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If someone came up to you and asked you to sit in a white SUV in the middle of an empty parking lot, and breathe deeply, what would you do?

That’s exactly what happens in a recent commercial for a car air freshener. Two laughing ladies approach a white vehicle in an empty parking lot, while cheerful music bops in the background. As they enter the back seat of the vehicle, the words “Real People, Not Actors” flash across the bottom of the screen. The narrator explains why these “real people” are being recorded sitting in this vehicle – namely to prove that the air freshener covers up the smell of garbage and moulding hockey equipment…I understand the reasoning but I still find this ad disturbing…it reads like the plotline in a bad short story (or the plotline for the next best psychological thriller).

Stay with me –

Naïve, willing participants are duped into believing that they are being filmed for a television commercial. That kind of carrot is like candy for most of the adult population. They have no idea that they could become a) the next victims of a devilishly clever serial killer with a flair for the dramatic; b) the next sets of lungs to go up for sale on the black market; c) the next patients in a secret government cloning program; or, d) the next meal for a intergalactic dystopian society (soylent green any one).

Wouldn’t a “reasonable person” ask a few questions first? Perhaps the conversation could have gone like this:

Q: Where are we going?

A: To an empty shopping mall parking lot at an undisclosed location in Texas.

Q: Why is the parking lot empty?

A: For dramatic effect.

Q: Whose white SUV is this?

A: We can’t release the name of the owner at this time due to a publication ban on his/her trial.

Q: Where would you like me to sit?

A: In the back seat.

Q: Who are these other strangers sitting in the back seat?

A: Just some other random victims participants willing to help with our experiment.

Q: It’s 400 degrees in here – we’re getting dehydrated and slightly delirious from heat exhaustion. Can we at least crack the windows?

A: We’ll be finished soon. Just breathe deeply and tell us what you smell (cue Hannibal Lecter sucking in his breath…)

Q: What am I smelling? Hello? I’m starting to feel a little…

It’s a little disturbing. But not as disturbing as the other “social experiment” commercial: “Sure random person, I will sit blind-folded in a filthy motel room, in a questionable part of town, and breathe deeply…” Oh, wait! I’ve lived that one in Big Guy’s apartment…never mind…