There are tough elements in everyone's job, which means we all need help along the way. Here are three examples of help given.
1. Inherent risk
I worked for a roofing company for four years. Roofing was, as they joked, "second from the bottom on the job list...one up from shark bait." It was hard work, especially the industrial roof "cold tar tear-offs" which took place at night. No skin could be exposed to the tar dust, or else the sun at daybreak would heat it and melt it into your pores, sending you to the ER with your skin burning and your eyes swelling shut.
Gross, I know, but I've seen it happen. It was a real risk. Yet there was a veteran employee who always remembered to bring extra rolls of duct tape for newbies to dust-proof their outfits.
In my early twenties, I taught in an inner-city high school. The previous teacher had a breakdown from the high stress and walked out in October, and then the classes suffered further strain with over a month of day-to-day subs. When I finally entered the scene in December, it was chaos. Every day I wanted to throw up because I wasn't sure about anything beyond survival - and there were times when even that was in question.
One morning an old man drove past me before I entered the school. Like an angel in my time of need, he hollered from the car window, "Keep going...We need you...Our kids need you...." His voice trailed off down the street, but his words did not.
I was talking with a friend about graphic design. He's very talented and able to "coolify" just about anything, like dirt if he wanted to. But this presents a temptation for him. Coolifying a product, and finding the inherent cool in a product, are two different matters. The latter is genuinely cool, while the former adds pizazz which may have nothing to do with the product. It's the pizazz, unfortunately, that entices when deadlines pinch because it's such an easy solution.
I encouraged him to keep bringing out the inherent cool. This is much harder than coolifying, but it's the honest approach that will not only pay off for him in the long run, but also do a great service to his projects now.
This week: Help somebody in their work.
Like the tape-carrying veteran roofer, the school angel, and the anti-coolifyer, we can help somebody in the their work. If you need a place to start, find someone in the advertising world this week. (All employees can benefit, but I'm mostly concerned with these folks.) Perhaps you work with or for a copywriter, photographer, graphic designer, media planner, or creative director. Or you know somebody who does. Or you know a student preparing to enter this field.
Give that somebody a hug. Take him out to lunch. Encourage her to continue serving God and loving neighbors as she faces constant temptations and pressures.
Like the man who hollered from his window, you never know what a blessing you might be.
There are tough elements in everyone's job, which means we all need help along the way. Here are three examples of help given.
There's a funny thing about this vignette from Monty Python's Flying Circus: When it comes to being seen by marketers, we're willing to stand up, too.
The question is whether it will turn out as badly. We know that marketing is increasingly pervasive and invasive, finding its way into everything from Nokias to noses. We're also aware that marketing is increasingly adept at targeting. For instance, marketing technology reads my Gmail note to a friend about summer camp and immediately provides a list of sponsored links, including "Summer Whale Camp," "Wakeboard Summer Camp," "Girl's 2-Week Summer Camp," and "Camp Caribou for Boys."
How does it know what I wrote? And do I mind that it's targeting my interests with related advertisements? At first I was weirded out but not anymore, regardless of the personal nature of my e-mails. Technology is learning how to find us and follow us, and I'm not sure that we mind.
In a recent interview with Kerry Langstaff, VP of marketing at Quova, she says the following about their specialty, "dynamic geo-location":
Basically we go and map the infrastructure of Web servers set up all over the world and map where IP Addresses have been allocated.... We identify where a user is connecting from through their IP address.... So, as an example, say a customer is searching for shoes. By using IP geo-location data to situate exactly where they are, a shoe retailer can localize its landing page for each incoming visitor. Another customer example is a newspaper which uses reader location to customize their news and ad content. If you log in from Massachusetts, you'll get the Red Sox score first -- not the Yankees score. And news, weather, and the store locations of advertisers can be localized based on where a particular person is logged in from.
(Read the rest of the article here: "Knowing Where The Consumer Is")
These are child's play examples and I like the idea of finding my favorite team listed before others. I like the idea of going to a news page and finding the top stories to be my kind of stories. I'll be seen for that. But what kind of targeting could eventually get me shot? I don't really mean shot, of course, but harmed, or controlled. At what point could privacy leave my control? From a Forbes article called "Scary Stuff":
Michael G. Michael, a theologian and technology historian at the University of Wollongong, in New South Wales, Australia, says that he originated the term uberveillance to describe the new environment. The stem "uber" means "over" or "super" in German. He thinks the pervasive monitoring will lead to increased cases of insanity and mental distress. "Mental illness will become an increasingly confronting factor as these issues develop," he frowned.
This is just one of myriad problems you could imagine in a world of uberveillance if you let your mind go there. Being the independent people that we are, I hope we'll only give away so much, but who knows? Maybe the Monty Python skit isn't too big of a stretch after all.
I have a branding dilemma and I'm not sure if it's something minor or a symptom of something major. Ready for this?
Should I use caps or lower-case?
You can roll your eyes all you want, but it's a question that's starting to bother me. Stay with me for a minute. The internet has plenty of presentation norms and I know what most of them are. At the very least I know that web pages for business executives have significantly different norms than chat messages between teens.
case for lower
but i don't want to use capital letters. lower-case is more relaxed; more personal. it's how i want you to feel when you come over for dinner. you might think it's the finest table and tastiest food, but i want you to wander around the house if you'd like, get something from the fridge, or laugh out loud. lower-case is more my style.
lower-case is also easier, which means it's what i'd rather do. same point, less time.
Case for Upper
But I don't want to use lower-case either - at least not for writing. When I read through a dozen comments on a blog and one is written in lower-case, I skip that one or else put a lower value on it. I can't help thinking the writer is less educated. How arrogant, you say. Well I'll add hypocritical, too, since I e-mail almost exclusively in lower-case!
Caps are also more professional and readable. I can imagine my second-grader trying to read a chapter book with no capital letters. Talk about run-ons.
For you non-analyzing types, you can't believe this is anything but a joke. But for me, a writer and speaker who mixes with a variety of audiences, this is only partly funny. I don't toss and turn or seek counseling over it, but it crosses my mind subtly every time I log on and start to type.
This constant e-wareness of whether to use caps or lower-case is why I think it is a symptom of something more serious. See, I'm the guy who reads Henri Nouwen's books, like Reaching Out or The Genesee Diary, and says, "Henri knows me." I'm the guy who reads Brennan Manning's Abba's Child and passes it on to all my friends. (Notice the link? I'm passing it along. Check out the others while you're at it.) I think I'm suffering from a case of Personal Brand Insecurity and I'm sure it's affecting my work.
