Confessions of a serial sucker

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I like to think that I'm not susceptible to brands and to advertising. I just bought a Martha Stewart lamp for my apartment, for heaven's sake. It was on sale in KMart, which, thank goodness, has decided to keep selling wares bearing the domesticity guru's name, even though she is headed to prison for financial misdeeds. I just won't tell anyone that it is a Martha Stewart lamp. Or maybe I will, just to prove I don't care.

The truth, of course, is that I am just as much a victim of advertisers' gimmicks as anyone. Food commercials always seem to catch me. Most recently, I fell for a new campaign for Dunkin' Donuts and their new line of cappuccino drinks with swirled caramel on top. They are made with "real steamed milk", the radio spot kept telling me. (Well, what else would you make them with?) So out I trotted to the nearest Dunkin' franchise to get my sample. Sure enough, it was tooth-rotting sweet and almost undrinkable.

Why do I listen? A large, shiny, white device called a Jack LaLanne Power Juicer is mocking me from inside my kitchen right now. I blame my partner for this foolishness. Somehow, late one night, we found ourselves watching one of those endless infomercials on television. The Power Juicer would change our lives. Fruit and vegetables, magically transformed into delicate nectars, would make us healthy and spry. So we dialled the number and obediently dictated a credit card number. The machine is a beast, of course. They didn't tell us about the immovable cement of fruit fibre that is left all around the juicer's insides after every use and, if you are not very careful, on the ceiling, too.

But how can I blame myself? Faster than you can say eggs in the morning, some company or another has permeated your brain. That is the peril of a radio alarm. "This news segment is brought to you by Florida Fresh." Florida Fresh? The Power Juicer has been fired, so I had better go buy some. Except that when I drink it, it patently isn't fresh. And it's doubtful that it's made from anything grown in Florida.

And the barrage never stops. The walls of every other building between my apartment and work are adorned with giant banner ads flaunting fabulous models in various degrees of undress. You can only pass by so many times before having to believe that if you buy knickers like that guy up there, you will be as sexy as him. They may even give you his tan. And the Gap ads are gorgeous this spring. Funny how, when you actually walk into the Gap, everything on the racks just looks so pedestrian.

I am not always such a sucker. I found myself in a talking toilet the other night. This, it seemed to me, was a bit much. There I am, taking a tinkle, and a voice from behind the mirror begins to wax about some new brand of men's deodorant. I will not be trying it, even if I could remember its name. It is not too smart, you would think, to choose a men's urinal to conjure fragrances of pine and musk. It's a wonder no one has started slapping ads on toilet paper. At least, on the loo, where I like to read, they would have my full attention. There are only so many times I can read the ingredients printed on my toothpaste tube.

Hard to believe in America, but there are some invisible lines that advertisers should never cross. Think sex and religion. Too much teenage flesh was the charge against one of Gap's rivals, Abercrombie & Fitch, when it was forced recently to withdraw its spring catalogue from circulation. Baseball, meanwhile, is not quite religion, but almost. We had a monster media flap last week when Major League Baseball revealed that it had done a deal with Sony to print the logo of its new Spider-Man movie, due for release next month, on the little rubber squares that are the bases between which players must run.

But a telephone call to Sony's boss in the US, Sir Howard Stringer, confirmed my best suspicions about him. Stringer is as savvy as they come, and had already given his approval to a press release to be sent out the next day: Sony would not be putting the Spider-Man design - a yellow web against a background of scarlet - on the bases at Yankee Stadium after all, or in any other stadium. And he didn't sound disappointed. The ruckus already created had given his movie all the early advertising he needed.

Why yellow cabs are seeing red

One of the greatest bargains of New York is not quite such a bargain any more. Taxi fares have just gone up by 25 per cent. On top of that, we have to pay a new $1 surcharge during the evening rush, from 4pm until 8pm. The extra buck is designed to encourage more drivers to come out in the busiest hours. That's a good thing. Try to get a cab in midtown Manhattan on a rainy Tuesday teatime...

I have never wasted much love on the cabbies here. Forget the Knowledge. Any trip but the most simple will require you to give directions. And they talk incessantly - rarely to you, the passenger, but on their hands-free phones. When they aren't cursing the other drivers.

If they seem grumpy, here's why. Stung by the new fares, riders are being stingier with their tips. And most of them drive not for themselves but for other bosses. The average bid at an auction last week for new taxi medallions - the licences giving you the right to operate your own yellow cab - was $689,000 for a pair. More than their weight in gold, in other words.

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