Mixed Signals: When Your Free Will Infringes upon Mine

Mixed Signals: When Your Free Will Infringes upon Mine November 17, 2011

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

Dread. That’s the emotion I experienced in high school driver’s ed. The students in the first class spoke of The Video being shown that day. With actual footage of brutal and bloody car crashes, the video was meant to scare us young drivers into driving safely and soberly. I remember dreading the class and wishing I could skip it. I went to class, but I closed my eyes as much as possible.

My guess is most drivers’ courses show a similar video for similar purposes. Even so, underage drivers still choose to drive under the influence of alcohol. But so do of-age consumers, so neither knowledge nor maturity keep drunk people from getting behind the wheel.

Ladybug Teknologies believes that people would make better choices if they knew their blood alcohol level at the point of decision. That’s where the Ladybug Breathalyzer kiosks can help. For $5, consumers can purchase a mouthpiece that connects to the machine. After breathing into the tube, your blood alcohol reading appears on the screen. If your level is over the legal limit, the machine prints a coupon for a taxi service. (Ladybug takes no responsibility for those who choose to continue drinking or choose to drive themselves.)

The success of this technology is too new to measure accurately. And Ladybug has found it difficult to convince a bar to host a machine that may cut into its sales. The bottom line is the first concern for any business, and most businesses operate from free society principles allowing the individual to make personal choices about consumption. Bar owners are providing a product; it’s up to the consumer to decide how much to consume. This is marketplace free will in action.

As a consumer, I want free will. I want to decide when to indulge and how much I get to indulge. I don’t want the government to determine how many cookies I eat or French fries I savor. But as a member of society, I want to be protected from those who indulge to the point of being dangerous to others and to me. This tricky balance reminds me of the analogy in Scripture of how all believers function interdependently as a body with all the parts working together, affecting each other, dependent upon each other. We do not live in isolation, and the choices we make will affect others.

This interdependence is what reminds me that my choices are mine but affect more than just me, myself, and I. Maybe it would help if businesses would see customers not as mere consumers from whom profits are gained but rather as people to whom we are all connected. That mentality would balance the desire for profits with the desire for the health and safety of the consumer and the rest of society. Maybe that is too simplistic and idealistic… but it is scriptural.

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