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Please join me in welcoming Graham Posner and his first column to aNewsCafe.com. – Doni
You have probably seen the gut doctor’s warning by now. There is a vegetable that is making us fat, or sick, or worse. The warning doesn’t explain why we should throw the vegetable out, but the gut doctor is begging us to do it, so it must be serious. You may have seen the gut doctor’s warning on many popular websites, down at the bottom of the page, a neighborhood of web real estate that I usually avoid, full of ads that look like clickbait. But that message resonates, does it not? It did with me.
When I first saw the warning, the photograph seemed to show an avocado. It was a close-up photo from an odd angle so I couldn’t be sure what I was looking at, but it caught my attention because I eat a lot of avocados. Fortunately, an avocado is a fruit, not a vegetable, so I didn’t have to worry.
The next time I saw the gut doctor’s warning the call to throw out the vegetable was accompanied by a photo of an unidentified vegetable being sliced with a knife. It could have been a type of squash, but once again the image was made in such a way that I couldn’t be sure. I certainly wasn’t going to throw out my squash if it was innocent and I should have been dumping the turnips or the leeks.
I have a simple rule about clicking on links like this: Don’t. I know somebody is paying to put their sponsored advertisement there, and if I click it they hope to make money out of me, by fair means or foul. But I am on a vegetarian diet, eating large amounts of vegetables, and after seeing the warning for the umpteenth time I gritted my teeth and clicked, because I had to know the answer: what is this vegetable and what is it doing to me?
The first time I clicked the ad I found myself on a page that was full of more advertisements, all for unrelated things. I shrugged, figured something had gone wrong, and moved on. The next day I saw the gut doctor’s warning again, and clicked. This time I was taken to a British newspaper with an article about Meghan Markle. Meghan Markle is definitely not a vegetable. I told myself to behave, stop wasting time and get on with my work. Enough!
I behaved myself until the gut doctor’s warning began to reappear with a new creepy illustration that showed strange tendrils growing out of the digestive tract. This one definitely messed with my insecurities. Perhaps my own gut wasn’t feeling so great that day. Was there something growing out of my intestines? I clicked.
This time I was redirected to a page with a video made by Dr Vincent Pedre MD. The gut doctor! The name of the killer vegetable was finally in reach. But I wasn’t there yet. The video was running but with no sound. I noticed an “Unmute” button at the top of the video – never seen that before – but once clicked I had sound. And then wouldn’t you know it, I had a bad connection, or there were too many other people hitting the same video at the same time, and the video stopped to buffer every few seconds. It was annoying. I book-marked the page and came back in the evening when traffic might be quieter. The same thing happened. I came back late at night. Same thing. Next morning. Same thing. And I noticed another odd problem: all the controls on the video player had been disabled, so I couldn’t fast-forward or rewind. Why would they do that?
I decided to watch the video all the way through despite the problems with the playback, and settled in for a long session. Dr Pedre certainly looked the part of a well-groomed successful urban professional. Right away, he gave me a stark warning. “What I am ultimately going to expose by the end of the video may upset you.” As if that wasn’t enough he tossed in another little hand grenade: “Even I, a medical doctor with over 20 years of experience, was shocked by what I uncovered.” Whatever the vegetable was, I needed to find it and throw it out now.
According to the video the gut doctor was celebrated for his medical expertise, but he sure had a problem getting to the point. In between the long periods of buffering his presentation was big on teasers and short on facts. After five minutes I was still waiting to learn the identity of the killer vegetable. Ten minutes and the warnings were coming fast: skin issues, gut disruptors, bloating, heartburn and indigestion, but no vegetable was fingered as the culprit.
During long periods of buffering I got up and made coffee, dashing between the kitchen and the computer fearful of missing the great moment. Fifteen minutes. Twenty. Dr Pedre was a master of saying as little as possible with a lot of words. I learned that he himself had been a victim of the killer vegetable, and it was difficult for him to open up about his own struggles with gut issues. “If I were you, I would take some notes,” he advised me, and with the video pausing to buffer every few seconds, note-taking would not have been difficult. But all I wanted was the name of the killer vegetable. I didn’t expect I would need to write it down. What if it was something I ate every day?
