Anywhere the Eye Can See
Have you noticed the ever-increasing arm of advertising in our lives? According to a New York Times article, supermarket eggs have begun to be stamped by CBS television shows, turnstiles in subways are blanketed with Geico ads, and Chinese food cartons are emblazoned with ads from Continental Airways. Eve the trays we place our personal belongings in at the airport are sporting Rolodexes.
According to the research firm Yankelovich, a person “living in a city 30 years ago saw up to 2,000 ad messages a day, compared with up to 5,000 today. About half the 4,110 people surveyed by Yankelovich said they thought marketing and advertising today was out of control.”
Stuart Strachan Jr, Source: New York Times: “Anywhere the Eye Can See, It’’s likely to see an Ad.
The Forces Behind Modern-Day Advertising
Advertising as we now know it started not on Madison Avenue but in another city: Berlin. With another group of power brokers: the Nazis. They took the ideas of an Austrian psychotherapist named Freud, then unknown in America, and used them to manipulate the masses. Freud was one of the first modern thinkers to point out that human beings aren’t nearly as rational or autonomous as we like to think.
We constantly make irrational decisions based on what he called our “unconscious drives” (similar to what the New Testament calls “the flesh”). We are far more emotionally tricked and desire driven than we care to admit.
The Nazis picked up Freud’s ideas (which was ironic, seeing as he was Jewish) and used them to shape their propaganda machine. They appealed not to reason but to Germany’s “unconscious drives.”
Hitler was a master of fanning the two most basic human emotions: I want, and I fear. After the war, it was actually Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, who first used Freud’s ideas in America. An intelligence officer during the war, he found himself in need of a job. His theory was that if the Nazis could manipulate people in wartime, then surely business owners and politicians could manipulate people in peacetime. He called his new idea “public relations” and became the so-called “father of American advertising.” Never heard of him? Most haven’t.
He predicted as much in his book Propaganda:
The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.
We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of…. In almost every act of our daily lives…we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who pull the wires which control the public mind.
How Stories are Being Used by Companies to Shape Character
The final step of the ladder of Enchantment is creating or adding to a story that will enchant the user. Why a story? We all think of our lives as stories, each with a main character (us) theme, and plot (interesting so far, but as yet unfinished). We also love to hear stories about others and even about things. Stories hook into our curiosity-what happens next?-and into our emotions:
What would I do in that situation? Stories have the unique power to engage and, if they engage enough, to trigger empathy, enchant. Designers, having tapped the potential of personalizing, socializing, and gamifying, can work to embed a drama in our heads. They can involve us in a story so the narrative gains a purchase on both our minds and [our hearts]. It becomes part of our heritage, our folklore, our mythology. We can feel as if we are part of the action, even a central character in the tale.
Ritual and Repetition
The influence of the familiar on our lives is something that advertisers never forget. The point of advertising is to capitalize on real needs or to create needs and then to provide a product to fill that need. This symbiotic relationship between the perception of need and the perception that that need is filled by purchasing a particular product does not happen by chance. Advertisers work hard at finding out why we spend our money the way we do.
The seemingly endless repetition of the same commercials is designed not simply to present a product for our consideration. Rather, they are attempting to do nothing less than create a world in which their product holds an important, if not central, place. I am certain that most conservative Christians in America would have an easier time recalling ten commercial jingles by heart, perhaps ones they have not heard for twenty or thirty years, than ten psalms (or five, or three, or one).
Repetition and familiarity work. What is repeated becomes familiar, and this becomes a part of us. Our own culture understands this, but alas, not always the church. Far too many equate ritual with spiritual dryness.28 True, ritual and liturgy can be dead—even using the terms can raise hackles—but only when the significance and power of those rituals are forgotten.
Have you ever noticed that we often see ourselves, specifically our bodies, our facial features differently? In 2013 the soap company Dove decided to explore this phenomenon by hiring an FBI-trained forensic artist to draw sketches of women. The artist was tasked with doing two sketches: one based on how the woman described herself, and the second based on how complete strangers described the women.
The results were shocking. The sketches done based on the description of the strangers were always more beautiful than the ones described by the women themselves. The point of the ad was rather obvious: most woman do not appreciate their own beauty, nor can they accurately describe how they look. The goal of the ad was to help woman see their own beauty and to foster a greater appreciation for their own beauty.
Stuart Strachan Jr.
What They Know
Now today, with increased opportunity for personal-data collection via technology, target marketing has allowed sellers to become even more effective.
No longer do they know just our age, gender, and marital status. Today, corporations know our net worth, our personal preferences, our shopping habits, and our favorite books and movies. They know where we spend, when we spend, and how we spend. They have recorded every piece of data that could possibly be collected from our smartphones or our Internet browsers’ history. And they use it every day to exploit our weaknesses.
24 Honest Brand Slogans By Cliff Dickens
Ikea: We throw in extra parts just to mess with you.
Lays: Flavored Air
Maybelline: Maybe it’s Photoshop
Wikipedia: You’re Welcome, College Students
Perrier: Rich People Water
Bic: You Probably Didn’t buy it.
Candy Crush: The Game Version of Pure Cocaine
Urban Outfitters: Pay Money to Look Homeless
Lego: The Bane of Your Foot’s Existence
Starbucks: We’ll Serve You Decaf if you’re Rude
Gillette: We’re just Going to Keep Adding more Blades
WebMD: Convince Yourself that you have a Terminal Illness
Monopoly: A Great Way to Ruin Friendships
Netflix: Spend More Time Searching than Actually Watching
Old Spice: Smell Like Grandpa
Google: Just Try Using Another Search Engine
McDonalds: Because You Only Have $4
iTunes: I have not read the Terms and Conditions
Pepsi: When there’s no Coke
Linked In: Connect with People for No Reason at All
Crayola: The White One is Useless
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Advertising. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!