Black Friday therapy

Surplus is an odd word, especially since most of the world endures inadequate conditions. But our stores are jammed with toys and clothing and cars and food. As far as we know, it's like that everywhere. I walked into a neighborhood market that had very few items on its shelves. I asked the clerk if they were closing down, and she said, "No. Why?" Living in a "stocked" environment has serious effects on our awareness of others. The ways in which we pursue material goods, perceive available natural resources, and relate to the larger community are clear indicators that our awareness is low.

"It's not more than you need. Just more than you're used to," says a GM truck ad. Give it time. We'll get used to it.

Material goods have a way of requiring great amounts of attention and they easily distract us from others. We feel the need to protect what we've acquired, to polish what is expensive, and to store what may lose value if left out in the weather. To paraphrase King Solomon: "The abundance of the rich permits no sleep" (Ecclesiastes 5:12b).

I don't believe that Jesus commands us to renounce all possessions. Yet, when possessions act as an immediate substitute for what can come only through faith and patience, our experience of God's immanence is blocked, and we lose our sense of place in the created order. The pursuit of self-serving riches is incompatible with God's will, and it steals time that would be better invested in others. As a result, our indulgence leads to neglect.

-- Excerpt from On Earth as It is in Advertising? Moving from Commercial Hype to Gospel Hope

True confession: I was out last night. Black Friday eve. First time ever and amazed. At midnight, Target had at least a thousand people wrapped around the outside of the building, standing two by twos. Kohls had every parking space taken and cars lined in the far grass, like at the county fairgrounds. I saw the local news van and imagined saying, "I wrote a book about advertising and what's wrong with consumerism. I'm such a hypocrite." I left the crowds without the one item I wanted, but only because I was too tired to push through. Maybe I need to read my own handwriting.

What did you do on Black Friday? Answer in the sidebar poll.


My Own Manbag line!

Satire just in time for Black Friday, compliments of creative friends at The High Calling.


Klothing Klout

"You and I can both be browsing the same site but would see different pricing and selection based on our current rank. For example, you might have a closet full of Levi's while I have none. When we both browse Levi's the price on your screen would be $72 while I'd see $78 for the same pair." 
          - RNKD start-up guy and Zappos co-founder, Nick Shwinmurn.

The idea is that I take pictures of my clothes, tag them by brand and then post them at RNKD. The more of a particular brand I post, the more likely I am to get deals on that brand, like a few dollars off a new pair, or a gift card. Klothing Klout, if you will.

(Nick, can I get clothes free for having a particular item for, say, 15 years, like my United Way Day of Caring T-shirt - now used exclusively for mowing with its am-I-even-wearing-a-shirt feel? This guy did. My Fruit of the Loom treasure dates "May 6, 1996" in faded red on the front. Got to be worth something to their PR department.)

If RNKD can't help me beat consignment and Sally's prices, $72 vs $78 won't make much of a difference for a frugal (and rare) shopper like me.


Read the original article here


John Lewis: The Long Wait

In just three days, Adam & Eve's "The Long Wait" had racked up well over a half-million Youtube views. Not bad for a TV advertisement. You'd assume that it was either a freakishly good homemade project recorded and passed along in admiration of a prodigy's A/V talent, or else a heart-string grabber capable of making the average human being tear up. It's the latter, of course. (Being surprised by the True, Good and Beautiful has a way of doing this to me.)

As it goes, "The Long Wait" is simply another in a myriad of consumer-driven, emotion-catching, way-too-early Christmas commercials, this time for the British equivalent of JC Penney, London-based John Lewis. That doesn't seem to matter once the commercial makes its point. It's a well-told story. Little touches like a bouncing knee make it real. And it's honest in the way that you want the protagonist to be your own kid.

Shopping doesn't make good children. Plenty of living rooms will attest to this as they host the worst in our progeny on Christmas morning. But the Good, demonstrated here, reminds me once again that Advent prepares us to hope for the Christ, and for a world that acts like him. Enjoy "The Long Wait."

(Trouble viewing it? Watch it here.)


Zits are at least 51 years old!

"I am so relieved to find a good acne product before school started!"

Olive said that just two months ago in an online consumer product review. I don't remember using acne products often in my school years, though when I did it was because all of the little zits that dotted my friends' faces would join together on my own as a singular grand finale; a geographically altering explosion of embarrassment.

So Olive needs some relief today and I needed it in the 80s, but this newspaper clipping for Sea Breeze answered kids' prayers in 1960. I found the advertisement in a newspaper we dug out of our chimney.

