Thursday, September 14, 2006


The other day I gave my students an assignment to watch tv, read a magazine, listen to the radio, walk around campus, or commute to school and count the number of advertisements that they see in a 30 minute period. The students came up with very interesting numbers. We are literally bombarded with ads on a daily basis. Ads are so prevalent that they are even inside public restrooms!

I likened this to some of the brainwashing experiements of the 1950s. The experiments had to do with repeating sounds and or images and attempting to make people change. Well, isn't that what ads are doing to us?

So, do we have a choice? Well, it depends. We can ignore the ads - if we are aware of what is happening to us. However, so many of us grew up watching tv. Ads have become to prevalent that we hardly notice them. We hardly notice how we suddenly "need" items.

The other night we saw an ad on TV for somehting like a swiffer. You know - one of those use and toss items. Madison (age 12) turned to me and asked if we couldn't do the same thing with a mop or cloth. She is lucky to be able to see through ads. She is lucky that she is raised in a home where we dicuss the issues of advertising. Where we question our own purchases and look at the issues of wants and needs. How many of us do this?

  • So, I challenge you - count the ads that you see in a 1/2 hour period. What are they telling you that you need?
  • Try to take a week without purchasing unnecessary items. How do you feel?
I can tell you that it has freed me from the need to have and consume. I love what I have and have little want for more (unless, of course, it is an environmentally friendly choice). :)


Erin said...

So true! Since we've started compacting, I feel "freed" in many ways.

I didn't even know that I'd been that suckered by advertisements until we started. And I used to work in advertising!

Emme said...

I know!

I am a graphic designer - and did not notice that I was pulled into purchases until I stepped out of consumerism!

Teri said...

I was so happy to get rid of the tv. It truly does brainwash people. And even if you don't buy stuff, it still encourages you to eat when you aren't truly hungry.

Anonymous said...

Are you telling me the swiffer is bogus? I'm shocked -- shocked.

I think in the aggregate, TV and other medial instill the idea that the most acceptable way to participate in society is to buy stuff. Your identity is reflected in the brands you choose and your personal tastes in consumption. Coke or Pepsi? MacDonalds or Burger King?

And most of this is aimed directly at kids, even products aimed at grownups, the strategy being that adults will give in to kids' whining, and kids don't know enough to be desensitised to advertising. Heinous stuff.

Every item of kids' clothes has some sort of character on it. Disney princesses, Thomas, SpongeBob, Dora, Spiderman, Superman, Star Wars. The narratives are no longer just stories; they are Trojan horses for merchandise.

The only thing you can do is insulate yourself from it, because it's unmanageable otherwise.

It is hard though to even dial it down a small bit. For example, take driving a small crappy car. In the abstract, not a big deal. But when your kids' friends have decked out Minivans with DVD systems etc. it becomes a wearying process of justifying your choice every time you get into your tin box with wheels. Or using a Costco stroller as opposed to the Peg Perego -- don't you CARE about your kids? Shouldn't you get only the best for them? All of that is so difficult to stifle.

The housing bubble has been fed by this too. You MUST have a 2000 sf McMansion with all the bells and whistles or YOU ARE A BAD PARENT. Not price is too much where kids are concerned. Feh.

Emme said...

I know! I can't believe I have lived this long without a swiffer.... How ever could I manage? (tongue in cheek).

Fortunately, our 12 year old is seeing through a lot of the consumerism/advertising. However, we do have other issues at hand now. She has become almost obsessed with her appearance since school started. We are not only inundated with messages of what to consume, but how to look. It is horrifying.

We have actually been told y a relative htat we are horrible parents because we do not purchase a lot of items for our children. 6 year old Zach cares little for things - outside of running shoes (because he is "sooooooo fast").

If you have seen "The Corporation"? There is a section simply on the "nag factor." How do advertisers get parents to purchase? By studying how children nag and when they may give in to items.

Our car runs on veggie oil - horrifying! ;)

Thanks for your comments!

~Dawn said...

I would love to see some of the things that your students do or hear more details about them.

Emme said...

I plan on posting more about the course(s) and what they decide to work on. So far, a number of them on working on the issue of climate change, a few on peak oil, and couple on consumption or clean water. We should have some great work. Some of these students are incredible designers. I am looking forward to it!