Tuesday, November 6, 2012


It seems only fitting on the day of the election that we would be talking about hope in advertising. After all, I think we all remember the Barack Obama “Hope” poster that was created by artist Shepard Fairey. The poster which was described by many as iconic came to be a representation of Obama’s 2008 campaign. The poster consists of a stylized stencil portrait of Obama in solid red, beige and (pastel and dark) blue, and most commonly with the words "progress", "hope", or "change" below. (Although in some versions other words were used).

What does this poster tell us about what it means to be human? It tells us something about the power of hope as a human emotion. Running for the office of President of the United States of America, the leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world, Barack Obama could have chosen any word he wanted to base his campaign on. But he chose the word hope. This just begs the question why? Why hope? The fact that this word was chosen tells us that it’s something the entire country could relate to and rally behind, it tells us that this word is something that is a part of the human experience. It is more than simply an emotion that humans can express, rather to be human means to hope. We hope for our future, we hope for prosperity, we hope for our children’s future, we hope for restoration, we hope for freedom, we hope for all the blessings of a loving God, we hope for a perfect society.

Scripture tells us that we hope for a perfect society because we were created for such a place. We have hope because whether or not we believe in the Christian faith we recognize that there is something wrong with this world. We recognize the need for something and out of our longing for the restoration of that need our hope is born. This world is not our home, it’s a temporary place that will soon be gone as creation, and God’s original plan for humanity, is restored. We long for a perfect society the way that creation longs for restoration. As Romans 8:22 says, “for we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time”. We as a Christian community, and even as a broader human community, have been groaning and hoping for a restoration that will only be brought on by the second coming of the messiah. This is the reason why hope is such a powerful motivator especially among the secular community. When we know something is wrong and we are groaning for something to make it right we will inevitably hope for something, and if we aren’t placing that hope in Christ then it only makes sense to place our hope in the leader of our country. This is why the word hope in and of itself is such a strong advertisement.


The following is a link to the Obama “Hope” Poster by Shepard Fairey,


Alex Regets

Why am I getting these ads?

Have you ever gotten those ads or catalogs in the mail and you think to yourself “I didn’t sign up for any of these?” I’ve gotten those too.  Some of those catalogs are actually from stores you shop at frequently or contain things that you may buy for yourself or if you are a parent, something you may buy for your kids. Some of them have nothing to do with anything you would ever purchase in your life, but most of the time they all end up in the same place, the trash.
Have you ever wondered how they got your address? I know I did for the longest time, as a child I thought there was some giant database of everyone in the world and they knew what they liked so that they could send them catalogs of stuff they liked. Alas I was wrong; companies do this thing called data mining. It’s where companies track purchases made with your credit card so that they can send you ads that have items similar to what you have purchased previously. They also will send these types of ads to your email. The subject line may read “If you liked (insert product here) you may also like” or “People who purchased (insert product here) also liked.” If you are like me then you just mark those messages as read and move on with reading your emails, but since being in this class I have started to think more about what I purchase and why, I am now more aware of just how influential all of those ads can be.  You know how it is; you pick up the catalog just to “see if there is anything good” and you find yourself eyeing some new kitchen appliance that you’ve been wanting, or a new bed set that you don’t really need, but that would look really nice in your house.  Sometimes you go out and buy that new kitchen appliance or bed set, and sometimes you rethink it and you decide to wait to see if it goes on sale or decide that you really don’t need it.
Marketing companies are sneaky creatures aren’t they? There are times when I really don’t appreciate opening my email and seeing 5 emails about books that I may be interested in, or getting my mail and seeing that most of it is ads and junk mail, but there are times when I am really glad that I got that piece of mail. I think that if companies are going to be allowed to data mine they need to do it in such a way that people can opt. out of getting the ads. That way if they don’t want the mail in their mailbox or the email coming their way, they are able to get rid of them without a hassle.
Next time you are looking through one of those catalogs or ads that you get in the mail, make sure you think to yourself “Do I really need this?” If the answer is no you are probably right, if the answer is yes you should probably think on it a little more. Maybe you could spend the money that you would be spending on some item that you may not use very much on something better, like tithing or giving to an organization, or sponsoring a child.  Proverbs 11:24 says “One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.” So if you are giving to the church or to another organization you are storing up riches in heaven, but if you store up riches here on earth you are left wanting more. 