In full, it reads:

"Amazing SEA BREEZE, new brand of antiseptic skin lotion. It works wonders for complexion in just 7 days! SEA BREEZE wipes away the excess oils that cause ____ blackheads, whiteheads and pimples. It helps prevent ____ and conditions pores. SEA BREEZE kills germs instantly - _____ soothes your skin - never dries it, as so many antiseptics do. Amazing results are guaranteed - money back from SEA BREEZE if not completely satisfied at the improvement after just 7 days! Get SEA BREEZE today! Big 4 1/4 oz. bottle - just 69¢ - at any drugstore." 


According to W, Sea Breeze started as "a cosmetic skin care brand originally launched in 1906. The Original formula was initially sold as an antiseptic for minor cuts and scratches."


Wiggle room

In her book, Eve's Revenge: Women and a Spirituality of the Body, Lillian Calles Barger writes:

"Throughout great classic works of literature the beautiful woman inspires, but this beauty remains largely undefined. It has no particularity. Its content is not fixed, and its attributes are of a transcendent quality. In the Iliad, Helen of Troy is never described except as beautiful. There is no image of her except what our imagination brings to the text. In William Wordsworth's poem 'She Was a Phantom of Delight' the beloved is described as 'a moment's ornament, / Her eyes as stars of Twilight fair; / Like Twilight's, too, her dusky hair.' Likewise in the biblical Song of Songs the beloved is described through metaphors: 'Behold, you are fair! You have dove's eyes' (Songs 1:15)."

What our imagination brings to the text. I like that. But Barger then asks: "What happens when what it means to be 'the beloved' is no longer articulated with words but communicated by explicit images?"

I spoke with a group of college students about the effects of advertising on body image. In our discussion on the way beauty is defined, one woman said, "There's no wiggle room."

The print ad above for Olay affirms her comment. It highlights Barger's word "explicit," as in: spelled out, given definitive parameters, narrowly prescribed.

Nothing short of a miracle could transform the beauty industry into a comprehensive reflection of the Kingdom of God, but is it possible, in the meantime, to add some wiggle room? How would you do it as an advertiser, or a graphic designer, or a photographer, or a parent?


This post was first published in early 2008 when I was my only reader. Because it's still valid and because I care about voices who cover these important advertising topics, I'm bringing it back for your consideration.


Check for $97

I've had an ongoing fight with an advertising book since October of 2005. I once believed in it, supported it and loved it. Others did too. And then someone with another opinion took over and after one brief paragraph the fight began.

" startling features to distinguish it...." All punches to my fragile pride.  

Tony Campolo had said it was "a must read for anyone who is trying to critique our culture and stand against its debilitating effects." Ron Sider called it "an important, urgent, penetrating analysis of how today's pervasive materialism seduces us and how biblical faith liberates us." The president emeritus of Bread for the World said that it was stellar.

I loved this praise. I had worked hard, cared deeply and had a grand vision of pulling materialistic America out of its blind consumption, and I wasn't alone. Jean Kilbourne, famed for her relentless and articulate beef with Madison Avenue since the 70s, stood behind me. She said I had done "a masterful job of demonstrating how the 'simulated gospel' of advertising perverts and distorts Jesus's message of love and compassion."

But insecurity confuses all of this. It doubts. It entertains unprovable possibilities. She was just being nice. He was paid to do it. He didn't really read it - just liked the title and first few pages and gambled on it being good. I've thought a hundred variations like these, all reminders that the only opinion I really believed was the one that started the fight. These were its offspring. 

One year after its release, On Earth as It is in Advertising? Moving from Commercial Hype to Gospel Hope went out of print. I tried to forget about the whole thing until, several years later, Wipf & Stock Publishers asked if they could bring it back on a need to print basis. I didn't really care. Sure, I said. I disliked the new cover (I care enough about advertising to think it should be done well). They promised a dollar per copy and I signed. And then I forgot about it again.    

This morning I received a surprise check in the mail. Without telling my youngest daughter what it was for, I asked her to guess how much it might be worth. She said $5. I guessed $4.

It was $97. I'm not sure what to think about having sold 97 more copies of something collecting dust on the shelf and in my mind, but I smiled. Then not two minutes later I imagined a benefactor had set me up just like Pip in Great Expectations; someone nice and in the mood to send me a hug. Another doubt.  

This post may amount to being the worst book promotion ever, but I set out to write about a fight I continue having with myself, almost four decades old, book or no book. I'm haunted by fear and the criticism that lurks about.

Don't buy a copy because you feel bad for me. I've moved on in other ways. But if you want to read a simplistic, overstated, nothing new book that is simultaneously a masterfully demonstrated, important, urgent, penetrating analysis (See what goes on in mind?), you can find reviews and sources for the original here, or buy it direct from Wipf & Stock.

Better yet, call or email my favorite local bookstore, Hearts and Minds Books.


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