PBI isn't just about what letter forms I should use. It is about searching for who I am, trying to find my voice, and wanting to care less about people's impressions and more about what matters. In C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, the demon uncle gives the following advice to his apprenticing demon nephew:
"The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without caring twopence what other people say about it, is by that very fact forearmed against some of our subtlest modes of attack. You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favour of the 'best' people, the 'right' food, the 'important' books. I have known a human defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions."
As I think about branding, advertising and all aspects of marketing, I wonder how someone like me could do it consistently and honestly while suffering from PBI. I applaud all of you who can.
Any advice? (About caps or lower-case, I mean, although PBI counsel is welcomed, too.)
Got this from the good folks over at *culture is not optional:
"What is Christian in art does not lie in the theme, but in the spirit of it, in its wisdom and the understanding of reality it reflects. Just as being a Christian does not mean going round singing hallelujah all day, but showing the renewal of one's life by Christ through true creativity, so a Christian painting is not one in which all the figures have haloes and (if we put our ears to the canvas) can be heard singing hallelujahs."
H.R. Rookmaker, Modern Art and the Death of a Culture
Parents have it rough, and this year perhaps more than most. Toy companies are marketing directly at kids, and the kids are responding, "Yes!" while parents' wallets are saying, "No!"
But who's to blame? The parents, for not setting good boundaries for their kids? The kids, for having low discernment skills? Or the advertisers, for putting on an irresistible show? Perhaps a little of all three.
I read an article yesterday about parents complaining to toy companies this Christmas. The organization leading the push-back is Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and they want ads to stop being aimed at kids. Let parents make the decisions, they say.
I like this idea, but even I want half of the toys on TV, and I'm 35. Maybe it's because I only had one Star Wars action figure as a kid: no spaceships, no detailed model of a far away planet, no accompanying action-figure troops, and certainly no special effects, like these kids had:
I'm still jealous, and this ad is from the 80's. Commercials have come a long, tempting, way since then, and kids are even more seduced now. Only the strongest could resist such an onslaught of allure. I want to say to the marketing minds behind this brilliance, "Stop sucking us in. Enough is enough. Help us to lead simple lives. Quit enticing me...er, my children!"
But my first responsibility is not to change the market. It's to curb my own desires and to teach discernment to my kids. My girls have to learn the difference between wants and needs, quality and junk, genuine interests and peer pressure. I can't protect them forever.
Now what about the advertisers? They certainly carry guilt, but how much? Well, just imagine how toy advertising would change if they cared more about our kids than about profit. We might be able to say, "Susie, if the advertiser says it's a good toy, then it's a good toy because he loves us and wants the best for you." Sort of a What Would Jesus Market? approach.
I must admit, Ad folks, I change the channel on most of your toy commercials. They're just too much and too often and too flashy. Yet, I try to give you the benefit of the doubt because what if you aren't thinking about the 1000s of other toys on the shelf, but only the one you're pushing because you swear it's good for my child's development and because you hope it will replace the more meaningless toys my kids already have?
I know if I were you, these are the toys I'd want to market. And I'd want to tell the kids AND the parents about them.
Readers, check out the article to hear what parents and advertisers are saying about toy ads this year. Or visit Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and send a ready-made letter to the toy companies. Or, tell me what - if any - toy commercials should NOT be taken off the air.
It's ironic how leery we are of marketers. We question their motives and accuse them of pushing agendas upon us, yet our own behavior imitates theirs every day.
Everyone stands for something, believes in something, supports something, and we frequently do whatever it takes to sell that something. Just consider the best foot a young man puts forward in trying to woo a pretty girl. It's not really him he's promoting - only the best of him that he wants her to see. Conference presenters, pastors, car salesmen, Mary Kay associates and Thai food fans do the same thing.
Of course, some of us may use more (or less) truth than others, but our intent is the same: to sell. Mouth closed or open, we tell others what we like and dislike, support and oppose, and in that telling we act very much like marketers.
I came across these two attention-grabbing political cartoons recently. They both sell ideas and also raise questions in me.
1. Do the cartoons tell the whole story about either the auto industry or Bush's presidency? If not, is there anything wrong with telling partial stories?
2. Do you tell whole stories or partial stories when you sell something?
3. What stands out to you visually and/or narratively that makes these cartoons compelling?
4. What compelling techniques have you used to convince someone?
Cartoons by David Fitzsimmons of the Arizona Daily Star and Pat Bagley of the Salt Lake Tribune.
My default position is frugality: Unless you actually need it to survive, you don't need it. Yet this doesn't align with my actual position. Why, just last night I savored an expensive square of dark chocolate and drank loose-leaf tea. Both wants.
Kevin Roberts calls them Lovemarks. I call them concessions, and sometimes allowances, and sometimes coping mechanisms. Regardless of how frugal I claim to be, I have wants that feel like needs.
1. What indulgence (want) will you hang onto even if the economy tanks?
2. Read the following post by Seth Godin. He blames marketing for spoiling us, but leaves room for Lovemarks, too.
"I had lunch (a big lunch) with a college student last week. An hour later, she got up and announced she was going to get a snack. Apparently, she was hungry.
By any traditional definition of the word, she wasn’t actually hungry. She didn’t need more fuel to power her through an afternoon of sitting around. No, she was bored. Or yearning for a feeling of fullness. Or eager for the fun of making something or the break in the routine that comes from eating it. Most likely, she wanted the psychic satisfaction that she associates with eating well-marketed snacks.Marketers taught us this." Read more...
In my rantings last week, I sentenced "Kingdom Under the Sea" to the knock-off pile. I was quickly reprimanded by an observant reader, and I need to make a correction.
The Christian Christmas catalog where I saw this children's video had put me in a foulish mood, not unlike the mood I get in when observing any kind of faux product: kitchen floor laminates, "pleather," Forever Lawns (see pic), and most of the home decorating items at Wal-Mart.
Without doing the necessary homework, I hastily accused the makers of "Kingdom Under the Sea" of stealing ideas from "Finding Nemo." While I don't really know which came first, I do know the following:
Kingdom's release date: 2000
Nemo's release date: 2003
Kingdom's conception date: ?
Nemo's conception date: 1994
Which came first? Did one pull ideas from the other or are the similarities coincidental? Probably coincidental. Regardless, the brain-children behind these two projects are innocent until proven guilty - and they are creative, too!
Check out David Mulhern's creative work on "Kingdom" here, and read an interview with Andrew Stanton, creator of "Finding Nemo," here. (Stanton's interview is about "WALL-E," but the "Nemo" date is there and the Q&A reveals how Stanton's Christian faith shapes his work.)
Can you blame me for making this assumption after pages of look-a-likes in the Christmas catalog? Well..., probably. My frustration should have raised a caution flag before publishing the post. Having said this, I still hope you will work hard to market products and shop for products that reflect God's infinite creativity and originality. And tell your friends:
"Say NO to faux!"