Sorry for the long video (feel free to stop it around 3:10) but it really is a great jumping-off point for my topic.

If you go into any Wal-Mart, any Target, any K-Mart, any Sam's Club, and most malls that I know of, you'll find huge aisles full of bottled vitamins. People make big claims about vitamins and health supplements. Omega 3 fish oils will apparently make sure you never get cancer, and vitamin A will give you night vision! Who knew?! Vitamin C ensures that you never get sick and Vitamin D (when taken in conjunction with calcium, of course) will give you bones as strong as iron.

Do you see where I'm going with this? It's not as blatantly obvious as Lucy's "Are you unpopular? Vitameatavegamin!" but it gets us. Why do we hope vitamins and health supplements will take away all our concerns? There are diet pills to make us thinner; laxatives to make us regular (a regular colon is a happy colon); pills to give us energy so we're not 'pooped out at parties'; miracle pills that will do whatever we want them to do... or, rather, miracle pills that will make us do exactly what the manufacturer wants us to do.

I'm not saying vitamins are bad for you - far from it. But seriously? I take vitamins, too, little gummy vitamin C + other things. I usually take one in the morning if I feel like I'm getting sniffly, as sort of an immune booster, which is fine. The given dose is two a day, which will give me 210% of my daily vitamin C, 50% of my vitamin D, and 20% of my zinc. That's a lot! Your body can't even store vitamin C - why do you need 210% a day?! Foods you eat normally have vitamins in them; natural things like fruit and veggies have lots of vitamins because God made them that way, and processed foods are generally fortified with something or other nowadays. Fruits are a lot less expensive than vitamins, generally, too, even if they don't last as long on a shelf. The result? We pack our bodies with nutrition without bothering to figure out if it's actually nutritious.

I'm not really sure where I'm going with this, except that clearly someone, somewhere, launched an extremely successful campaign which capitalized on people's hope to such an extent that very little advertising is needed, now. It works. People buy bottled everything and don't realize how much money they're wasting in an attempt to force their body (which is not equipped to store most of the vitamins and minerals we give it) into being healthy. To the best of my knowledge, no one has tried to go as far as making Vitameatavegamin (which sounds very much like something which can eliminate the need to eat actual food, it's that good for you) but that doesn't matter when there are hundreds of products in any supermarket that promise to do the same thing!

So remember, friends - thanks to Vitameatavegamin, you can spoon your way to health!

Nutella: Most Unhealthy "Healthy" Snack Ever

Nutella. We all love it, especially on pretzel sticks. But a great deal of its popularity is based on a lie: Nutella is nutritious. Along with those famous 52 hazelnuts per 400g jar, there are also 60 teaspoons of sugar. One blogger refers to the stuff as "spreadable candy." In this ad, as in our reading, it talks about "energy" rather than "calories." They mean the same thing. Although it is made from "all natural ingredients" (which is also explained in the reading as not saying very much at all), the vast majority of that is natural sugar and vegetable oil. Chocolate icing is better for your kids than Nutella is. When something as delicious as Nutella claims that it is also nutritious, our "too good to be true" reflexes should kick in. There's nothing wrong with having it around as a sugary snack, but it should be more honest in its advertising.

In fact, Nutella has been involved in a number of legal battles over its false ads, and plaintiffs have won millions. Of jars of Nutella! But seriously, they've won a lot of money.

This ad is a very similar format to the first one. Nutella can be a good part of your child's balanced breakfast, and they'll gobble it up too, 'cause it's so darn tasty! Seems like our definition of "balanced breakfast" must've really gone downhill in recent years... The ingredients listed in this ad, hazelnuts, skim milk and cocoa, come after sugar and vegetable oil.
All this "hope," as we talked about in class, comes crashing down when one takes a critical eye to the claims made by Nutella. My first experience with Nutella was magical. I was with my girlfriend at the park with a picnic basket she had made up with PB&J sandwiches, drinks, pretzel sticks and Nutella. We could've been a Nutella commercial. When she pulled out the jar and told me about how Nutella was delicious AND nutritious, I was immediately spellbound. She had fallen for their ads and now, so had I. Every time I went to her house after that, I asked if they still had some that she and I could share. It was a while later that I learned the terrible truth.

