A link between religion and consumerism?

Here’s a story up my alley. I’m reading a book right now called Can’t Buy my Love: How advertising changes the way we think and feel. Jean Kilbourne wrote it more than a decade ago so it’s not completely up to date but it’s likely that trends she noted then will only have gotten worse now.

I don’t watch a lot of television so I rarely see commercials. What I tend to do is wait until the library gets something and then borrow it. People like me are the reason imbedded advertising has gotten to the point it’s at. I was watching Bones Season 6 this past week and it was hard not to notice who paid for the privilege to have their cars in the show. Three different episodes praised three technical wonders available in vehicles these days: cameras in an SUV that help you parallel park, GPS devices that react to voice instead of touch activation, and a driver attention system (in a Prius, I recall) that alerts everyone if the car drifts over the double line. All impressive, and all added into the conversations between characters. In two cases, the writers did an okay job of making the tech part of the program (not getting lost, and erratic driving catching the eyes of police) but in the third it was clearly slapped in to sell the SUV’s safety rating, not so Daisy and Angela could bond.

Long digression, sorry. The article is out of New Zealand and research done at the Universities of Canterbury and Bath to track the buying habits of Christians. Results seemed to indicate that Christians didn’t want to buy products advertised in showy or materialistic ways but would buy based on the perceived quality of the product.

As part of the study more than 400 people from Britain were surveyed about advertising for a luxury watch. Half of the survey group identified themselves as being religious and believed materialism was wrong.

“We found that expensive luxury watches that were advertised as being showy or an item of envy were frowned upon by religious consumers,” Dr Veer said.

While non-religious consumers had no preference, religious consumers were 25 per cent more likely to purchase the watch if they saw the advertisement which did not portray it as a materialistic item.

“It’s a really interesting case of being torn between the consumer driven world that encourages material wealth and one’s religious beliefs,” he said.

The results helped explain how many Christians can accumulate and store materialistic items despite the Biblical teachings against it.

The last line of the article is what reminded me of the book I’m reading:

The research could benefit advertisers seeking to target these groups.

Here’s the thing. The ad agencies that get hired to promote companies know a lot of tricks already so they’re probably very aware of what works to lure Christians into spending money. I expect this study was completely unnecessary and uncovered nothing advertisers didn’t know already.

I’m not very far into the book I mentioned above but Kilbourne provides a lot of examples from a publication called Advertising Age in which companies place ads to sell their products to advertisers. It gets pretty sinister sounding as she piles up evidence that the marketing of products is all about manipulating the desired audience. (I see that the Ad Age website has a whole section devoted to Hispanic marketing.)

From page 48:

“Black people drink too much,” says an ad for the Black Newspaper Network. “Too much, that is,” the copy continues, “for you to ignore.” “Diario Las Américas readers Pour It On,” echoes an ad in Advertising Age for a Spanish-language newspaper sold in Florida. The truth is that African-Americans and Latinos don’t drink nearly as much as Caucasians, but they represent desirable new territory to the alcohol industry. And so the African-American and Latino media hand them over.

Perhaps this wouldn’t matter very much if it didn’t affect the content of the media. But it does. “Uncork the black market,” says an ad for Ebony magazine in Advertising Age, which promises alcohol advertisers that “nothing sells black consumers better.” A few years later Ebony did a story on the ten most serious health problems affecting blacks–but did not include the fact that alcohol is related to nine out of the ten health problems. There were eleven alcohol ads in this same issue of Ebony.

Kilburne mentions similar set-ups in ladies magazines, alerting readers to bizarre health dangers (beware of burning toasters!) on one page but advertising cigarettes on others, never once mentioning in the articles how bad cigarettes are for people. Can’t offend the ones who buy ad space, after all. A loss of revenue like that would cripple them, if not kill them completely.

I’m up to page 64 where she quotes media scholar Mark Crispin Miller. He suggests that people these days tend to have less tolerance toward things that are depressing. “I think ultimately it has to do with advertising, with a vision of life as a shopping trip.” This statement reminded me of something worth verifying. It turns out that while George W. Bush didn’t exactly tell Americans to “go shopping” after 9/11, he did encourage people to fly to tourist destinations like Disney World and have fun. I’m sure more than a few people did just that and built a fantasy that all was right with the world, yet spent like there was no tomorrow.

It’s truly a pipe dream to think we can’t be bought, manipulated or intimidated by the media and our saturated surroundings. Maybe we can trick ourselves into thinking we’re unaffected by advertising but maybe the bigger trick was done by the advertisers themselves. Like the old adage about the smartest thing the devil ever did, he let people think he didn’t exist.

About 1minionsopinion

Canadian Atheist Basically ordinary Library employee Avid book lover Ditto for movies Wanna-be writer Procrastinator
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