I just received a religious Christmas catalog in the mail and I need to vent. Perhaps you already know how I cringe at faux products. If not, you can read a few posts here. Fakes, posers, wannabes, simulations - none of these make sense to me, especially when it comes to Christianity and marketing.
My first complaint is about the products themselves and those who consume them, and the second is about the advertisers who promote them.
1. Buy pagan gifts "faux" your family this Christmas!
Item A: "Nemo finds Jesus." (OK, "Kingdom Under the Sea")
My rantings: What's wrong with the movie "Finding Nemo"? And why pick an orange clownfish and not any of the other millions of creatures in the sea? And why is the evil character in this take-off video series called Krakken? Granted, Kraken (with one fewer "k") has been around for several centuries as a giant marine creature who wrecks ships and all, but did someone just happen to watch "Pirates of the Caribbean" the night before and decide to go on a venture by adding a "k"? By the way, my seven year old just walked into my office and asked what I was doing. I told her and she said, "So, it's like somebody erased the words 'Finding Nemo' and wrote 'Kingdom Under the Sea'?" I'd say that's pretty close.
Item B: Bratz (No, wait, I mean God's Girlz. The "z" threw me off.)
Item C: GoBible
My rantings: I have no problem with listening to the Bible on headphones, but besides the product design between the GoBible and the iPod being overly similar, you could save $100 by downloading the same content straight to your iPod. AND watch Pirates (or a better Johnny Depp movie like "Chocolat").
Item D: Guitar Praise
My rantings: So you don't want youth group kids singing the handful of questionable tunes on Guitar Hero. Great. But do you have to create completely separate content? Hasn't this been a criticism of CCM over the years? We know there's plenty of beneficial secular music and plenty of theologically shaky religious music out there. What would be wrong with a sacred/secular mix that would benefit and challenge listeners rather than cordon them off from the rest of the world? Besides, if youth leaders have been so willing to bring in the bad already, wouldn't they be even more willing to bring in the thoughtful?
Now you know a few items I won't be buying this Christmas. Please recognize how thoughtless these kitchy knock-offs are. As you do, I hope you'll give the companies your opinion by contacting them or at least by refraining from supporting them with your money.
Now for my second venting point.
2. Frank Lloyd Wright called - he wants his creativity back.
OK, I'm being a tad mean. But marketers, c'mon. If this is all you can do as an employee for the Kingdom, you need to enter another line of work. Creativity is a gift and ought to be used as a reflection of God's own creativity. When you mimic what's already been made, you commit two violations. First, you steal from another's work. That's bad enough. And second, you tell the world that Christians don't have an innovative bone in their bodies. Think about it: This type of activity declares that growth in the faith is best achieved by following whatever secular practices gather fans, and then adopting those practices. That isn't creativity. It's a statement that non-Christians have nothing good regarding content but everything good regarding form.
We need a new approach for sure.
As I began to say in my last post, our consumeristic hungers are related to the draw of God.
It's easy to think my endless shopping and borrowing and self-centeredness is because I'm somehow oriented toward evil. But I'm not. (At least I don't believe I am.) I commit evil, certainly. I am greedy, true. I affiliate with harmful practices every day which have significant repercussions on my neighbors, no doubt. But I'm not oriented toward evil.
Toward evil assumes evil is an end, as though evil has something I want. It assumes evil has desirable characteristics worth my time and energy and misbehavior. Yet, when we boil down our behaviors to find the motivations for doing them in the first place, we find good ends.
G.K. Chesterton wrote, "A man knocking on the door of a brothel is looking for God." It's easy to see what he means. The man wants intimacy, physical touch, affirmation, relief from other troubles, etc., and these are good things only God can provide. He doesn't want to run with the devil. He wants to be loved. This reveals evil as a means, not evil as an end.
As consumers and as advertisers, we don't act stupidly and harmfully and selfishly and monetarily because we want to harm each other. Instead, we do these things because God promises to fulfill our deepest human needs and these promises have not yet been realized. What we want - what all of us want - is affirmation, security, justice, peace, intimacy, rewarding work, health, and so on. And we're desperate enough for them that we're willing to harm ourselves and others to get them.
This is why I think the Guinness ad fits here. We don't simply want to want God more. We want God already in the same way the refrigerator wants the Guinness! Our worship is rarely appropriate or honoring or selfless, but our evil acts reveal that we desperately want what God has, which is the good.
Try something this week. If you're a consumer, ask why you succumb to a certain unhealthy spending habit (I'm assuming you have at least one.) If you're an advertiser, ask why you agree to work on campaigns that don't further the good in this world. For each of you, is it because you're bent toward evil, or because doing evil helps you experience at least a fragment of something good?
Sunday night I'm speaking to a group on how to become a New Breed of Consumers. There's a point I want to make about our consumeristic hungers and about the relationship these hungers have with the draw of God. (Sorry if this is cryptic, but perhaps I'll say more later.)
Anyway, this commercial came to mind.
I had to write a paper on this statement a few years ago. Funny thing to think about, isn't it? I forgot about it until last month when I taught a series on community. And it's come up in my recent musings on the relationship between advertiser and consumer.
I don't want to lose anyone on a philosophical voyage, but consider this statement with regards to being image-bearers of God.
(Warning: thick quote ahead.) Theologian Richard Gula writes,
"The trinitarian vision sees that no one exists by oneself, but only in relationship to others. To be is to be in relationship. The individual and the community co-exist. Humanity and relatedness are proportional so that the deeper one’s participation in relationships is, the more human one becomes. Since community is necessary to grow in God’s image, the fundamental responsibility of being the image of God and for living in community is to give oneself away as completely as possible in imitation of God’s self-giving."
This self-giving idea is crucial to being neighbors. Advertisers and consumers - two important neighbor groups for me - often get this wrong, and the fallout is painful.
Perhaps this week you can think of one small way to be "more human" to your neighbor. If you get a minute, let me know how it turns out.
Oil on panel, 1620
Today is Blog Action Day and you can do something.
Like punch the lights out on greed-catering advertising and self-oriented consumerism. Oh, wait, the stock market is doing that.
Actually, the subject of Blog Action Day is poverty, and the point is to get folks to do whatever they can to address it.
I've spent a good portion of my life below the U.S. poverty line. I'm out now, which means I'm really rich compared to folks in underdeveloped places. Still, it was tough and continues to be at times.
What did I appreciate most in poverty? People helping. People treating my mom and sisters and me like decent human beings. People sharing.
