Tis the Season for Much Folly


Months and months of political advertising still ahead.

It’s bad enough that the fate of a once-great nation should be determined by how much money politicians spend on television advertising. It’s even worse when one torments oneself masochistically by actually watching some of the ads.  How sad to suspect that some of our fellow citizens are swayed by sanctimonious sycophants spouting such self-serving drivel.

You’d have thought that a Federal Trade Commission, ever vigilant about Truth in Advertising laws and always eager to slap a multi-million dollar fine on those it considers in violation, might cast a stern glance in the direction of political advertisements.  Or, as economist Milton Friedman pointed out in Free to Choose, anyone who bought government bonds because the US Treasury advertised them as “building personal security” and a “gift that keeps on growing” got taken to the cleaners.  Though deceptive, those advertisements never got prosecuted by the FTC.

Sadly out of print is Robert Spero’s wonderful book, The Duping of the American Voter: Dishonesty and Deception in Presidential Television Advertising in which Spero showed how the television ads used by Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter were “the most deceptive, misleading, unfair, and untruthful of all advertising…”  However, when compared to the political ads you’re watching this year, they appear almost quaint.

Perhaps the greatest genius of advertising was David Ogilvy, whose iconic book, Confessions of an Advertising Man even made a cameo appearance on the seventh episode of season 3 of Mad Men on the AMC cable network.  One of Ogilvy’s confessions is that he would never do political advertising because it is “…totally uncontrolled and flagrantly dishonest.”

After dropping out of Oxford, young David Ogilvy found work as an assistant chef at the Hotel Majestic in Paris. Then for a while he was a stove salesman back in England. Thereafter he was hired as a trainee at the venerable London-based advertising firm of Mather & Crowther, where his older brother was managing director.  When David decided that he wanted to start his own advertising agency, it was again his brother, Francis who came to his aid with the necessary financing and valuable business contacts.  However, David Ogilvy never remained dependent upon his older brother.  Starting with his family connection, through relentless hard work he became his own man, recognized in his own right as one of the greatest advertisers of all time.

We all start off with a mother and ideally, also a father present and influential.  We have other relatives and friends.  Along the road, someone helps us and gives us a leg up.  It is a real challenge to ride that booster and then fire our own rockets.  Likewise, all parents derive deep satisfaction from being able to help their children.  The challenge is doing so in a way that boosts them rather than shackles them.  It is oh, so easy for well-intentioned help to foster dependency.

The lesson is beautifully highlighted here:

And Yitro, priest of Midyan, the father-in-law of Moses, heard everything…(Exodus 18:1)

And Yitro, the father-in-law of Moses took Tziporah, the wife of Moses…(Exodus 18:2)

And Yitro, the father-in-law of Moses came to Moses with…(Exodus 18:5)

Why repeat his relationship to Moses?  We can all read.  By the time we reach Exodus 18:2, I think we can safely assume that most of us already know that Yitro is the father-in-law of Moses from verse 1.

Then again no more than 3 verses later, we are again told the redundant information that Yitro is the father-in-law of Moses.  Okay, we get it!

Some assume that this was a standard honorific by which the priest of Midyan was always identified.  However, this convenient but false guess falls away when we see Yitro referred to a few verses later, here:

And Yitro rejoiced over all the good…(Exodus 18:9)

And Yitro said, ‘Blessed is the Lord…'(Exodus 18:10)

As ancient Jewish wisdom explains, Yitro arrived to join Israel with only his status as the father-in-law of the leader of the people.  In verses 9 and 10 he demonstrates that he has associated himself with his newly adopted people and is no longer dependent on his family relationship.

By verse 12, Yitro has already established a relationship with Aaron and the Elders of Israel who join him in his initiative to honor God.  At this point, having achieved recognition in his own right as a person of significance, Yitro does not forget the family relationship that gave him acceptance and he explicitly notes it.

And Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law, took a burnt offering and sacrifices for God: and Aaron came, and all the Elders of Israel, to eat bread with Moses’ father in law before God. (Exodus 18:12)

Like David Ogilvy who started his climb to success when his older brother gave him a leg-up, we all have benefited from others who have helped our ascents.  It takes maturity to accept that help and to express gratitude for it.  It takes greatness to continue climbing ever higher while retaining deep appreciation and always honoring the relationships.

Shopping Cart