The Fake Heaven of Claritin

by Ken Sanes

Suffering from an allergy often leaves people feeling trapped and put upon. Their nose and sinuses can be completely stuffed and they typically feel weighted down, both physically and psychologically. People often feel that this condition comes between them and the world, distracting their attention and making them less than appealing in social situations. Allergy medications offer relief but they have side effects, including the fact that they can weigh down allergy sufferers in another way by making them drowsy.

Along comes Schering, a company with a medication that it wants allergy sufferers to buy to alleviate their symptoms. In an effort to market its product, it offers a television commercial that make one think about experiences that are the exact opposite of what allergy sufferers usually have to endure.
In contrast to the feeling of being trapped and weighted down, the commercial is full of images of weightlessness and optimism, with a floating hot air balloon and an upbeat song about blue skies.

In place of the experience of drowsiness and preoccupation, the commercial offers a sense of clarity, with crystal clear images of a bright sunny day and a product name -- Claritin -- that contains most of the word "clarity" in it. And in place of the feeling that stuffed up sinuses are keeping one from enjoying life and making one feel anti-social, it offers an image of friends and family embracing good times and each other's delightful company.

But Schering isn't satisfied merely suggesting that life will be rich and wonderful if you use the product. It also does something else -- and this is where things start to get interesting. It appeals to ingrained archetypes of religious transcendence that are part of our minds and that appear over and over in myths and religions, to suggest that by using the product we will achieve transcendence from the weighted down world of mundane life.
After all, the qualities depicted in the commercial -- clarity of vision, joy, a feeling of weightlessly escaping the hold of the material world, and the ability to lovingly embrace other people -- are all attributes that are said to be part of mystical and religious experiences, and heaven.
 
So what Schering has done here is a variation on what advertising often does -- it has turned the promise of relief from allergy into a promise of transcendence from society and the physical world, which often leave us feeling trapped, weighted down and full of pessimism. Whereas being stuffed up reminds us all too vividly of the hold that the physical body and decay have on us, Claritin offers perfect, crystal clear, images of a heaven we can occupy if we use the product. Clearing one's sinuses is transformed into a state of mental, emotional and spiritual purity and clarity.

You begin to appreciate just how shamelessly Schering has manipulated desires for transcendence when you see that the company has actually created a disguised depiction of a Godlike manifestation in the commercial. It is none other than a representation of the Claritin pill, which has been transformed into a source of radiant benevolence, beaming down health and happiness on the inhabitants of Claritin's phony heaven.

Claritin thus takes myth and religion and turns them into tools of manipulation to get us to buy an allergy product. We know life won't become a heaven on earth and that we won't ascend to a state of bliss if we buy the product. But the more primitive, emotional, part of our minds, which is watching too, doesn't know that. It's more gullible than our conscious and somewhat rational side, and not too smart. And it has a tendency to respond to fictions as if they are what they pretend to be, which makes it possible for great literature and drama to come alive for us but also makes us susceptible to manipulations such as this.

And so the next time some of us are stuffed up and looking for relief, the dumb underside of the mind will pop up with a gentle suggestion -- Claritin. And the most ridiculous thing of all is that some of us will think it is our own idea.


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