Ads don’t kill people, people kill people

Advertising has been blamed for a lot of things in this world — including hyperactive children, obese adults and, now, killing WalMart employees.

The tragedy of a man’s death in a New York state WalMart on “Black Friday” this year really has me thinking we need to put an end to the madness that is the post-Thanksgiving holiday shopping stampede. In the latest case, that stampede was literal and Jdimytai Damour, 34, was crushed when a throng of unruly shoppers decided a great deal on Christmas presents was worth more than civility or even human life.

For years, we have watched as retailers have opened their doors earlier, many now forcing employees to be ready and smiling at 4 a.m. We have seen the advertising intensify. We have seen the deals seemingly get so good no one can possibly pass them up. Retailers have increased their pitchmen’s shouting volume, their outlandish claims and their audacity to force employees to bid an early goodnight to family as they prepare to earn a bleary-eyed buck on the day after Thanksgiving.

It has been annoying and frustrating — but is it responsible for a man’s death?

Mr. Damour’s family has filed a lawsuit claiming that WalMart didn’t provide enough security that fateful morning but also, “engaged in specific marketing and advertising techniques to specifically attract a large crowd and create an environment of frenzy and mayhem.”

If this case proceeds to a judgment against WalMart or even an out-of-court settlement, you’ll see a growing crowd of salivating trial lawyers the likes of which even the WalMart stampeders would cower from.

Mr. Damour’s family deserves our sympathy and, if at all possible, those responsible for killing this man deserve to be punished. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that neither WalMart nor their advertising agencies crushed Mr. Damour. WalMart shoppers are the killers in this scenario.

Advertising informs, titillates and entices. Advertising drives us to take action and be at a certain place at a certain time for a certain deal. But advertising in no way is responsible for people giving up all sense of decency and storming a discount retailer so they can save a few hundred dollars.

According to several news reports, shoppers even refused to leave the store during the police investigation, claiming they had been standing in line all night and had a right to be there.

No amount or style of advertising is responsible for that kind of ruthless, cold-hearted sentiment.

Ads don’t kill people, people kill people.

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3 comments on “Ads don’t kill people, people kill people

  1. My advertising degree can help me with this post! I completely agree with you, Ari. It’s important to keep in mind that advertising “mirrors” societal values and beliefs – it doesn’t create new ones. It’s also true that sometimes, advertising can inflate these values and beliefs, but they’re usually not far off the truth.

    Would there have been a crowd if Wal-Mart didn’t show a crowd in their commercials? I highly doubt that.

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  2. When I saw this on the news the day it happened I wasn’t surprised. Black Friday has been tainted by violence for years. At its core Black Friday is nothing more than cooperate sponsored chaos. The escalating violence over the years should have signaled a need for a different approach but the companies’ sins are greed and indifference. I agree, however, that those people who trampled the man or stood by and did nothing are far more appalling. Their sins are inhumanity and stupidity. The frustration thing about it is, that the incident is so absurd justice in the situation becomes hard to define…

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  3. Thanks for the comments Nick and Ryan.

    Ryan’s comment about how the the incident is so absurd that justice is hard to define is right in terms of finding who was actually responsible for the fatal blow. They have security videos available, but police have said prosecution is unlikely. When a pack of wolves kills a deer, is it the entire pack’s fault, the leader of the pack’s fault or the fault only of the one wolf who made the final bite? The victim’s family is suing WalMart, so why couldn’t police identify everyone in the videos who is seen rushing the doors and prosecute them all, at least for negligent homicide? Is that reaction over-the-top? Or would it finally make people realize there are responsibilities for the actions you take, whether acting as an individual or as part of a group?

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