If You Buy It, They Will Come

It’s very easy these days to find laments about consumerism in books, blog posts, and sermons. American culture is saturated with the materialistic mentality which is rooted in a perceived need to acquire more stuff, and there are plenty of voices which are sounding the alarm. In fact, the anti-materialism message has been preached for much longer than I have been alive. Often, if comes from seasoned folks who have acquired wealth and things, and realize how those things do not satisfy.

With each new generation, the old guard recognizes that what they strived for their entire lives is not providing them with the kind of fulfillment they had hoped for, but the numerous attempts to communicate this message to youngsters are rarely successful.  Till now, I have avoided commenting on this topic for two reasons:

1. Americans are too far gone. We might convince a few here and there, but the general population is beyond hope in this area. “I need to buy X to be happy” is so much a part of our mindset that you’d find it easier to separate the Kool-Aid powder from the water it’s mixed in than to remove materialism from the minds of most people in 21st-Century America. It’s a lost cause.

2.We are bombarded with messages — hundreds, maybe thousands, of times a day. They will not be drowned out by the likes of me.

But then I watched this video clip and saw something I never noticed before (note that the audio is off by several seconds):

This perceived for more has shown another side. While we already know that “stuff” promises satisfaction which it will never deliver, we now see another line of reasoning that advertisers are using on the public: “If you buy X, you will look good to others”.

Our culture’s unhealthy fascination with the acquisition of X is rooted, not in the desire for the things themselves, but in impressing others. I know this from personal experience, as I have bought new “toys” and thought to myself how inevitable it would be that this new electronic gadget would make friends like me more. It’s a shameful thing to admit, and I don’t like saying it, but those thoughts have crossed my mind. And I’m sure I’m not alone.

Assuming I’m not, then, what do we do? Is this mindset new? Did the Israelites of 3000 years ago, or even the Ingalls family of the 1870’s, care so much about looking good to others that they allowed this desire to dictate which purchases they made? One assumes not, but either way, it is a symptom of a larger problem which is as old as Adam and Eve: the desire to be accepted by others. While this desire is understandable and can be good, it often manifests itself in various ways, it is prone to end up with terrible results. The day that we as a culture can be free from having to look good to others is the day we become free indeed.

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Do They Really Think That Will Work?

Wendy's Sea Salt

I was watching a football game on TV a few weeks ago, and noticed a new Wendy’s commercial. The basic message is that Wendy’s now uses sea salt on their french fries; the implication is that because it’s more natural, it’s healthy.

It strikes me as an odd message. The reality is that the fries probably aren’t much healthier than they were with whatever other kind of salt was on there. Fries are still potatoes which are soaking in cooking oil (which is 100% fat)  as they cook, correct?  How does the presence of sea salt change that reality?  Presenting these fries as a new, healthful choice is akin to marketing “Schindler’s List” as a comedy.

What strikes me the most, though, is that somewhere at Wendy’s HQ, a person whose job is to know advertising and marketing came up with this idea, in hopes that it will increase sales. Here’s why it won’t:  The barrage of publicity that fast food has received over the past several years has been quite extensive. Everyone knows that french fries are not healthy. Everyone. Yet fast food is still doing quite well as an industry. That leaves us with the indisputable truth that there are two kinds of people in this nation: those who care about their health enough to avoid fast food, and those who like the taste of the stuff more than they care about their health. Since everyone knows the ramifications of eating fries, the fact that so many still purchase them is an indication that they are exercising their right to simply not care.

So if there are two kinds of people: those who care enough about their health to avoid fast food, and those who aren’t bothered enough by it to change their eating habits. Of the former group, nobody is going to be convinced by the new campaign to start buying Wendy’s fries. And the latter group is already buying them. This will result in a net gain of zero increased sales of french fries.

I am no marketing expert, but I’m fairly sure that the purpose of any marketing campaign is to increase sales. I’ve seen dumber marketing efforts, but I’m having a little trouble recalling anything as pointless as this one.