchandise if Penney’s had charge cards, too. Mr. Penney agreed, but turned down the idea.

He said, “Yes, we can sell a lot more merchandise with this idea, but our customers will suffer with payments they can’t afford.”

In the 1920s, a soap company had a great idea. Noticing that indoor plumbing was becoming quite prevalent, they chose to promote the daily bath. As opposed to the old tradition of the Saturday night bath, this would increase soap sales seven-fold. Through advertising, this caught on.

Advertising is powerful enough to change something as mundane as when we bathe.

In the 1990s, the American Bar Association lifted the ban on attorney advertising after much pressure from their members. Today, especially in the big cities and along the interstates, billboards from lawyers scream at us that we “deserve more,” that if we were in an accident, “others should pay,” and so forth.

This newspaper survives on advertising and the reality that the readers of this newspaper buy the items offered in those ads. I have a business that survives on advertising, too, what is called business-to-business advertising. Nearly all the ads in The HCP and definitely all the ads in our business-to-business publications serve to inform the buying public of matters which will improve their lives or are necessities.

Yet, in other venues, television, radio and so forth, we often find ads that are designed to create greed, longings and desires for things we often cannot afford. These are designed to stir up feelings of helplessness, greed, jealousy and envy.

In the mid-1970s, bank credit cards became a widespread phenomenon. After a year or two, someone said, you know, you can have two credit cards from two different banks. That had never occurred to me. I got another one from another bank. Now, I carry several.

On Nov. 2, 1920, nearly 100 years ago, KDKA in Pittsburgh broadcast the results of the Harding-Cox presidential election. This was the worldwide beginning of broadcast radio.

Advertising, formerly confined to print, was off to the races. Now we are bombarded continuously through radio, television, cable television and the internet with advertising for all sorts of things (including politicians).

If you look in the civil and criminal courts, you will find plaintiffs and defendants motivated by – you guessed it – helplessness, greed, jealousy and envy. Occasionally, there are those motivated by ego, too.

Communications is great, whether it is spreading the news for the sake of the news or items delivered to us commercially in the form of advertising. There is a lot to be gained knowing what is available to us.

There is a lot to be lost, too. For instance, when we let the emotions of helplessness, greed, jealousy and envy (and ego) overtake us. When we blithely purchase items we cannot afford and have no means to pay for.

One of our daughters, while in college, saw classmates take out student loans to go to the beach for spring break. Think about that when the politicians talk about forgiving student debt. Our three kids graduated from college with no student debt.

We have just come through the Christmas season. I dare say, there are items lying around the homes of some readers of this column that were purchased, wrapped and opened with great anticipation and which are already discarded in the corner.

Resolve in 2020 to be aware of your emotions and to make decisions that are not fanciful, not wishful, not impulsive, but grounded in reality. I promise you, you’ll have a better year. If everyone did this, we would put the courts out of business.

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at jthompson@taii.com.