Sunday, May 11, 2008


Here's my rant. It's not about marketing. It's not even about advertising. It's about the "consumer" - the innocent rube who's being "tricked" and "conned" into spending their money on things they don't really need.

I can't say it nearly as well as one of my favorite authors, Madeleine L'Engle:
"In the world of the theater, we touched on reality itself, and were shocked as the world around us seemed to reach out for the unreal. Planned obsolescence was just coming in, objects made with less than excellence, built to destroy themselves or wear out. Plastics and synthetics were just becoming available to the public. The word synthetics is enough: unreal.
Today we live in a society that seems to be less and less concerned with reality. We drink instant coffee and reconstituted orange juice. We buy our vegetables on cardboard trays covered with plastic. But perhaps the most dehumanizing thing of all is that we have allowed the media to call us consumers - ugly. No! I don't want to be a consumer. Anger consumes. Forest fires consume. Cancer consumes."

When we allow ourselves to be labeled as consumers - beings who take and take and use up, and take some more, whether we need it or not, be open ourselves wide to the negative influence of advertising. We become easy prey for scammers. The American Psychological Association estimates that children today see an average of 40,000 commercials per year. 40,000 commercials aimed at turning our children into mindless consumers who try to find happiness through credit cards. It’s the American Dream! But listen to this little bit of information from US News and World Report. “For Americans with household incomes under $25,000, it would take $54,000 a year to fulfill the American Dream. Those who make $100,000 plus crave an average of $192,000. In other words, the American Dream usually lies nearly twice the distance away.” It's what the whole "predatory lending" scandal is about - people who are so convinced that they need more and more and more that they willingly participate in lying about their means to pay back a loan.

Simplicity is living with what you need, and learning contentment. Consumerism is striving to always have more than what you have now. John D. Rockefeller was once the richest man on earth, with a net worth approximating $200 billion dollars. And yet when asked “How much money does it take to make a man happy?” Mr. Rockefeller replied, “Just a little bit more.”

Do I live in simplicity and contentment? No freakin' way. There is so much extra STUFF in this house that we definitely could do without. However, one of the lessons we are TRYING to install in our kids is that commercials are designed to manipulate your thinking. Or, in kid terms, to trick you. We point out how they are designed, what the goal of the advertisers might be, and how to control your thinking so that you are not blindly influenced by the ad. Scooby's got it. Tarzan's starting to understand. Cinderella...not so much. But one of the hidden blessings of being financially where we are is that it's easier to not give in to our children's demands and desires. We aim for simplicity. We recognize the value of contentment.

And we don't send money to Nigeria.

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