We as human beings will believe anything that seems relatively plausible as long as it falls in line with what we want. When on the surface something that we want to be true seems like it is, we delve no further and accept what we are given, especially when we are given it by a beautiful girl, as in my case. We tend to ask more questions and have more reservations about things that aren't so happy. In this case, the hope of a delicious nutritious snack is too good to pass up for a large number of consumers.

I wish that we had so much faith in our Christian walks. "God is good and He will provide? But what about etc..." Faith like this in God, faith like a child, is the only object of such faith scripture identifies. We want things to be easy, and to be fun. In the case of Nutella, these criteria are met, so we let down our guard. But our walk with God isn't so easy, so we sometimes put our walls back up. The life God calls us to though, is a life of the kind of faith that sees an advertisement that says "Loving God and following His call for your life is both morally right AND will lead to fulfillment and satisfaction in life!" and believe it.


We’ve all seen those quick and impulsive ads telling us to buy something wonderful and incredibly helpful in our daily lives. In a way, these infomercials are similar to any other advertisement; they will try to sell us their products by any means necessary. Why then are infomercials any different? The answer is undoubtedly the tactic of hope. Almost every infomercial has a well-mannered spokesperson praising the incredible effects of their product. He lures us in with the thought of how much better their product is than whatever second rate product we’ve been using. In essence, infomercials give us hope for a better standard of living in such a way that most of us have caved into this billion dollar industry on more than one occasion. And that’s perfectly understandable when we see an infomercial telling us to buy some product right away because these paid actors can attest to how great it has worked in their lives. Sure, everything might be staged, but that’s a small price to pay in order to get the consumer this life changing product, right? Wrong. The problem comes in when the product isn’t actually life changing at all.

Take the ShamWow, for example. It’s one of my favorite infomercials. We all remember Vince Offer (the ShamWow Guy) telling us how these German-made towels can clean up any mess quickly and easily. The commercial itself praises the ShamWow for its durability and capacity to hold up to twenty times its weight in liquid. Not only that, but the ShamWow, as demonstrated in the commercial, seems to have a magnetic, almost “magical” effect of attracting and cleaning up liquids. This sounds great –I wish I was ordering one right now. But hold on a second. Has anyone evaluated these claims? The makers of ShamWow have, of course, but they’re the ones trying to sell us their product. Back in 2007, this infomercial was our main source of authority on the validity of these claims. Now, quite a few years later, it’s pretty obvious the ShamWow was nothing more than a “ScamWow.” Once tested a few times, it was discovered that the ShamWow doesn’t in fact hold twenty times its weight in liquids, it’s more like ten times its weight (ShamWow actually had to change their infomercials to say “ten times its weight in liquids” because their information was discovered to be so false), making it basically just another rag. Also, those wonderful testimonies in the commercial? Yeah, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if none of those people ever used a ShamWow, considering they just bought one. 

                But still, the infomercial made it look so good. Why doesn’t my ShamWow work like Vince’s? I think this video best explains why:

                So the ShamWow’s not that good. Clearly there is deception in this video. Vince and the ShamWow people are deliberately suggesting something false about their product just so they can sell it. And not only are they suggesting it with words, but they are physically manipulating the commercial so we make the connection on our own that their product can do magical things. This is more than just wrong –it’s deplorable. For nothing more than money the makers of Shamwow or any other product will construe their product in the best possible light. It makes sense for them to stretch the truth, but do they need to do it to such an extent as to flat out lie to us? 

Yet still millions of ShamWows were sold, and it’s obvious as to why. As human beings, we crave our hope of better conditions in our lives. Yes, there is probably some survival instinct linked with hope, but it’s more than that –hope is a positive emotion, and as such, people will desire it. The problem with this now is that “hope” has become equated with “convenience” thanks to our constantly bustling society. And people like Vince know this, and will flat out lie to us just to get our hopes up and to get us to buy his product. Maybe there are some good products sold in infomercials, but examples like this have convinced me to never buy from one again.

