Recently I’ve been wrestling with an issue brought up by Anabaptists (with whom I havetheological sympathies). Historically, Anabaptists discourage their own (and by extension all Christians they can influence) from working in certain vocations. The military is, of course, the most obvious one. But, mostly, Anabaptists do not work for governments at all. Some exceptions are made for social work and teaching. But any job that involves coercion is traditionally off limits for Anabaptists.
Lately I’ve been wondering if a Christian CAN (not should, but CAN) would in the field of advertising–as it operates today in America. It seems to me that the marketing industry has become so powerful and pervasive AND deceitful that a Christian would have to compromise his or her principles of honesty to work there.
Now, of course, there are exceptions. I’m sure there are specific advertising agencies that refuse to use deceitful tactics, but it seems to me they would have a hard time competing in the marketing industry that does, by and large, it seems to me, assume that some measure of deceitfulness is acceptable and even necessary.
I was debating within myself whether to blog on this and even asking God for guidance. Today’s USAToday has a feature story about marketing that seemed to me a word from God to speak up about this. (I’ve only been mulling it over in my mind for a few days. Today’s USAToday article seems providential to me.)
According to USAToday (October 25, 2011) snack food makers and their advertisers are “cashing in on ‘artisan’ label.” The gist of the article is that marketers know that calling a snack (or any food) “artisan” helps it sell. But what does “artisan” mean? Well, pretty much the same thing as “hand crafted” which is another phrase widely being used by marketers of foods.
Now pizza is being marketed as “artisan.” Sure, pizzas are made by human hands. Well, some are. But “artisan pizza?” “Artisan” implies artistic work. My son-in-law is an artisan; he has a MFA from a leading university and makes artistic furniture. That’s a right use of “artisan.” The USAToday article suggests that, given the label’s current use by marketers, it is losing all meaning. I would say the same about “hand crafted.” What is hand crafted coffee? What is hand crafted beer? How is it different from non-hand crafted coffee or beer? What makes a potato chip “artisan?”
Okay, okay. This seems minor. Most people know they are being manipulated with such terms. But are they really aware of how much the marketing industry affects their lives and others’? Advertising is now everywhere. You can’t turn your head in any public place (or even in your own home when the TV is on!) without being assaulted by marketing messages trying to get you to buy something you very well may not need or even want.
I find it extremely annoying when I am watching a TV program and a little man pops up in the lower corner, walks across the screen and announces (e.g., with a banner) a future program on a different cable channel (owned, of course, by the same communication corporation). Again, that seems minor, EXCEPT that such is everywhere all the time. Now many grocery stores have little TV screens built into the shopping carts that try to get you to buy certain products. Advertisers are invading schools now. Almost every aspect of American life is affected by marketing.
But my complaint goes beyond the annoying to the downright deceitful. I find much marketing is deceptive. For example, my auto insurance company airs TV spots promoting a refund check for every period of time I don’t have an accident. So I called my agent about it because I’ve never gotten one of those checks. Chagrined, he informed me that the offer applies only to certain policies–in this case ones with teenagers on the family policy. The TV spot doesn’t say that or even suggest it. Is it a ploy to try to get people to call that company’s agents?
I pay a lot of attention to advertising–in order not to be influenced by it and in order to detect the sometimes subtle but often not very subtle deceptions in it. One thing I’ve noticed is that many TV commercials for products have absolutely nothing to do with the product itself! The whole commercial is aimed at persuading you that IF you buy that product you will be more likely to attract beautiful women or have fun parties or whatever. But really informative is said about the product. Similarly, many commercials seem aimed only at entertaining a certain demographic; the actual commercials say little or nothing about the advertised product which may only be in the background somewhere.
I could go on and on. I think we have come to take all this for granted. We are the proverbial frog in the slowly boiling kettle who doesn’t jump out but dies. (I’ve always wondered if that’s really true, but I don’t want anyone to do an experiment to find out. It would be inhumane.) For example, all newspaper ads for movies state the movies begin when they don’t! I buy a ticket and get to the movie theater ten minutes early and have to endure ten minutes of commercials. THEN the commercials extend ten minutes or more past the time the movie was supposed to begin. THEN I have to watch previews for another ten or fifteen minutes. The movie usually begins about twenty minutes AFTER the advertised time. We’ve gotten use to that and so we take it for granted. But should we? It’s blatantly deceptive. Should a Christian be involved in that?
I would like to suggest that marketing and advertising may be a field Christians must abandon IF they cannot operate with total transparency and honesty in it. And I am doubtful that these days that’s possible.