Ad folk, help the suffering rich

"According to a study from Information Resources, Inc., the lagging economy is driving a dramatic move back to basics and a reversal of decades-long trends for convenient and healthier foods. Roughly half of all consumers with incomes less than $55,000 per year say they have trouble affording the groceries they need, while nearly a quarter of those earning between $55,000 and $99,000 also say so. Among those with incomes over $100,000, 16% report having trouble."

Center for Media Research and the IRI Economic Trend Database/AttitudeLink, May 2008

Help me to understand this. I work for a non-profit, and with the monthly donations that support my work I barely exceed the poverty level for a family of four in the U.S. I also do the grocery shopping, which means I know exactly what we eat and how much it costs.

We don't live on boxed and canned goods. And though I don't always make it to the organic section, we buy fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy cereals, dark chocolate and good teas. I buy real vanilla extract and maple syrup, too, because I don't like artificial anything (I posted about "faux" several times in April. See this one for starters.)

Certainly I worry about losing financial supporters when the economy wavers like it is, and if that did happen I would change some of my shopping habits. But 16% of people making more than $100,000 per year "have trouble affording the groceries they need"?! Are you serious?

When I talk about my own situation, I'm not pulling the poor card. We have a nice car and put our girls in dance. We take vacations and have money in savings. So I just can't wrap my head around thinking that these folks are having trouble.

Questions to consider:
1. How has the culture-saturating presence of advertising facilitated some of this distortion?

2. As an advertiser, how might your work improve the way people view need and want? If your boss gave you the audacious goal of decreasing this statistic from 16% to 10%, how would you do it through advertising?


15 Below for the least of these

"Then the King will say to the advertising agency on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For...I needed clothes and you clothed me..." (Minor paraphrase of Matthew 25:34, 36).

OK, so I don't know how many advertising agencies would be ushered in with the sheep at this point, but hope abounds in me, and for those of you Kingdom-minded, Jesus-serving agents in this industry, opportunities abound, too!

For starters, check out this very cool coat project from Taxi, Toronto. The poster itself won a Design Silver at Cannes Lions 2008:

"EMERGENCY BLANKET: An oversized (40" x 60") poster, printed on newsprint, is sent out to homeless shelters with each 15 Below coat. As the poster unfolds, one side shows how the coat works with simple illustrations and instructions printed in multiple languages. The other side of the poster features a large image of a blanket. The idea is to tear the poster into strips and stuff it into the multiple pockets of the 15 Below jacket to act as insulation. Stuffed with newspaper, this jacket will insulate the body, helping to ensure survival through the night. In this sense, the medium is more than the message. For someone living on the street, it could be a lifeline."

See a great close-up version of the poster here.

More importantly, visit the official 15 Below Project site here, and click on The Test to see what this coat can do.

As a wilderness guy who understands the value of insulation in cold temperatures and protection from driving rain, I'm excited about this caring, simple, creative project for the homeless. And I believe there are plenty more projects like it, just waiting for someone like you to think them up.


Muncha-buncha, where'd I get my lunch?

In the late 70s/early 80s, Fritos Corn Chips had a TV jingle that went, "Muncha buncha, muncha buncha, muncha buncha, muncha buncha, Fritos goes with lunch."

I remember it clearly. But I don't ever remember wondering where my Fritos came from. Or where the individual ingredients came from. Or the bag. Or the glue to seal the bag, the ink to print it, the air to fill it.... As a kid, I guess I thought Fritos just were. The concepts of ingredients and origin and buying locally were entirely unknown to me.

I'm growing up, however, and simultaneously growing in awareness. Two items are responsible for this awareness:
1) I'm on the slow climb toward 40 and recognize the implications of food on my heart and overall health, and
2) At some point in the last ten years, I learned about the very clear mandate in the Bible to cultivate the earth and take care of it (Genesis 2:15).

Now, I'm not a primary caretaker or steward of Fritos because I don't work there and I don't farm their corn. But I do have a responsibility to care about how Ingredients are used in the world, and my interest in advertising leads to a few comments about this magazine ad.

First, I like the concept. Whether you like Fritos, Cheetos or Tostitos (or none of these), the company behind these products is striving to decrease its environmental footprint, and that's commendable. Second, I like the ad. It's quite simple and it could work without any of the copy.

My only critique is that it lets me off the responsibility hook a bit. With the message about being "locally" grown (within the U.S., at least) and the suggestion that Fritos Corn Chips basically come straight from the field, I'm tempted to say, "Oh good, Frito Lay is taking care of their part of the world. They're being responsible for consumers' health and the economy and the environment, at least as far as corn chips are concerned. I don't have to worry about Frito Lay's stewardship or lack thereof."

But certainly there's more to the process of making chips, and of packaging and branding and marketing chips, and of shipping chips to every corner of the U.S. These realities raise a few questions:

1. This ad message may be quite a sell for the environmentally concerned consumer/caretaker, but what issues might other consumers/caretakers need to address?

