Mixed Signals: Do Products Deliver the Simple Life We Crave?

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

With all the busyness we face trying to do it all and more in this life, we speak wistfully of our need for more time and less pressure. We pine for more and for less, depending on what we have or lack. And more often than not, we watch it elude us even as we choose one more activity, one more commitment, one more assignment. Busy rules us.

Marketing gurus play into this helpless feeling that we have. Their messages tell us that what we can’t arrange for ourselves can be found if only we buy the products they offer, products that are positioned as the solution for all our busyness woes.

That’s why we’re seeing so many products using this simplicity tactic. There’s the juice called “Simply Orange” and a Whirlpool washer/dryer line that will simplify your life. The idea is that your purchasing behavior can streamline your life: Buy product X, get a dose of the simple life.

Of course, when we look at these messages apart from the glitz and pizzazz of the advertisements in which they’re embedded, it’s easy to dismiss their promises. We all know the simple life isn’t one you can find in a store, packaged all pretty on a shelf. But we are drawn to those products because busy can often be more draining than fulfilling, and we assume the grass is greener on the simple side of the fence.

Embedded within the clever messaging and attractive packaging, we’re all drawn in to products that offer us a bit of what we long for. That’s why marketing works: it connects to our deepest longings, whether we are completely conscious of it or not.

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with buying a certain brand of orange juice if you like the packaging or prefer the taste over other brands. I think the real concern is that we begin to think that living a streamlined, simple life is as easy as buying a product. In reality, we cannot stuff more activities, commitments, and assignments into our lives and then buy some simplicity to balance it all out. We cannot have it all and then have a bit more. Our lives will burst in some way if we are too busy for too long, whether it’s a break in relationships or health or performance.

How do we find the simplicity our hearts long for? It’s not a product, obviously. But neither is it a hard-and-fast rule for a divine number of activities that each person should have. When Paul wrote his letter to the believers in Ephesus, he encouraged them to “look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17) Simplicity in life is focusing on the will of God and using your time for that singular purpose.

About Erin Straza

Erin Straza (Associate Editor) is a freelance writer, editor, and marketing communications consultant, helping organizations tell their stories in authentic and compelling ways. After a stint in corporate marketing while earning her MBA, Erin taught marketing communications at Illinois Wesleyan and Illinois State. She is crafting her first book, writing from the Illinois flatlands where she lives with her husband, Mike. Find more from Erin at her blog Filling My Patch of Sky and on Twitter @ErinStraza.
E-mail: erin [at] FillingMyPatchOfSky [dot] com
Blog: Filling My Patch of Sky
Twitter: @ErinStraza


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