I bet you have a favorite ad – something that is so creative and so witty that it makes you smile every time you see it. There is some real ingeniousness in the world of advertising. But there are also deep pockets of unoriginal thinking, and they have been marring the marketing landscape for well over a decade.

To illustrate it, see if you can figure out the answer to this one-item quiz. The question is: What do all of the following products have in common?

  • Esurance
  • Re/Max (real estate)
  • Quicken Loans
  • Jack in the Box (fast food)
  • Tire Rack
  • AT & T
  • USAA (insurance)
  • Google +
  • Old Dominion Shipping
  • Jewelry Couture
  • ETrade
  • AARP
  • Fancy Feast (cat food)

If you want to try to generate an answer, do so now before reading any more.

What these diverse products have in common is that recent ads for the products all featured themes about weddings, marriage, or romantic love.

I’m sure this is not even close to a complete list. (Please add your own examples in the Comments section.) I started making this list now because years ago, when I first started doing the research for Singled Out, I noticed how many ads for products with no obvious link to romance or weddings or coupling were nonetheless being pitched with references to those themes.

I wondered if that was still the case. So a week or so ago, I decided to keep my TV on in the background a lot of the time (often with the sound off – most of the time, you don’t need sound to become aware of the matrimania). I made a note of each product that was advertised matrimaniacally.

One of the 13 products – Jewelry Couture – clearly belongs on the list. I wish I had left the sound off for that one, though. The voiceover tells us that the ring is for “the moment she’s been waiting for all her life.” That’s terribly conventional. Maybe even a bit insulting. Women, the message seems to be, wait passively for a ring. When they get it, that’s the highlight of their lives – not a great education, a passion, an engaging career, or even children – no, marriage is the pinnacle. Isn’t the late twenties (the median age at which women first marry, among those who do marry) awfully early to be reaching the peak moment of your life?

I will, though, grant that Jewelry Couture is an appropriate product to advertise with a wedding theme. Maybe by stretching the argument a bit, you could include a few more of the products. But cat food? Fast food? Retirement? Tires?

This is why I think that many advertisers show a staggering lack of originality. It is as if the ad creators who are given an assignment to design the next commercial have a routine: They sit back and think for a few moments, then smack their hand aside their head as if they have come up with the most amazing idea, and announce, “I have it! Let’s include a wedding cake!”

The more interesting question is why this is happening. I don’t think it shows that Americans are in love with the institution of marriage. I don’t think it shows that Americans are secure about the place of marriage in our society and in our lives. In fact, I think it suggests just the opposite. Wedding themes dominate because we are so insecure about the status of marriage. It is as if we are trying to persuade ourselves that marriage really is this utterly amazing thing, by wrapping every conceivable product in a bridal train.

Matrimaniacal advertising is just a small part of the panic. The wedding themes that rear their ugly heads on just about every television series, the self-help books for finding The One that keep getting churned out no matter how bad or trite they are, the magazine wedding features that pop up relentlessly even when June is nowhere in sight – they are all, I think, evidence of our insecurity.

Can you imagine a book making the case for marriage in 1956? No one would need such a book – the case would have seemed obvious. The most popular TV shows from decades past, such as Lassie and MASH and Leave It to Beaver, did not build up to a wedding-themed finale. Even Mary Tyler Moore escaped the end of her series with her singlehood intact.

C’mon, advertisers, show us your stuff. You don’t really need to flash us a garter every time, do you?

[Note: Remember, you can always find other writings by singles bloggers at Single with Attitude.]

Married couple photo available from Shutterstock.