My Soldier Can Beat Up Your Soldiers

When I think of the Marines, I think of two things:  Call of Duty and my high school cafeteria where the Marines would come every few months and set up their pull-up bar in hopes of luring in some recruits. They are tough; they are strong; they are scary. Military people in general intimidate me. However, I saw a commercial for the U.S. Marine Corps that gave me another type of feeling:


After I watched this, I felt different inside—I felt proud, almost warm and fuzzy. The very first line is this:  “Your Marine Corps’ way of life is to defend the American way of life.” The advertisement proceeds with several shots of Marines doing Marine stuff—walking around tanks, flying helicopters, and sitting in some unknown countryside—but also Americans doing everyday activities, like rounding up cattle, waiting in the subway station, and enjoying coffee at a café. One of the last shots is of a mother and her young son smiling and looking at the statue of the soldiers holding up the flag at Iwo Jima. It ends with this: “Everyday, no matter where we serve, we take a stand for our nation, for each other, for us all” followed by the Marines’ tagline. The whole while there is trumpet playing majestically in the background.

It gets to me! This advertisement makes me proud to be an American. More importantly it gives me hope. It gives me hope that our nation will be safe for now and for future generations, thanks to the Marines. If I had children, I would have no problem turning to them and telling them they are safe after watching this commercial. I think a big thing with hope is having a sense of security to go along with it, which is why the Marine Corps ad struck a cord with me. It made me feel safe and secure, giving me hope that things will continue to be that way in the future.

It’s interesting where we find our hope. David wrote Psalm 20 when he was about to go to war. My favorite two verses are 7 and 8:

 7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
8 They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.

Whereas other nations trusted in their own power (“chariots” and “horses”), David trusted in God to guide his nation and keep Israel secure; this is where his hope was. David knew that by trusting in God, Israel would be standing firm at the end of the day.  As Christians, we should have the same sense of security that David did. God provided then, He provides now, and will continue to provide for his people. This is a much greater, much more secure sense of hope than I will ever feel. Yes, knowing that my country is being guarded by very able soldiers gives me hope and security. Even more than that, however, is knowing that my God will be faithful to guard me in many more areas than just the physical, and that is all the hope I need.

Pandora's Box

            Data mining sounded creepy in the text, but it isn’t that bad until you realize that you’re a part of it, too. Leading up to election season, political ads targeting young people were blitzing the Internet, and I managed to find myself the specific target of an ad. Listening to my favorite bands on Pandora, I was shocked to suddenly hear President Obama informing me that millions of Ohioans have voted early. I wasn’t that creeped out, but going over it after reading about data mining made me ask a couple questions: How did they know that I’m from Ohio? How do they know that I’m part of a demographic that would want to vote early? It’s a bit discomforting to know that someone managed to get that information out of me.
            But can we really blame advertisers for using this tool? If they can figure out my age group and my home state, I’m sure that other advertisers have other information about me. Who knows what I’m being sold, and what I’m going to be sold, without my knowledge that it’s being targeted specifically at me? And is that even such a bad thing? In an odd way, I enjoyed the thought that the Pandora ad was made specifically for me and others like me. The ad will probably encourage many people on both sides to vote that normally would not. Ohio is going to be an intense battleground state this year, so why not use all of the tools available? Sure it’s creepy, but it works, and many people don’t even notice that it’s happening. Many websites are data mining in much more voluntary and much less creepy ways. Hulu plays ads while you watch, but it asks if you think that an ad is relevant to you while you watch. You can select yes or no, and it will determine what ads it shows in the future based on what you selected as relevant or irrelevant. It’s possible that these preferences are passed onto a shady information group, but what do you care if you’re enjoying your Hulu commercials? Looking forward, we have to weigh the pros and cons of losing our privacy.
            We shouldn’t be too afraid of losing our privacy because we are called to live in a way that exposes our lives and actions to others. We are called by the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations, so what do we have to fear from others knowing more about us? We ought to live in such a way that others will look at our lives and recognize that what we have is evident and wonderful. Fighting for our privacy seems like a waste of time in contrast to our goal and our calling. We have to take care that we are in the world and not of the world as we live in a world of advertisements. Our witness is going to be put to the test if we’re being watched, in any way.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Who's watching?

