Mixed Signals: Seeking Some Quiet in the Media Storm

Mixed Signals is Erin Straza’s weekly musing about marketing miscellany in advertising, branding, and messaging.

Years ago when I was working with my church’s youth group, the youth leaders challenged the students to a week-long media fast. We were all in it together, leaders and students alike—no entertainment via TV, movies, video games, iPods, or the Internet. The goal? To create some quiet in our lives so that we would have more time for God and more mental space to hear what He was saying.

After my media detox, my senses were heightened. I remember being less numb and more annoyed toward outlandish advertising claims and the constant barrage of product lures. I did return to media use afterward (obviously), but the experience gave me insight into the zombie state that comes with too much exposure—and that I can limit my intake.

Often I think that I am long overdue for another media fast. But it becomes more difficult with each passing decade to avoid media and the paid messaging that accompanies it. We now have advertisements playing at our movie theaters, affixed to our grocery carts, and invading our private time in public restroom stalls. Full-vehicle images wrap our cars, and families sell themselves as living brand ambassadors. A few years ago, a teacher sold ad space on his exams to raise funds for the school.

Where can we hide from the marketing madness? Some people, especially business travelers, seek a sanctuary in the skies. They believe messaging should be limited or banned inside airplanes. As airlines struggle to survive, creative moneymaking strategies such as on-plane advertising may be the best option.

I’ve noticed ads on airplane seat backs and inserted into the on-flight video. I haven’t seen them on tray tables and overhead bins—yet. Statistics for on-flight messaging show that it is the most effective placement in the industry. Some say the captive audience feeds the high success rate. But I wonder if recall rates will drop as the amount of messaging increases. (Really, if only one advertising message is given during a two-hour flight, how difficult would it be to remember it? It is estimated that consumers are exposed to 3,000 messages a day—that’s 125 per hour. Dropping from 125 messages to 1 creates a pocket of quiet that is sure to heighten consumer receptivity.)

My preference is that all public spaces, airplanes included, would not become overrun with product messaging, but I won’t count on it. I can’t expect airlines to create a sanctuary of quiet space where I can detox from the world. That’s not their job. That’s mine. So I want to be like Joshua, who lingered at the Tent in God’s presence (Exodus 33:11). He purposefully removed himself from the noise of the community and spent time in the sanctuary.

Messaging is all around us, in our schools, theaters, and airplanes. But we are not without recourse. We can make choices to limit our intake and purposely find the quiet where God’s message is loudest.

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  • A media fast would be great, but I don’t see how I could pull it off unless I took a complete vacation. If I went cold from email, texting, and cell phones, people would get aggravated that they couldn’t reach me. All of this technology has raised the expectation for our availability, which is equally frustrating sometimes. I remember when “answering machines” became popular. Can you imagine a world with no cell phones or answering machines! People must have gone hours without reaching one another!