A fact that we cannot deny is the consumerist nature of the society in which we live. The monstrous amount of advertising that surrounds our daily lives stands itself as testimony to this.
A common notion is that all bands of society are being pitched an 'image' and marketed things that stack up to this; but whether the advertising is appealing to this supposed desired 'image' of society, personal comfort, convenience, appetite, boredom, or our hunger for the vast array of psychological experiences a purchase could potentially provide us; the bottom line is that we are all the meat in the sandwich of consumerism no matter our income, age or education.
Advertising is considered to be the art of making an item appealing to a particular audience in order to sell it to them. Burgers, jeans, computers and soft drinks are all advertised in a way that is appealing to the target group. We can't lie, we have all experienced this appeal. Just think, what was the last thing you desired to have? Maybe the latest MacBook, this seasons colour of linen or a fancy new watch?
Taking this further, most of us could vouch for a time that we have desired to have an item that in fact we don't really want or even need. There is no arguing that soft drink is bad for us; so, why is it then that we find ourselves thinking about a bottle of coloured water and sugar with bubbles when we fill up with petrol on a hot day?
Advertising is sly, it gets under our skin without us even noticing. But how does a want for something we don't need, occur? My friends, let me introduce you to positive association.
Pavlov and his experiment
Ever heard of the Pavlov's Dog Experiment? If not, let me give you a quick low-down. There was a scientist that discovered his dog had the automatic physiological response of salivation when it was presented with food. Each day that he brought food to the dog he walked through a door that when opened, jingled a bell; much like that in a small town store. What resulted was that each time the bell rang the dog associated this with his food and of course, began to salivate. What was fascinating was that over time he would salivate at the sound of the bell even in the absence of food. This paradigm became known as positive association.
The principle uncovered by Pavlov's Dog Experiment is used in marketing today. Images that evoke positive emotions, feelings, memories or physiological responses within us are paired with items that are being advertised so that they form a positive association within the target audience. This means that over time and exposure to such advertising, when we see these items separate of their associated image we too have a response like the dog as the associated responses flood forth.
In this light, consider technology magazines with beautiful women in bikini's or tight formal dresses on the front cover. Since when did bikinis and tight black dresses have anything to do with technology? Evidently they don't have anything to do with the new smart phone or computer programming, rather, they are used to create a response within the target audience.
Those behind the marketing of the magazine are smart and knowing that their consumer market is predominantly men place these images on the front covers so that the feelings one experiences when they see an attractive woman become associated with the magazine or the technology promoted within the magazine. Interestingly, forth coming from the feelings now associated with the magazine comes the birth of a desire to obtain the magazine and so the likelihood of purchase increases. The same placement of attractive women is often seen in advertisements for cars.
Smart, if you want to make more sales. And while advertising and our consumer behaviours are not as simple as this; such understanding uncovers a drive behind consumerism many of us may never have stopped to question.
Breeding Greed. The battle over our desires
So, why all this talk about advertising? I think the question should rather be, what is this ever-present and never-ending stream of advertising creating in our society? Greed, otherwise known as selfish desires (www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/greed).
At the crux of consumerism I believe we find ourselves in a play on our desires. Advertising pitches itself to us in a way that seems desirable through methods such as positive association, drawing us in like a puppet on a string to partake in this play where we adopt the role of the customer, only to find later that it was a lot of smoke and mirrors.
Have you ever questioned why something can seem so desirable and you esteem to gain it for your own personal possession only to find that it is not all it was cracked up to be? And from there we more often than not find ourselves straight back on the same road esteeming for something seemingly 'greater' or 'better' when this first thing that we sought after is in our possession?
What do you desire?
Unfortunately this battle for our desires is as strong as ever, particularly in this difficult financial climate. Everyday we are swarmed by marketing that is targeted to breed selfish desires within us. It programs responses in us and activates our desires leaving us in want for something. While purchasing things is not bad in itself, it is bad if we are purchasing to find fulfilment or satisfaction. God is the only one who can truly satisfy.
My prayer is that God would open the eyes of our hearts and that our individual wants and desires would increasingly become more and more centred on him and less consumed by the materialism of the world. That we would see through the smoke and mirrors of marketing and buy the things we need but let Jesus be our source of fulfilment and satisfaction.
Matthew 6:19-20 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal."
Psalm 107:9 "…for He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things."
Charlotte (Charley) works in youth ministry and drug education development and is studying a Bachelor of Theology at a bible college in Melbourne. Charley enjoys writing children's stories, playing guitar and dreaming the impossible.
Charley Goiris' previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/charley-goiris.html