This past Saturday, I joined the rest of the world’s elite and became the proud owner of the new iPhone 5. I have been on the thing nonstop for the past 48 hours and let me tell you it is great. Anything I want to know is at a moment’s notice. I don’t even need to pull out my big laptop any more if I want to find out some information. Everything is literally seconds away.

                We live in a society today that is based on the advancements in technology and the latest and greatest products that come out for us to use. As I said before, we have access to any information we desire. It is just a touch away. If we are interested in any personal information about someone we are able to access it. Companies use this advertising technique (known as data-mining) to cater to what it might look like the consumer’s interests are. When you enter information for something such as an email address, a phone contract, etc. you are putting your information out there with the risk of somebody finding it out. Through this, companies are able to get some useful information as to what you, the consumer, might like to hear or see. This form of advertising normally shows up in our mail through letters, flyers, etc. Companies that send out those mass flyers that it seems like everybody gets are using data mining by extracting your address from a database somewhere. It is almost to the point where the government is able to watch our every move. We discussed in class on Thursday about this privacy issue. Maybe this concept of “data mining” has gone too far. Is there a line being crossed? Should there be boundaries as to what and how much information is out there available to anyone?

                An interesting point was brought up in our discussion and that is we shouldn’t be so upset about our privacy being invaded because we shouldn’t have anything to hide. If we aren’t doing anything wrong, then we should have no problem with people seeing our stuff. When meditating on this side of the argument, there are several verses in the book of Proverbs about integrity that stand out to me. Solomon says in Proverbs 20:7 that he who walks in integrity blessed. He continually talks about the integrity remaining steadfast and being able to hold themselves up while crooked people falter (10:9, 11:3, 28:18). 

I do believe that we should all live lives of integrity and be honest and sincere in everything we do because as Christians it is our job to lead by example and take up our cross each day. Looking at it from that perspective, we shouldn’t have a problem with people getting into our personal information because if we lived with integrity we wouldn’t have anything to hide. Unfortunately, this is not how the majority of the world sees it. With most of today’s society being secular, it is going to be very hard to convince someone to live with the same integrity that Jesus lived with. This is a big factor as to why data mining might be frowned upon for its invasion of privacy. While it’s nice to think that maybe everybody can live with the same accountability that we hold ourselves to, the reality is most people don’t think that way. The next time I’m going to look something up on my iPhone I’m going to extra cautious with the data I enter. Who knows who is watching.

Look like a baby!

I think it is safe to say that the above Walmart commercial is one of my absolute favorite commercials that I've ever seen. It’s adorable! These little girls actually think that this anti-aging face cream will help their grandpa look younger.

Though we chuckle at the naivety of the two girls, we must take a step back and ask ourselves if those children remind us of anyone – ourselves, perhaps? Do we buy into the hope that certain cosmetics products will give us a younger look or a better version of ourselves? We certainly do, seeing as the cosmetics industry is booming nowadays. There is no denying that people are concerned about how they portray themselves to society.

Let’s take, for example, a specific product that is particularly popular amongst women: hope in a jar.

This is literally called hope in a jar. It comes from a brand called Philosophy, sold nationwide in big makeup stores such as Sephora and Ulta. The brand carries a number of interesting products, or rather products with interesting names, such as “purity made simple”, “full of promise”, and “miracle worker”. Although there are numerous products we can discuss, we’ll narrow our focus onto hope in a jar.

Hope in a jar is sold for as little as $15.00 at 0.5oz and as much as $110.00 for 8oz. I guess hope in a jar can be pretty costly these days. On the philosophy website, hope in a jar claims to have antioxidant protection, as well as to improve skin texture and tone. To me, it sounds like the claims of many other moisturizers in the market. But to others, the product is their holy grail. Hope in a jar has achieved a good-standing status of popularity in the cosmetic world, and with its high price, it makes me wonder why people are so faithful to this product that claims very similar promises that other brands would make. It is really that much different from other moisturizers? Is it really “hope in a jar”?