The credit crisis is indicative of what we'll do when we have access to More. We'll take it. And now that we've taken - for a long time and without many warnings of the now-coming-to-realize consequences - it isn't just us who's paying for it. The poor suffer, too. Even more than they did before.
My own contribution toward reducing global and local poverty is in the preaching against that greed-catering advertising and self-oriented consumerism. Oh, to see a new breed of advertisers and a new breed of consumers who err toward creating their own economic crisis from encouraging simplicity and from giving too much!
This is one of my faves. I had a difficult time finding it so if you're looking for consumer advice that's now in the "I-told-you-so" category, you'll have to watch this priceless video here.
I'm interested to see how ads will reflect this volatile economic time. Will essential products step into the foreground? Probably. Will non-essential products beg? They already are with 0% financing and the like. Will companies smilingly promote non-essentials to suggest that all's well? Unfortunately.
Ad-makers, et al, I pray for you to keep your morals high and your consciences clean. You don't want to get through this and wish you'd lived it differently.
Been thinking about a new website. The funnest piece (in my opinion) would be a double blog representing the conversation between advertiser and consumer.
New Breed of Advertiser, meet New Breed of Consumer.
If you've kept up with this blog, you know what I think of advertisers. They're creative and smart and even necessary, but often unloving and irresponsible toward their audience. And speaking of their audience, plenty has been written about consumers, who could afford to be more simple, more generous, more environmental, less infatuated with Stuff, and so on.
So, what about a conversation between the two, focused on reconciliation and the future? New Breed of Advertisers would continue as is, but at the same site you could read about a New Breed of Consumers, too.
Just a brainstorm at this point. Any suggestions?
I recently watched the documentary, Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball. Kokoyakyu is a serious deal in Japan, and players compete fiercely to win the National Championship. But their efforts are characterized by a respect I rarely see in American sports:
"Sport is like martial arts. We don't aim to expose our opponent's weaknesses but to exert our potential strengths. Our opponent is not the enemy."
(A Kokoyakyu coach made this comment...well, something very close to that. I scribbled it on scrap paper while watching the film.)
Too often, advertisers ignore the Kokoyakyu approach and take advantage of consumers' weaknesses and insecurities: Thinning hair never bother you before? Well, it should. And now that it does, here's a product to make it grow back. Or, Afraid to go to the beach in a bikini? Well, you should be. And now that you are, here's a product to reduce that belly pooch of yours.
This is a rather twisted way of "helping" consumers because it essentially demeans them - or at least exposes an already present weakness - and then offers hollow condolences. How kind.
Perhaps product bullies could learn a lesson or two from Kokoyakyu.
I just got through saying that Gillette razors are one of my Lovemarks. But yesterday I read about Gillette pulling an embarrassing and maddening, albeit successful, stunt.
In a nutshell, Gillette created a
"user-generated-content program that let visitors to SI.com's  swimsuit issue site create a "mashup" of video footage of four models who appeared in the issue."
This is problematic for obvious reasons, and as one might expect, thousands of videos were created and it ranked high on Facebook and YouTube. But there are two items that really got me. First,
"the effort included a college tour to 10 campuses, giving out some 10,000 Fusion Razors. 'It got the product into the hands of consumers to turn them into brand loyalists. We hit the 18-24 target demo,' [Doug Brodman of MediaVest] said, adding that the company will do it again this year."
I work with college students and I hate to see companies take advantage of them. They could have used a less debasing method to turn them on to their brand, at the very least.
Second, it isn't just Gillette vs. Consumer. It isn't a faceless brand owned by the monolithic Proctor & Gamble vs. 47 million Joe Consumers who read that issue and visited the website (21 million of them college-aged). No, it's an assembly of individual citizens with consciences and families and hopes who agreed through a series of personal decisions as employees and sub-contracted employees of Gillette and SI to contribute each of their various media-related talents toward selling razors via sex appeal vs. these people's neighbors.
Do you see that? It isn't a robot trying desperately to associate attractive women with a tool for cutting facial hair. It's a guy named Jason Temming who works for MediaVest and sits at at his desk thinking about the younger SI readers and saying, "We needed to invite them in a compelling way." It's a photographer and a graphics editor and a copywriter and a contract manager and a model and a..., all of whom decided to invite their neighbors (compellingly) into something inane and dishonorable.
Marketers, both future and current, I'm begging you to think about what you say yes to. There are real people on the other end of your work. And there are real people collaborating with you, and real people in your ads.
Love them all as Jesus would.
Moleskine notebooks, a bomb-proof ‘91 Toyota pickup, Gillette Sensor 3 razors, Ghirardelli’s Twilight Delight dark chocolate…. These are a few of my Lovemarks, and you have a list, too. They are those irreplaceable, faithful, tell-the-world-about-them (but Get-Your-Own) products that we can’t stand to be without.
For my fourth New Breed of Advertisers interview, I’d like to introduce you to the guy who introduced the Lovemark concept to the advertising world: Kevin Roberts.
Kevin is the New York-based CEO Worldwide of Ideas Company Saatchi & Saatchi, part of Publicis Groupe, the world’s fourth largest communications group. Before joining Saatchi & Saatchi in 1997, Kevin held leadership positions globally with premier brands including Gillette, Pepsi, and Procter & Gamble. Under Kevin’s leadership, Saatchi & Saatchi has grown revenue year by year and achieved record creative awards. Clients include Proctor & Gamble, Toyota, Lexus, General Mills, Visa International, Ameriprise, JC Penney and Novartis.
Renowned for his vision and acumen, Kevin’s pursuits span business, sports, art, mentoring and education. He is the author of three Saatchi & Saatchi books (Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands; The Lovemarks Effect: Winning in the Consumer Revolution; and Sisomo: The Future on Screen), and is co-author of Peak Performance: Business Lessons from the World’s Top Sports Organizations. The renowned All Blacks rugby team is a favorite Lovemark and Kevin is a former director of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union and current Chairman of the USA Rugby Board of Directors.
Kevin is the inaugural CEO in Residence at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School in the UK and professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Waikato Management School in New Zealand. Kevin’s leadership appointments range from membership of the Publicis Groupe Management Board, and business ambassador for the New Zealand United States Council, to trustee of the Turn Your Life Around Trust, an Auckland charity that mentors at-risk teenagers.
Photograph by Nic Walker
NBoA: Kevin, what are Lovemarks and how does the concept differ from traditional branding?
Kevin: Lovemarks are the future beyond brands. Lovemarks are brands that create loyalty beyond reason, not for a reason. They’re irresistible and dripping with Mystery, Sensuality, and Intimacy. They are built on Respect and Trust but move on to become a loved part of your everyday life.
NBoA: You've been in advertising for 11 years, and you are still very creative and energized about your work. Where does advertising, as a career, rank on your Lovemarks list?