2. Is there a point at which a consumer/caretaker can say, "I just don't have the capacity to research any more. I'll just trust that Frito Lay [insert any brand here] is in line with my convictions"?

3. If a brand satisfies at least one big criterion for you (e.g. "locally grown"), is it OK to compromise on other points?


Sex from a box

"The spicy kick of her Cracked Pepper & Olive Oil Triscuit crackers bristled on her tongue. Senses aroused by this new treat, her thoughts of Diego quickly faded. Tracy gazed at the box. She'd found flavor where she least expected it.... A tasty romance awaits."

My first inclination is to criticize these two print ads, primarily because they mingle mass-packaged supermarket snacks with relational intimacy. In fact, they do more than mingle the two: they switch the values. "You know how thrilling romance can be, right? Well, that's nothing."

But the switch is so obvious and so exaggerated that I am partially disarmed of my criticism. Food cravings sometimes lead to outlandish comments, not because we would forever exchange sex for Shredded Wheat, or the deep thrills of a romantic encounter for seasoned crackers, but because the right food, in the right moment, begs for more than an unembellished description.

Questions to ponder:
1. If you were to create a personalized version of one of these ads, what would you be eating and what inherently valuable idea would be down-played?

2. Does the medium change the message? In other words, does this type of exaggeration in a magazine advertisement differ from the same message in a poem about food?

3. As a U.S. citizen, I already have enough trouble governing my quest for pleasure, especially when so much is available to me. Do these ads (and the many like them) create potential dangers for consumers? If so, what are these dangers?


Heroes and _______

The insightful and honest spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen, was forever tormented by the desire for popular acceptance and acclaim. He even fantasized about how to "preach the gospel in such a way that people are made to believe that nobody had thought of that before" (Genesee Diary, 65).

Nouwen is one of my favorites because he helps me to see my insecurities. He once felt the weight of his own so much that he spent seven months in a Trappist monastery in an attempt to escape from his fame-lust; to find "a quiet stream underneath the fluctuating affirmations and rejections of [his] little world" (Genesee Diary, 14). While in the monastery, he worked on their assembly line which produced 15,000 loaves of raisin bread ("Monk's Bread") each week. Consider this journal entry about an observation he made:

"Theodore found a little piece of metal between the thousands of raisins he pushed through the raisin washing machine. He showed it to me. It looked as sharp as a razor blade. Well, someone eating his raisin bread is saved from a bleeding stomach, thanks to Theodore, who will never hear a grateful word for it. That is the drawback of preventative medicine" (Genesee Diary, 112).

For someone like Nouwen, not hearing a grateful word is a drawback. This little disappointment of his seems ridiculous in light of the great save made by Theodore, and I must ask, How could someone be so callously self-centered? Yet doing the right thing was far less valuable or attractive to Nouwen than doing the right thing and being applauded for it.

I think this same temptation applies to many of us regardless of where we work. For example, perhaps you dream of fixing a problem in the advertising world through heroic and supra-creative efforts as a copy-writer or photographer. Obviously we need visionaries who are willing to go against the flow like this, but do your dreams of accolades and promotions and awards over-shadow the importance of the work itself?

Nouwen interpreted the raisin incident as someone with a messianic complex. He struggled with Theodore's small act going unnoticed just as you and I often experience tension when a superhero's identity is unknown. We want to believe that Spider-Man is altruistic and needs no recognition, but we also love the moments when the average Mary Jane is about to see who's behind all of these good deeds.

Theodore, on the other hand, didn't long to be recognized in this way. He found more value in making good bread than in heroically avoiding dangerous bread.

Here are two points, as I see them.

1. Both heroism and prevention are necessary. We need heroes who fix as well as sharp-eyed servants who prevent. The challenge is for us to recognize the importance of both, and that neither should be done for self-centered reasons.

2. There are many problems in popular advertising that call for gutsy, ingenious heroes to address. But there are also many good elements that require someone to run faithfully, year after year. These folks may need to extract the occasional metal shard but their main focus is not on repair but on the continual production of beneficial goods and services.


Shoemakers in Corinth

"The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship."

- Quote widely attributed to Martin Luther

This doesn't mean that craftsmanship is the trump card for faithfulness at work. Surely there are exquisitely-made gambling tables and remarkable displays of artisanship in elite strip club furniture, but these are - in my opinion - misdirected uses of talent. Craftsmanship must be discerningly applied.

Of course, placing crosses on crappy shoes may be worse than applying craftsmanship to crappy ends, so maybe Luther is right in implying that we ought to start by making good shoes. That way, the little crosses (if we decide to put them on) are not cheap stamps of religious affiliation, but rather justification to customers for our excellence, and personal indicators that we would sell each shoe to God himself.

"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."

- From Paul to the church in Corinth, a city not unlike some of our own today


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