What’s more interesting to me is the “philosophy” that is written for the product (each product of philosophy has their own written philosophy statement written on the front): “where there is hope there can be faith. where there is faith miracles can occur.” It sounds just like a nice, carefully-chosen set of words to me, but to others, it rings truth – enough to make their purchase. In buying “hope in a jar,” customers are placing high hopes in a jar. Perhaps this marketing trick for philosophy works for many others, but it has yet to work on myself. To customers, they are buying more than a moisturizer or more than the highly respected brand itself – they are buying miracles.

I thank God we don’t have to be like philosophy customers and put our hope in something so temporary. Who puts hope in a jar? Christians shouldn’t! Romans 5:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.” We have hope given to us from God Himself! Because we believe exactly what John 3:16 states, we can look forward to someday be with Him for all eternity in heaven. But in the meantime, because we have this hope, we don’t have to live putting our hope in other things because God has taken care of where that hope should be put. He knows that if we put our hope in Him, these earthly things won’t matter. What’s better than our hope of being with Him forever and ever?  No face cream will ever be better than that, that’s for sure!

O Pioneers!--Hope in Denim Clad

     There's much to say about the commercial above, but, first and foremost, note the distinct paucity of jeans.  Levi's "Go Forth" campaign at times feels less like a commercial and more like a propaganda ad for a reality that doesn't exist.  This particular commercial and another one I'll show in a moment are both photographed by Ryan McGinley.  What's unique about his cinematographic subjects is that while the narrative they're punctuating is about ideals, they themselves are not idealized pictures.  To be sure, there is a gritty romanticism in the occasional orgastic explosions of sparks, and the subtle art deco influence on the poses stricken by many of the subjects, appearing to embrace the air.  For even in the grittiest of settings, the darkest and most desaturated of filters, hope shines through. 
     As such, the commercial's message of hope is empowered by the harshness and realism of imagery.  Hope can be spoken of in the abstract, but in context it often has the most power.  I say, "This commercial is about hope," and maybe you smile.  I say, "This commercial is about overcoming insurmountable odds," and now maybe you're already finding a way to relate.  Idealism alone can be perceived at times as naivete, but idealism grounded in a realistic understanding of the flawed nature of existence has the power to move the world.
     Again, there's very little talk of jeans in this commercial or anything surrounding the commercial. This is no accident.  Levi is selling jeans, but even moreso they're selling an aesthetic, an identification point.  People who buy Levi's are youth on the brink of change, youth who hear the transcendental words of Walt Whitman and take them to heart.  This is the romantic ideal behind the gritty imagery.  

Another commercial from the campaign:

        More Whitman, and more narration, though the recording quality of the narrative this time is much higher.  The youth in this campaign are depicted as roaring, running, bounding.  Levi is marketing to the "outcasts" of society, the young people who will one day change the world.  They are essentially trying to reclaim the edgy youth demographic, having once appealed to the Civil Rights Marchers and demonstrators of the sixties.  It should be noted that a brief depiction of homoeroticism is shown in this commercial, again looking for the voices at the edge of culture that stand poised to soon be the voice of culture.  In the previous commercial, the romantic display of passion was a heterosexual, mixed-race couple, and the fact that this is meant to be edgy says a lot about how far our perceptions of cultural norms have to come.
     The hope of the young revolutionary can and will fail us.  The reason there are always cultural revolutions is because no culture built by man will be perfect.  History moves in cycles.  Romans 5:5, however, encourages us that "hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."  Perhaps the creators of the commercial even understood this cyclical leaning towards error in the way they mostly handle the material with realism and resignation.

The young people will try to change the world.
     We might as well sell them our jeans.

Being Known

And I thought this was bad. 

I am always mind-blown by the amount of information people are able to obtain about someone. The bank-robber in Firewall had been studying Harrison Ford for months and knew and exploited nearly everything about him and his family, including his son’s peanut allergy. Or take the Bourne Trilogy for example; I am continuously taken aback at just how much information and data the CIA has access to and how incredibly difficult it is for Jason Bourne to make the slightest move without being detected. To me, this is fairly believable because it is the CIA after all, but in the end it is still just a movie-right? The thought is terrifying that marketers have just as much and often more access than the CIA or the stalkers we see so often in the movies.

