No matter who or what is your source of information, how do you know whether the information is accurate or trustworthy? And even if you discard the information as bunk, how do you know that the information you have read, watched, or listened to has not somehow seeped into your subconscious thereby influencing your decision-making without you even knowing?
The Business of Imagery
Within moments of logging onto the Internet, flipping through a magazine, or leaving home and entering an urban village brimming with signs, signs, everywhere signs, we are inundated with images. All these signs, all these images, they’re ‘normal’, just the way things happen to be in our world. And we don’t often think twice about it.
I mean, we know that the underlying purpose of images, particularly when used in advertisements, is to grab your attention, and ultimately sell products or services. But what else do we know, or don’t we know, about the way in which marketing employs images to connect not just with our pocketbook but our heart? Because it’s the emotional connection that advertisers want with consumers; the emotional connection that forms an attachment between consumer and product / service; the emotional connection that seduces us to buy, buy, BUY!
Image Maker Take #1: Don’t Follow The Bus
I can’t seem to get away from it. Nearly every day that I drive, I find myself behind a city bus transporting the image of a beautiful woman with glowing skin shilling for a dermatologist. Having seen the image so many times, I started thinking about its purpose.
The image exists to tell me, the viewer, the consumer, maybe eventually the sucker, that my skin is deficient. And the solution to my deficient skin? Retain the services of this particular dermatologist and I too may be blessed with glowing skin just like the woman in the ad.
And wrinkle / blemish free skin is not the only promise. Oh no. In this case, the effects of beauty are more than skin deep. Below the surface, what is being promised is that glowing skin will transform me into a beautiful person, someone whom others envy, someone who will be liked and loved by more people. With glowing skin, I will no longer feel anxious about my appearance. As a result, I will be happy and life will be good. So you see, that’s the real promise of the ad: happiness.
Image Maker Take #2: What Price Thy Vacation
The back cover ad on an internationally distributed magazine shows an athletic man wearing nothing but a swim suit, a pretty woman decked out in a small, colorful bikini, and two cute kids, a boy and a girl, all of whom are shown to be smiling and running on a golden sand beach fronting turquoise colored ocean water.
The ostensible purpose of this image? To sell vacations somewhere in the Caribbean or Mexico or the Mediterranean or Hawaii or Spain or any other destination that may be packaged and sold as a dream getaway.
And like the bus ad, the underlying message is meant to trigger anxiety, i.e., my life is deficient because I am not half-naked playing on a beach. Gee, the people in the ad seem to be having so much fun. I want to have fun too. Sign me up!
The image is designed to have me compare my life to the fantasy portrayed in the ad. And I will find my life lacking. And I will be envious; I will want the fantasy to become my reality. And if I’m primed to suspend reality for long enough, I’ll decide that, for the price of vacationing in an Eden like hotspot, I will be transformed into someone just like the models in the ad. Then I will be fulfilled, happy, life will be good. As a bonus, my ego will be stroked when friends and family envy me because I have (temporarily) escaped the doldrums that is their life.
Agh! It Works!
Advertisements may useful by informing people of their choices. It’s a medium for spreading messages that we may not otherwise hear, and that may be to our benefit.
But here’s what we may not be considering: ads tell us that we’re not good enough. That if we have this or that product or service then we will be better, our life will be better. And reality just doesn’t play out that way.
The financial industry, including financial media, often promotes a similar message: if we become richer, if we retire early, and are then able to devote our life exclusively to play or leisure (as opposed to purpose) then we will be happy and fulfilled.
Money: The Source of True Happiness.
Hah! Quite the subtitle, yes?! Alright, backing up here, let me be clear: the subtitle is drivel, hooey, nonsense.
But that’s not what media would have you believe. I mean, does a day go by where one publication or another does not publish a mindless article about who is now the richest person in the world? How much money a superstar pro athlete is being paid for playing catch or bouncing a ball? Telling readers about all the expensive cars and homes and jewellery and clothes owned by this or that celebrity?
Why do we need to know who has what stuff? Well, we don’t. But the thing is, we live in a consumer society. If you stop buying as much stuff, and corporations sell less, then the wheels of our system grind down. So, to grease those wheels, illusory need is manufactured.
This is done through publicity that makes the 99% feel deficient for not having enough money nor enough stuff. And savvy media knows that effective publicity is tied to a story, preferably told by a well- known person who offers an image that aligns with the product/service being sold. And people see this well-known person and, presumably, say to themself, well, if its good enough for so- and-so celebrity then it’s certainly good enough for me. Human see, Human do.
Let’s say a luxury car maker placed an ad that said: ‘Buy the X car because it’s a solid, reliable car.’ That’s it. That’s the sell. How many cars do you think would be sold? Other than me, I’m guessing not too many consumers would even consider the car. Why? Because the ad doesn’t tell a story and the message is not delivered by someone whose face is on television or film. With no story delivered by an attractive pitch person, why would I buy the car? Why would I feel that owning the X car would fill a psychological/emotional emptiness in me?
Just take a look at the recent Mercedes ad placed during this year’s Super Bowl. Background music for the ad was the song, Born To Be Wild, and it starred (now ads have ‘stars’!) Peter Fonda, 1960s counterculture icon, who was in the 1969 film, Easy Rider (to sum up the film ever so briefly, the script followed two rebel motorcycle riders through the American South).
The message that was sold through the story? Aging Baby Boomers don’t ride bikes anymore, they drive a Mercedes. So if you’re a Boomer in your 60s or 70s with excess dough, and you want the cool, rebel image (i.e., fantasy) of Peter Fonda in this particular ad, then get yourself a cool, rebel car, a Mercedes. Then you’ll be happy and fulfilled and your friends will envy you.
Living The Good Life
Believe it or not, my intention is not to be cynical in this post. Rather, if you don’t already have your eyes open, I’m trying to give you a little nudge in that direction. Trying to get you to think about the stuff that you buy; the services you pay for; the resulting benefits you receive; why you buy what you buy; and who or what is influencing your decisions. Then maybe you’ll assess what belongs in your life and what doesn’t; and hugely important, what’s holding you back from feeling free and unencumbered.
Because I can tell you this: in itself, having enough money, being rich, being able to buy, and buying, STUFF, will not bring about feelings of peace and freedom. The human animal just doesn’t operate this way. I mean, when we buy something or pay for a service we want, sure, desire is fulfilled but only for a moment. When that moment passes, new desires arise. And on and on it goes, where it stops … it doesn’t.
Same as when you earn lots of money. Your portfolio grows, you feel good watching the numbers go up, but this too is momentary, there is no lasting satisfaction no matter how high the number climbs. And your search for freedom remains never ending until you realize that ‘The Good Life’ is a state of mind, a perspective, it’s being grateful for every moment that you’re walking this planet. And doubly grateful if you’re fortunate enough to have family and friends in your life, a rewarding occupation, hobbies you enjoy, and peace. Huge bonus points if you’ve brought a dog (I’m partial to dogs but any other non-human creature is just fine, more than fine) into your pack.
So when financial media repeats the same stories, tirelessly yakking about how to save for retirement, how to retire young, how to become a millionaire … basically, why you should worry about your financial situation until the day you die, well, tune it out. Money is an ongoing concern, you know that and you don’t need to be told repeatedly. Because you’re a member of the BuddhaMoney community who knows that when you increase savings, are wise about spending, and pay down debt (i.e., The Middle Way, the balanced approach to money) then you can feel good about turning your focus to all the other parts of life that matter.