Kevin: Number one. It’s full of Mystery and Intimacy. It’s all about ideas, juggling, problem solving, variety and people. And I have permission to misbehave everyday!
NBoA: Sounds a bit like my own job, although I try to keep the misbehavior to a minimum. Or, maybe not. In America where consumerism is king, I guess I misbehave every time I go simple, cut back or celebrate “Buy Nothing Day.” Perhaps that isn’t what you want to hear as an advertiser, but I’m willing to give an inch if you are: What good things might happen regarding consumerism if I only bought Lovemarks? (Beyond basic necessities, of course.)
Kevin: We’d be happier. Lovemarks are built on Trust, Authenticity and Respect with emotional empathy (intimacy) and optimism added. And Lovemarks must deliver on Sustainability. They must deliver a pathway to social, cultural and environmental sustainability. Otherwise, they won’t be loved. So, Lovemarks are the answer. What a wonderful world that would be!
NBoA: Even if we could be happier or more responsible for buying Lovemarks exclusively, I feel queasy about attaching love – the most precious and life-giving element we know – to perishable goods. And yet I have Lovemarks, too, like my old Toyota. How different do you see the love for my truck from the love for my children? Your book seems to put them quite close.
Kevin: Love is the most enduring (and endearing) of human emotions. It ranges across a very wide spectrum and many levels of depth, all of which bring happiness of some kind. And it’s personal. You define it. No one else.
NBoA: I've met plenty of people (and been one myself) who buy Lovemarks in order to compensate for insecurity, lack of intimacy or some other type of emptiness. Is it possible to enjoy Lovemarks without turning them into idols?
Kevin: Not only possible but in most cases it’s inevitable. Idolatry is a limited (and limiting) idea. Not many of us get sucked in today. We have too much information and knowledge.
NBoA: “Inevitable” is too far for me. I can do “possible,” but I can’t ignore ad critic Jean Kilbourne’s comment when she says that "people who feel empty make great consumers." Have you ever felt the need to talk a person out of buying a Lovemark for this reason?
Kevin: Kilbourne’s remark in itself is empty and superficial. People are consumers. All people. And people are responsible for their own happiness.
NBoA: She obviously knows we’re all consumers. That’s undeniable. So maybe you and I disagree on how much we should speak into other people’s lives. I wish more people (friends, older family members, advertisers…) would have tried talking my father out of consuming his Lovemark, Kool cigarettes, years ago, because now they’re violating his Sustainability and affecting our lives, too.
I’m trying to encourage advertisers – especially the future ones in college – toward a more responsible kind of customer care. Have you ever worked on a commercial or campaign that you later regretted?
Kevin: Yes. And nothing is as painful as regret. Fail, learn, fix and move forward. Fast.
NBoA: What advice would you give to one of these up-and-coming advertisers who desire to love – and not manipulate or mistreat – his customer?
Kevin: Make the big decisions with your heart, and the small ones with your head.
NBoA: Last question, Kevin. What's your favorite Lovemark?
Kevin: English Laundry, a small niche shirt brand from Manchester.
Thank you, Kevin, for your willingness to answer a few questions. I wish you the best in your travels and work.
Readers, you can learn more about Lovemarks and Kevin’s books at www.lovemarks.com. For the record, I have very mixed reviews about Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands. As I told Kevin, I cheered and squirmed through his book because while it’s quite creative and insightful, it’s also too close to violating love as I understand it from a Christian perspective. Go check out his stuff and tell me what you think.
I've enjoyed a number of interesting conversations with advertising fans and critics about the creation of needs. My own position? Advertisers can't create needs, or desires, or even wants. They can only play with what hungers already exist within us.
I'm not referring to how planned obsolescence and the advertising associated with it creates need. I'm referring to the belief that advertisers can actually create a need from scratch - ex nihilo, if you will.
For example, is "bad breath" real, or is it a manufactured issue that helps to sell breath mints and Listerine?
In February I read a book review which said this about the author:
“She likens the evangelical movement's success not to some historic spiritual awakening or God's hand at work, but to the use of secular marketing tactics.”Because of my evangelical roots (and branches) and my professional interest in advertising, what else could I say but, Go on, tell me more.
And tell me more she did. For the third New Breed of Advertisers interview, I’d like to introduce you to Mara Einstein and her new book, Brands of Faith: Marketing Religion in a Commercial Age (Routledge, 2008).
Dr. Einstein has been working in or writing about the media industry for the past 20 years. She has enjoyed stints as an executive at NBC, MTV Networks, and at major advertising agencies working on such accounts as Miller Lite, Uncle Ben’s and Dole Foods. Her first book, Media Diversity: Economics, Ownership and the FCC (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004), was the cause for much debate when research from this work was used by the FCC as the basis for redefining the media ownership rules. In addition, Mara has written for Newsday and Broadcasting & Cable as well as having her work appear in academic journals.
Mara is an Associate Professor of media studies at Queens College as well as being an adjunct Associate Professor at the Stern School of Business at New York University. She has a doctorate in media ecology from New York University, she holds an MBA from the Kellogg School at Northwestern and a BFA from Boston University.
She is currently working on a new book about girls and the media as well as continuing her research on religion and media.
NBoA: Why college students? I mean, you were a marketing executive for three publicly-traded companies.
Mara: If I understand your question correctly, I think you are asking why I walked away from a high-paying, "glamorous" career to work in the trenches of academia. Some of that was personal, but I also felt incredibly stunted professionally and intellectually. I was doing the same sort of work year after year and wanted to do something more interesting and more fulfilling. I also couldn't reconcile the idea that getting people to watch more television, which was my job, was the best use of my time. I found that I am better suited, as well as better qualified, to criticize the media. Who knows better about what goes on in the sausage factory than the person making the sausage?
NBoA: I've heard students say they'll work for a religious or public service organization because it's safer for them morally and ethically. Better sausage, if you will. How informed is this perspective when it comes to marketing?
Mara: It's a mixed bag, and it really does depend on the organization that you work for. Is it okay to "sell your soul" if the end justifies the means? That's a question people have to ask themselves every day. For example, my current research is about exploring the question, "What happens when you market service?" If you look at something like the RED campaign (Bono/Gap), you might say, "What a great idea” because it gets people to give to African charities through a painless, consumer-based methodology. But we have to question if that is a good thing. Is marketing a t-shirt the best way to raise money for AIDS in Africa? I don't know. I don't think so, but it will be those sorts of issues that your students will face.
NBoA: Speaking of what the students will face, I perused the comments about you at Rate My Professors. At first glance, there seemed to be a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth. But a second glance suggested that you are the professor even the whiners will appreciate most a decade down the professional road. What will they say about you then?