“Remember when I said there is a popular vegetable that is the number one thing I consider most hazardous to your health?” he asked after more than half an hour had gone by. Certainly I remembered. It was the reason I was there.
“Well I was talking about corn.”
I pulled out of my weary slouch and sat up straight.
“Bingo,” I thought. And then “Corn? Corn isn’t a vegetable.”
Corn is a grain, not a vegetable, and there is no way that Dr Pedre does not know that. There is no way that they wrote the copy for this video, gathered all the photos and illustrations, filmed it, edited it, and put it online without somebody saying “Hey, don’t you know corn isn’t a vegetable?” There is no way that in the many months since the ad started running somebody didn’t say “Shouldn’t this say throw out this grain?”
Around this time I began to suspect that the buffering problem with the video was deliberate. Everything about Dr Pedre’s presentation was designed to irritate the listener. It was an endurance test intended to weed out the casual viewer. Worse still, I realized that the killer vegetable itself was a MacGuffin. Never heard of a MacGuffin? Here is the Wikipedia definition: In fiction, a MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin) is an object, device, or event that is necessary to the plot and the motivation of the characters, but insignificant, unimportant, or irrelevant in itself.
Doctor Pedre had brought me to his video by making me chase a vegetable MacGuffin. The real issue wasn’t what he wanted me to stop eating, it was what he wanted me to start buying: his Three Digestive Superfoods. I learned that Chicory Root, Theraputic Class Probiotics, and Vitamin B, would restore my digestion, and cure my Leaky Gut problem. Yes, you read that correctly, Leaky Gut. I won’t go into the details here.
An hour had gone by and the gut doctor was still talking. This, I realized, was a new kind of guerrilla marketing. First, the tantalizing warnings about the killer vegetable, then the random links to other web pages, then the video with its restricted controls, irritating buffering and endless waffling about leaky guts. Only the most persistent would dig deep enough or long enough to arrive at the final sales pitch.
For the last few minutes of his video Dr Pedre switched to conventional sales tactics. It was almost a relief to hear the tired old clichés on which we have all been raised, because I knew it must be the end. Now is the time to take action. Anyone can do it. Today is the day. Get excited! Marketing people refer to this as the Call to Action. As someone who has watched his share of late-night TV I was not surprised to learn that the doctor had put together an exclusive offer only for new customers. That would be me. I would not have to pay the full $89. Today I could get his three digestive superfoods, in the form of a month’s supply of pills, for the special discounted price of only $44.95. But there was a catch. This massive markdown was only valid for first-time customers through this exclusive video while supplies lasted. If I clicked away from this page, I would no longer be eligible for the highly discounted price.
But wait, there was more: The generous team at United Naturals had given Dr Pedre the authority to offer two very special discount pack options to me. While the doctor described the special offers, a bell rang and a “Next Step” button appeared at the bottom of the screen. Unfortunately, the doctor said, because of the overwhelming response, we have been having some issues keeping the video online (could this explain the irritating buffering problem, one was supposed to wonder?) and we sold out of our last batch much earlier than expected. However, if there is a “Next Step” button below, it means you are in luck!
Wouldn’t you know it, I was in luck.
I figure there must be a new school of marketing breaking on the web, something that engages the new Infowars mindset, something for the QAnon crowd, conspiracy theorists, Pizzagate peddlers, the consumers of Fake News. Conventional tactics won’t work for these folks, they have to feel that there are barriers to be broken, obstacles to be removed, a deep state standing between them and the truth about their Leaky Guts. I got mad at the gut doctor when I learned that the killer vegetable was a hoax, but perhaps the doctor’s true audience would have known from the start that the vegetable was a MacGuffin, and the real prize was something much larger and more valuable that only they would truly understand.