Some marketing techniques have an egregious effect on us – they try to generate an emotional connection between us and the product. This means we become emotionally desensitised to events that do matter: death, suffering, need, evil, self-centredness. Is it really so astounding that people are apathetic these days? We’re surrounded with news and products we’re told are Amazing! Shocking! Scandalous! Heartbreaking! But we fail to experience any of these sensations, probably because we’ve heard it all before. We’ve bought the magazine, or the product, and haven’t been amazed.

How many times have you heard of a product ‘that will change your life’? I’ve encountered a few and they have completely failed to live up to those promises. What marketers fail to realise – or ignore if they do – is that we are all individuals. We are all different. Therefore what will change one person’s life – in the sense of being an epiphany, a revelation that turns their previous way on life on its head – will barely make a ripple in someone else’s. I wonder if it’s because people just don’t think: they accept what they’re told, and they don’t follow these ideas through to their logical conclusion.

I know some people who do – I’ve learned about logic and so on from them – but I’m cynical. I just can’t credit that there’s a type of person out there whose life is changed by every product about which it’s said, ‘It will change your life’.

Marketers might deflect this criticism by the quantum defence: a person is affected even in the smallest way by what they think and read, so their life will be changed, even infinitesimally, by the product. To which the only response is, Bollocks. That’s not the inference that people make when they read the phrase ‘It will change your life’. Previous encounters with the phrase condition us to think of astonishing, jaw-dropping, macroscopic, ‘Wow!’ changes. Which don’t happen. The thrill of the occasional genuine sensation has become a habit.

So how can advertisers get the attention of a cynical and emotionally jaded audience? Increase the intensity of the bombardment? That’s what happens for everything else: people start with marijuana, continue with cocaine and end with heroin; adrenaline junkies try ever more dangerous stunts; movie violence becomes more explicit and graphic. And the sensation-centred populace still crave for redder blood and sweeter honey, immolating themselves on the altar of sensuality as they scrabble up the slippery slope of self-fulfilment.

Another deleterious effect of ads is that many of them boost our unrealistic expectations. They tell us ‘You deserve this’; ‘this’ being whatever clod of consumer detritus they’re touting, usually with the assistance of YAWs (Young Attractive Women) or CHGs (Cute Hot Guys]. (I’ve vented my cogitative spleen about this in other posts, so I shan’t air it again here [1].) Almost all of us have come to expect much from life [2]. We agree with ads that say ‘You deserve this!’ Other examples are: ‘the most important person in the world is you’; ‘because you’re worth it’; and finally ‘you have every right to expect more.’ If advertisers wanted to destroy human relationships as quickly as possible, they couldn’t have devised better slogans. But to be fair, advertisers didn’t create this egocentric ideal. We humans naturally seem to believe that we deserve the best, and a lot of it. But if we deserve something, why should we pay for it? By definition, to deserve something means that we have already earned it.

Ads show the same human condition evident in Imperial Rome when Pliny the Younger (I think it was, or Cornelius Tacitus; my recall isn’t as accurate as I’d like ) said that all Roman citizens wanted, or that the government offered, were bread and circuses: to receive something for nothing and to be constantly titillated.

If the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, the price of civilisation is balance: the balance of rights and responsibilities.

[1] ‘Do guys only ever think about sex?’
[2] Perhaps our discontent isn’t wrong – depending on what we are discontent about – but as we live in a fallen world, it’s a symptom indicating our fallenness, and that we were made for a higher life.

copyright 2007 Troy Grisgonelle.