Mara: I never read the site myself. As with everything, you're not going to please everyone, and I teach upwards of 200 students per semester. I'm sure that there are plenty of them that don't like me. That said, I'm not a professor to be a student's friend. I'm there to make sure they learn what they need to know to be a critical thinker in an increasingly complex world.
For every student who doesn't like me (and let's face it, those are usually the students who don't do the work necessary to succeed in my classroom), there's another student who's sending me an email thanking me for everything they learned in my classes. My best students over the years now have successful jobs in the media and they return to talk to my current classes. Those are the ones that keep me coming back to work day after day.
NBoA: I find it interesting (and courageous) that you are an agnostic, genuinely seeking religious truth, and at the same time a scholar who couldn't miss the marketing and persuasion techniques of religion if you were blind-folded. How does this work itself out for you personally and spiritually, or does it?
Mara: I cover this issue extensively in the preface to the book, but I'll see if I can do justice in the short space here. I was a marketer for almost 20 years before becoming an academic over a decade ago. Seeing marketing in religion was, and is, obvious to me. While I am currently agnostic (much of that thinking I attribute to having done the work of writing this book), I have been a "seeker" for more than 30 years. My beliefs are in line with those of Sam Harris. He talks in his book, End of Faith, about the many mystical experiences that exist that we cannot explain. We should do what we can to foster those experiences, but established religious institutions may not be the best way to achieve this outcome.
NBoA: That last line may unsettle a few of my visitors (It certainly gets my attention), but I respect your perspective. It also raises a question about how to approach your book. Should readers see Brands of Faith as analysis, diagnosis, advice, or warning?
Mara: I wrote the book as a critique of the current religious marketplace. However, many people – particularly people involved with religious institutions – have read it as a sort of "how-to" of religious marketing. That's okay, but I think there are other books that do that better.
I would hope that people who read Brands of Faith will understand better why the sacred and the secular have merged. There isn't a culture war going on so much as a re-negotiation between these two spaces. Moreover, faith is not going away; it is being transformed and media has a lot to do with that. Brands of Faith is not meant as a warning. The need to believe in something bigger than ourselves is not disappearing. Rather, the work is a suggestion to re-evaluate established religious institutions as the means for imparting religious/spiritual information.
But, let me say here that I'm not advocating that we dissolve established religious institutions as many of the atheist writers of late have discussed. For many, many people these institutions are a source of strength and fellowship. That said, we should also be open to alternatives to these groups and not pooh-pooh them just because they appear new or different.
NBoA: I don’t think you’re alone on this re-evaluation piece. The significant growth of interest in spirituality outside of the Church confirms it. In fact, David Kinnaman, co-author of unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…and Why It Matters, shows that
"outsiders' most common reaction to the faith [is that] they think Christians no longer represent what Jesus had in mind, that Christianity in our society is not what it was meant to be."
How is this a marketing issue?
Mara: When I interviewed people for the book, one of the issues that came up was that people were too involved with having a personal relationship with Jesus while paying very little attention to what Jesus cared about – things like feeding the hungry and helping the needy. Many evangelical groups promote the feel-good relationship while never talking about traditional topics like salvation and sin. That's marketing – showing consumers what will get them in the door and obscuring the things that might deter them.
NBoA: On an NPR podcast, you hinted at the potential danger in this showing/obscuring bit. You said,
"Marketing is about understanding who your target audience is and then creating a product that is going to serve them. Well, that's fine if you're talking about a car, or you're talking about a computer. But with a faith practice or with a religion, at what point do you start changing the faith...?"
Great question. I'd love to hear your answer.
Mara: I try to stay away from answering this sort of question because I am a marketing and media scholar and not a theologian. What I would say is that it is possible to change the packaging of the faith (what most megachurches do) while not fundamentally changing the faith itself. What I mean by that is you can create more interesting church services and you can use podcasts and you can create magazine/Bibles like Revolve that will speak to today's religious "consumer" and still be true to the teachings of your faith.
NBoA: I agree that products like Revolve don’t fundamentally change the faith. But isn’t the obvious co-opting of popular marketing tactics, as seen in these two images, part of the Church’s branding problem?
Mara: No, I don't think so. I'm probably one of the few academics who would say that marketing religion isn't a bad thing. In fact, it's probably a necessity. The first rule of marketing is to get consumers where they already are. If that means magazines, TV, the Internet or rock concerts, I don't have a problem with that. The issue is what happens after the seeker comes through the door. (More on this below.)
Religious organizations should brand themselves. They need to understand who they are, and they need to communicate that to their congregation. Having a brand allows organizations to coalesce around a shared mission statement which becomes a vision for everything the institution does. This question is at the heart of my book and is, frankly, too complex to answer in this small space. I encourage your readers to pick up my book for a more thoughtful analysis.
NBoA: I have a link to your book below. For many American followers of Jesus, we’re so used to church marketing that we probably couldn’t pick it out of a line-up. From your perspective, what aspect is the most annoying? (Coincidentally, mine happens to be Revolve and the entire line of magazine/Bibles associated with it.)
Mara: The most irritating thing about religious marketing is when religious institutions are hypocritical. When they promote one thing and in reality are something else completely. Let's use an obvious example here: Ted Haggard. Here is someone who promoted contempt for gays and lesbians when in reality it turned out that "the lady doth protest too much." I won't even get into the hypocrisy of promoting love while condemning a whole group outright. This hypocrisy is not only true of churches. (I'm an equal opportunity critic.) I would put plenty of New Age organizations in this group as well, and I'm sure there are plenty more that I don't even know about.
The bottom line is that nothing will make a consumer angrier than believing a product is one thing only to find out after walking through the door that they’ve been bamboozled by slick marketing. Remember the old adage from David Ogilvy, "Your consumer isn't stupid. She's your wife."
NBoA: I just talked with a student who left the Church for that very reason. Nobody enjoys the bait and switch. Last question, Mara. My hope is to encourage a New Breed of Advertisers, which presumes there's an Old Breed whose ways are often misdirected. What is an important redirection for the advertising student who wants to love her neighbor and sell him something, too?
Mara: Don't walk away from your own ethics. For example, if an ad depicts women in a denigrating way in order to sell a fifth of vodka, that's just simply not okay. You know in your heart (and perhaps your soul) what's right and wrong. Never create advertising or marketing that you disagree with, even when a paycheck is at stake. And, if you do have to walk away, your walking away will be the loudest and possibly most effective statement you can make. Then, go out and create your own agency and start doing the work that will make this world a better place for all of us.
