Jan 20, 2009

The Business of Death

A wise man once said that the only absolute truths in life are death and taxes. And it’s no coincidence that both have to do with money.

I mean no disrespect to the dearly departed, but death is a very lucrative business, especially for the ad agencies where I live. Aside from the major dough being stuffed into the Grim Reaper’s pockets thanks to the funeral parlor and cemetery business (and the pharmaceutical and health insurance companies’ true business interests), ad agencies and newspapers also have a high stake in death. Case in point: The Obituaries.

First, some context: I live in a country where your family name still carries weight in certain social sectors. It’s a habit inherited from our 14th century European colonists and one that still makes or breaks your standing in both the private and public sectors. If you don’t have the right family name, or pedigree, you’re shit out of luck. You might as well go and shrivel up in a Haitian gutter somewhere.

Because of this, the obituary section in our principle newspaper has become the ultimate social crier. It is here where the true measure of a man’s worth is determined. You see, when an “important” person (i.e. someone with the right family name) dies in my country, the paper swells with obituaries. The size and number of obituaries honoring the deceased play a major role in certifying said person as an “outstanding citizen.” As such, agencies go out of their way to place the biggest obituary; they compete to see who places theirs first; they fight to see who creates the most “original” obituary, if there is such a thing.

What’s even more sickening is that the agencies charge the client a shitload of money for this, and the paper makes even more because, more often than not, deaths are unexpected and therefore, a rush fee must be charged. This is going to sound horrible, but every time an important client dies, it’s payday! Readership of the obituary section in my local paper is through the roof – on any given day people read it with the same passion and interest as they would read the sports pages or the headlines. And as we all know, readership is gold for the ad biz. It’s that morbid curiosity, that desire to know who’s who.

Death is not easy, but is sure is easy money.


Lucila said...

ohh I so agree with this. I had to come over on a weekend because the grandma of someone important died. I had to create not one but five of those babies.

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