When you're sitting there in the morning, munching your cereal and reading the back of the packet, do you ever wonder whether anybody is actually pathetic enough to send off for those absurd offers? What kind of loser actually cuts out the cardboard coupon, ticks the box forfeiting the chance to be informed of other products by "carefully chosen" companies, supplies proof of purchase plus £5.99 in order to get something they don't need with the manufacturer's logo all over it?
Me, of course. I sometimes imagine - or try not to imagine - what some Loyd Grossman-like figure would deduce about me from my possessions. Hanging on the door is a bright red Tabasco apron. In the cupboard are two glasses with "Gordon's Gin" brightly emblazoned on them. They remain unused, not because they are irredeemably embarrassing but because they are of a smallness which suggests they were designed for people without drink problems.
I've got four Coco Pops "breakfast sets", consisting of a plastic mug, bowl and plate, on each of which is a bright picture of a monkey saying something like "I want my Coco Pops". And I eat my morning porridge out of a plastic bowl advertising porridge, which makes breakfast time in our household look like something out of The Truman Show.
The best thing I ever sent off for was a set of red plastic cups with "Smirnoff" written on them. What you do is fill them with water, put the top on, shove them in the freezer for a day and then you have a cup entirely made of ice for serving vodka. They look wonderful but there are problems. The glass is so cold that the skin from your fingertips tends to remain on the side of the glass after you've put it down, and the rim is flat so that the vodka is divided fairly equally between your mouth and your shirt front.
A mug I sent off for from Cadbury's was even worse. It was in the shape of a square of Cadbury's milk chocolate and if you tried to drink hot chocolate from it, as I once did, the drink emerged at random points and ran down the rim like the water breaching the Mohne dam in The Dam Busters.
Likewise, I have an almost limitless capacity to be influenced by advertising. I've bought the new Gillette "Mach III" razor which now has 50 per cent more blades (ie, three), the alignment of which has been designed by computer. Doesn't it say something sadly revealing about men that they can be encouraged to buy a razor by a name suggesting a connection with the speed of sound?
In the supermarket I buy almost any product in which you buy one and then get another free. As a result, the back of our food cupboard is lined with strange brands of pickle and relish.
But even a consumer as gullible as I am can occasionally be taken aback by an advertising slogan. When I first bought children's toothpaste a few years ago, I was slightly surprised to find examples of children's toothpaste that proudly labelled themselves as "sugar-free". It was good that they should be free of sugar but that it needed stating showed that the others all did contain sugar. Isn't it, to put it politely, paradoxical to have sugar as an ingredient in toothpaste? It's rather like hiring a burglar as a nightwatchman.
This week I was buying eggs in the supermarket. I'm already fairly cynical about the various labels attached to this alarming product. I assume that "free range" means that it has enough space to turn around in its cage. Anything just called "eggs", in which the producers haven't been able to come up with anything to say on their behalf, presumably means that the chickens are permanently manacled and fed on low-level nuclear waste.
Even so, I was surprised to see that the latest selling point for a more expensive brand of egg was that the chickens were vegetarian. Good, I'm glad, but it made me worried because I'd never seen the sign before, which means . . . oh my God.