Thank you, Mara, for taking the time to share with us. Your experience as a seeker and expertise as a marketer provide substance for me (and others) to chew on. Have a delightful semester raising a new breed of advertisers.
Readers, what do you think? Take a minute to post your comments and questions.
Mara Einstein’s book, Brands of Faith
Mara’s podcast interview with NPR
David Kinnaman’s book, unChristian
"The lady doth protest too much...." (Okay, so I needed to look it up. It's been a while since high school, and maybe it has been for you, too.)
Try clear drinking straws at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC. Believe it or not, they're stacked (with holes facing the viewer) 12 feet high and 42 feet wide. This is the kind of stupefying art that Tara Donovan makes.
I discovered Tara's work through Comment Magazine online this week, and you can read their article about her and a few of her creations here.
If you're interested in a road trip, go see her work up close at the Met, but do it before September 21st. (More info is in the article link.)
No car? No money? Want a little JPEG inspiration from the comforts of your home office instead? Then view a slide show of Tara's previous projects here. For kicks, try to guess the medium in each photo before looking at the description.
And one more thing. (Please pardon me if this seems too additional, but I just have to ask it.) The last line of the article reads, "Donovan calls us to value the process, as well as the goal." What benefits might there be if you valued the process of your job like Tara values hers?
P.S. Comment is produced by the Work Research Foundation whose mission "is to influence people to a Christian view of work and public life. [They] seek to explore and unfold the dignity of work, the meaning of economics, and the structures of civil society, in the context of underlying patterns created by God." Interested in the relationship between faith and work? Subscribe to Comment here.
I was inspired by a comments exchange with Bradley last week, and here's my thought:
Consumerism is not a sort of cultural plague with a mind of its own. It's an inhospitable skirmish between two real people - the marketer and the customer.
It's easy to place these two so far apart in our minds that they cease to be neighbors. All we see is the grand problem they create in the middle. Yet they are neighbors, no doubt, despite their rather manipulative and co-dependent relationship.
It does something to my perspective when I picture this as an unhealthy relationship, but I'm open to disagreement.
Houston let me know about Best Buy's "You, Happier" slogan. Somehow I missed it, yet it seems that other critics have, too.
After a cursory Google search, I didn't find too many folks up in arms about "You, Happier." Perhaps BB's customers are happier enough that the slogan failed to raise concern. BB didn't say, "You, Happy," or, "You, Happiest." They just said "You, Happier," and for most customers (including me), they're right.
I am happier when I get a new laptop or scanner. Shoot, I'm happier when I get a fresh ink cartridge. Not happiest and maybe/maybe not happy, but I'm definitely happier.
Happier is good. So is buying stuff that we need and even an occasional item we don't need. Most of these make us happier, but happier must not control us. Here's a serious reason why.
In Waiting for God, Simone Weil wrote, "The danger is not lest the soul should doubt whether there is any bread, but lest, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry."
The ways we hunger and satisfy our hunger for happier are deeply spiritual matters, which is why Weil's comment is a theological one. When Jesus said to deny ourselves he wasn't calling us to be ascetics, but to be people who recognize the spiritual danger in satisfying our hunger.
Best Buy? Fine, but we could all do a little better at going hungry once in a while.
At the time of this posting, the "Who's Guilty?" poll from my previous post has 17 voters, eight of whom say marketers are more guilty than consumers. If you want to see all the up-to-date results, click on Survey Results.
In related news, I came across Seth Godin's musings on this subject in his post, Complicit. Do his questions affect your vote?
That's a question Brandweek recently asked Rob Walker, "Consumed" columnist for the New York Times Magazine. I told you I've been reading Rob's book, Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are. Here's his answer:
"...I don't think there's anything productive about demonizing marketers. My point of view is that consumers can't blame anyone but themselves for their purchase decisions, and the consequences of those decisions, both on a personal level and a societal level. Marketers didn't dictate massive demand for four-wheel-drive SUVs for driving around city streets. Consumers demanded that. Of course marketers did their best to exploit that demand to the fullest, but there's just nothing productive, in my view, about scapegoating anybody."
(Read the entire interview here.)
OK, so Rob says we're all guilty. But where do you stand on this? Using his example, go with your gut reaction and rate who you think is to blame for SUVs on city streets. I cast my opinion to get us started. If you'd like to vote and tell us your reasoning, simply Comment on this post.
For those who enjoyed my previous post AND get a kick out of proper grammar usage, read this short piece by Alex called "Cannot vs. Can Not."
I love the execution of this magazine ad for We Can Solve It.
The colors and concept are simple and fitting. The continents are comprised of adjectives that describe people: "Elevator riders, Those who rock, Coal Miners, Tourists, Athletes, E-mailers, Those about to rock...." And the copy brings it all together for us: "You can't solve the climate crisis alone. But if we all work together, we can."
Clever use of the w's, too, no?
In a similar vein, I also like the creative and engaging website from We Are What We Do, "a movement inspiring people to use their everyday actions to change the world." (Thanks for the link, Bryce from Auckland.)
These are just two of countless examples that herald the possibility of solving the world's problems. And they are compelling because they break this Brobdingnagian task into bite-sized, individualized pieces. You'll notice that as of August 6, 2008, We Can Solve It boasted 1,457,923 participants pushing, and We Are What We Do displayed 1,775,852 actions acted. Not too shabby for just two websites.
- Am I responsible for doing my part? Yes.
- Can I affect change? Yes.
- Can I collaborate with you and your friends to affect even greater change? Yes.
- Have individuals and communities changed the world before? Yes.
So what's the rub? Well, at some point we're going to run out of Can-power. Even if every person did everything possible to change the world for good, there is a point at which our collective capacity will come to its end.
I don't want to say it too loudly, but the truth is, I think I can't, I think I can't.... More sobering still, I think we can't, I think we can't....
I explore this further in a Catapult Magazine article called "Melinda Mae Missiology."
Several years ago I listened to Ken Myers interview a woman on Mars Hill Audio (Volume 62). I was writing a book on advertising at the time and her insights jumped out of my dashboard and into my notebook. No, really. I pulled into a Blockbuster parking lot and began penning her comments.
Since then, I’ve quoted her numerous times in lectures and discussions, recommended her book, Eve’s Revenge, to friends and colleagues, and continued to savor her words about spirituality, the body, and popular media.
For the second New Breed of Advertisers interview, I’d like to introduce you to that woman, Lilian Calles Barger.
