At its root, the ad for the new boat wants you to feel unhappy,
discontent, lacking, inferior, and temporary. Because materialism–in
essence, the doctrine suggesting that things, not relationships, make
the world go around–is a replacement for something else. And
when we’re content with that something else–the something else
you can’t buy with a credit card–we won’t need to adorn our lives with the unnecessary goods and services being flashed before us at every turn.-Bob Welch
I was born with a sort of innate disgust at being manipulated. I’ve always hated it when people try to manipulate me by trying to get me to do something or think something. Fortunately for me, this meant that I learned very early to recognize what was going on with advertising. They were trying to make me feel bad about myself, bad enough so that I would go out and buy whatever product was being advertised.
We do have many positive, productive advertisements in our culture. But most of them are based on one goal–to make the consumer feel dissatisfied with his or her current life condition. Car commercials imply that buying their model will help a man to meet more–and more desirable–women. Make-up commercials imply that a woman currently isn’t attractive enough, or that she’s somehow “flawed,” and their product will help to hide the flaws. Food commercials try to convince us that we’ll be happier or healthier or that life will somehow be better if we eat their products.
But we’re also taught that true happiness comes from within, so these commercials create a tension that most of us just don’t understand on a conscious level. We go through our lives hearing these assaults on our self-concept, but even if we reject them on a conscious level, we still face the nagging questions and possible self-doubt that they leave with us. “Perhaps I would be happier with a new living room set,” we think. “After all, it would probably be more comfortable.”
But our true needs are simple. There’s nothing wrong with fulfilling wants, but our needs are another thing. Most of what we see advertised is completely unnecessary, and we usually don’t even want it until we see the ads.
The key, of course, is to maintain our awareness of what is truly necessary and what is not. But we also need to maintain our awareness of what the people who make the ads are trying to make us feel with their words and images. If we can recognize that, then the battle’s half won.
Questions to ponder:
1. Have you ever bought anything that you didn’t really want
because of a really good ad?
2. Why is “buyer’s remorse” such a common phenomenon?
3. Think of an ad that you find particularly objectionable.
What do the ad-makers do to make you feel that way?
For further thought:
Advertising is based on creating dissatisfaction, on making people want more than they have, look different than they look, and go places they’ve never gone. It’s based on the idea of creating a need where previously no need was seen. A “Calvin and Hobbes” strip put it well when Hobbes points out to Calvin that his emotional well-being depended on a need that wasn’t there until he happened to read an advertisement for a product. This kind of dissatisfaction, though, is destructive rather than productive. It’s dissatisfaction based on ownership (or lack of), materialism, and aesthetic appeal, but not dissatisfaction based on the truly productive ways of improving ourselves.-t. walsh