Lilian is a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina. She received her undergraduate degree in business from the University of Texas-Arlington and an MA from the University of Texas-Dallas. After a twenty-year career in business, she founded and led the Damaris Project, an initiative to provide resources for women to start meaningful conversations in their communities. She has written for numerous publications and is the author of Eve’s Revenge: Women and a Spirituality of the Body (Brazos Press, 2003), which received outstanding reviews, and Chasing Sophia: Reclaiming the Lost Wisdom of Jesus (Jossey-Bass, 2007). Lilian is a frequent speaker on the intersection of faith and contemporary cultural issues. She lives in Dallas with her husband and two sons.
NBoA: What sparked your interest in writing about women’s bodies?
Lilian: When I began to read women's history, biographies of women, and look at the media targeting women, the thing that stood out is the role, meaning, and even obsession with women's bodies. I figured anything that culturally significant had to have profound spiritual implications. No matter what women do, or how successful they are in any other area, the implications of the female body are hard to escape.
NBoA: In Eve’s Revenge, you wrote that women “are constantly bombarded by concrete and codified images of beauty that assault the senses” (44). I like your description. Are there codes in advertising’s images that you find particularly assaulting to the senses?
Lilian: When all you see is very slim, young, women with no pores, and vacant looks, you are not seeing anything close to reality. Or at least nothing that does not require constant physical monitoring to achieve. Images of the human, while not necessarily needing to capture an absolute realism, should project a fully engaged, alive, and aware human being – not a zombie.
NBoA: You started The Damaris Project in 1997 to encourage conversations about “women’s lives, culture and the teachings of Jesus.” How would you host a Damaris conversation for women who work on Madison Avenue?
Lilian: I would assume that women who work on Madison Avenue have the same concerns that women everywhere have. They may experience more intensity in some areas; but overall, most women are concerned with body image, relationships, and having a sense of wholeness while standing on their own two feet.
NBoA: In a blog post you wrote,
“Fashion is the most personal form of art, close to the body and communicating a great deal about the wearer. It’s an art form hard for any of us to completely avoid. Who would want to escape the possibility of beautiful adornment?”
Are you suggesting that the fashion industry (and therefore her bedfellow, popular advertising) can be something good for consumers?
Lilian: I am not assuming a consumer ethic. I have a great deal of problems with consumerism and what comes with it, including what has been called the "organized creation of dissatisfaction." In my post I am assuming that clothing is something human beings have been involved with since the beginning of culture. People clothed themselves even in non-consumer-oriented societies. Advertising uses art to sell products and as far as it does it is also a creative expression. However, when the fashion or advertising industries give narrow definitions of what is acceptable, and lie about the true nature of art or the value of the human person, it's a problem.
NBoA: In an earlier post on these “narrow definitions,” I quoted one female student’s lamentation: “There’s no wiggle room.” Okay, so she sees a problem and you see a problem and plenty of others do too, but women still head into these industries. There seems to be a disconnection here.
So let’s imagine there’s a 22 year old who’s fresh out of college with an advertising degree and a related job that starts next month. This past semester, however, she read Eve’s Revenge and suddenly realized how the value that God places on our bodies is often diminished and disfigured by popular advertising. Should her new job feel like a quandary or an opportunity?
Lilian: I think she really needs to think about the ethics that will guide her career. There are some careers that are harder than others to be true to values greater than the market. Particularly when you are just starting out and you don't have enough power to influence major decisions. It can be an opportunity, but I think she is going to have to make some tough choices. Is she up to that?
NBoA: Well said. I’ve heard young professionals wrestle with this dilemma of when to live out their convictions: “Now or later? When I’m at the bottom of the ladder or the top?” It doesn’t seem like it should be an issue, but then I wonder if anyone’s job is free of ethical dilemmas.
And speaking of those, Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” comes to mind because it uses ads to try to improve self-esteem. Is this a legitimate attempt? If not, are there appropriate ways to portray the body in advertising – ways that might bolster a healthy, biblical, view of the body?
Lilian: Let's consider another question. Is it okay for us to buy into the values of consumer capitalism? Advertising is the lubricant to consumer spending. Bottom line is that Dove is trying to sell you a product. They are not primarily concerned with your self-esteem. I think the idea that a consumer product company can improve our self-esteem is silly. While they can certainly aid in its destruction, I doubt that they can really improve it because whatever improvement it offers is built on buying the product. Advertising can reinforce false cultural values but I don't think it can remedy them. Why? Because ads have one overarching aim: to sell you things. On the other hand, there are companies that do have ethical values, and buying their products can be less destructive than buying others. Ethical means fair trade, fair labor, fair pricing, and fair dealings with the environment, but it also means honest advertising.
NBoA: True, but don’t certain Dove products have honest-to-goodness value for the consumer? Like their Energize Beauty Body Wash (random pick from their website), which “contains an ultra-light hydrating formula, invigorating beads and the sparkling scent of grapefruit and lemongrass to give you a boost in the morning.”
This is pretty wording and the cynic in me wants to dismiss it, but moisturized skin and a morning boost makes anyone feel a bit better – privately and publicly. Is it possible that someone at Dove (maybe not from sales, but possibly a copy-writer or graphic designer) cares about women’s health more than money?
Lilian: Lemongrass may give me a one-minute boost, but something else has to drive my morning motivation. I’m not picking on Dove. I have no idea who is on their ad project, or their intent beyond wanting to sell a product. Wanting to sell a product is okay, and telling you it smells good or that it’s a good value is fine, too. I would rather use soap that smells good versus soap that smells like lye. What they can’t do or imply is that I will be prettier, more loveable, or more motivated if I use their product. Soap can make you physically clean and therefore healthier, but it can’t really make you a more confident person. It seems rather pitiful that we look to marketers to help us feel better about ourselves. The social poverty is astounding.
NBoA: I wonder where readers are on this point about a product’s social benefits. I know it sounds vain and even contrary to my cynicism, but, personally, I derive a great deal of value from certain products. Perhaps this just discloses my own social poverty.
Last question, Lilian: To the female reader who is necklace deep in her advertising career, what encouragement would you offer?
Lilian: Evaluate your career based on your values. To what end have you sought to increase people’s desire for a product? The question of how followers of Jesus can live ethically in our economic system is not a simple matter. It's never just about making the sell or closing the deal. I suggest reading Being Consumed, by William T. Cavanaugh. It provides some good faith-based cultural analysis of our consumer culture without rejecting it all together. For those seeking to follow a spiritual path, the question of human flourishing and whether what we produce aids toward that end is a very serious question.
Lilian, thank you for contributing to this ongoing conversation. Folks in the advertising world have quite a challenge before them (as do all of us), and your final point about the end to which we work is critical if we hope to succeed at love. I’m glad for your efforts to re-orient our perspectives.
Readers, don’t hesitate to comment here. You can also connect with Lilian by reading her books and visiting her blog at www.lilianbarger.com. Learn more about the Damaris Project at www.damarisproject.org.
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