It did not register with me just how much I am personally victimized by this until reading Brandwashed. Now that I think about it, I did get an email last week from Southwest airlines about cheap flights to St. Louis. This strikes me as odd seeing as I have never looked up flights to St. Louis on their website. I have, however, used other websites such as Amtrak and Megabus to figure out how much a trip from Chicago to St. Louis would drain from my bank account. I’m beginning to think this Internet activity of mine is not unrelated to Southwest’s specialized offer. I got an email just today from Panera asking me to take a survey. “We’re looking to spotlight you! Tell us your story.”  How nice of them to give me the “opportunity to share me,” all the while gathering more information in order to manipulate me more effectively. What about all those Chipotle commercials on Pandora? I thought that was just the ad that interrupted everyone’s music on Pandora. Nope. I just asked several of my friends, and I seem to be the only one that experiences those commercials excessively. Could that have something to do with the fact that Chipotle is one of my favorite restaurants, and I purchase food there more frequently than other places? I would not doubt it.

I’ve been successfully convinced that companies know a lot about a lot of people, and frighteningly, about me. What does all this data say about us? Can we, as people, be reduced to mere data and numbers? Brandwashed states the brands we buy are “the windows into our soul.” That brings up an interesting idea. We as humans have souls, and as Christians we would generally say our souls are what truly constitutes us. So can we truly be defined by data? I do not know if I would go far as to say that marketing companies can know our souls, since only God can truly know that, but they sure have access to a deluge of information that can reflect our souls. If that’s the case, maybe we as Christians should think about what kind of soul our buying habits and interaction with phones and the Internet reflect.

Almost anyone would admit that the thought of companies knowing so much about us is frightening. Perhaps that is because this type of knowledge, if put in the wrong hands, could have horrific consequences. If people are anything like me, though, my biggest fear is not that my well being will be compromised or that I will be discriminated against. Rather it simply makes me uncomfortable that strangers can know so much about me. Lindstrom discusses men who buy pornography. Many of us do not have anything quite so drastic to fear being known. Nevertheless, we probably have something in our texts, Facebook messages, or Google searches we would not want to be publicized. How about that venting session you just had with your best friend about your mom or your roommate? We’ve probably all had our stomach drop the moment we think we sent a text to the wrong person. I was hit by the realization, though, that we as Christians are called to live blameless lives. Speaking of venting, Philippians 2:14-15 says “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” We are not called to simply appear blameless in only the things people can find out about, but to be thoroughly pure and holy, even in our thoughts and the “hidden” content of the cyber world. The thought of marketers knowing our “dirty little secrets” makes us uncomfortable, yet we forget that God knows all of that anyway, which is far more consequential and should challenge us.  While this can definitely be disconcerting thought, we can also find comfort in the fact that we serve a God who knows infinitely more about us than marketers could obtain from any compilation of data.

Cynicism in a Jar

I was a little disappointed – and yet, also filled with an odd sense of accomplishment with my predictions – when Lindstrom turned his focus in chapter 8 from superfruits to facial cream…because the first thing that came to my mind when he was describing the (essentially) false advertising of acai berries, goji berries, etc., was Proactiv. Even though he didn’t come out and use the example of Proactiv, I think the underlying principles are the same with anti-aging facial creams – the same hopes carried by superfruits and every other product we’re gotcha’d by through this marketing scheme.

I am a full-blown advocate against Proactiv. If they are even still around, I would like to offer you an invitation not to try it. Don’t waste your time. I’ve never had an extreme war with acne, but it has been something that has followed me for years. When it was at its worst, my dad insisted (based on a television ad) that Proactiv was the way to go.

And I mean, talk about “Hope in a Jar.” Let’s go through the countless face-models Proactiv has had: Jessica Simpson, Julianne Hough, Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson, and everyone’s favorite, Justin Bieber. (Forgive me if I’ve forgotten a few hundred.) All of them seemingly having overcome their terrible acne, thanks to Proactiv.

Lindstrom talks a lot about word and image association with products as a vessel of our hope. With the popularity of Proactiv (especially at that time), all I can say is that I didn’t live under a rock. I knew about Proactiv. I knew about – and yes, even felt – the hope that came with it. It was a hope that I, someday, might have as good of skin as a celebrity.

Not only was this celebrity status associated with Proactiv in my mind, but there was the ever-so-popular “before and after” shots (that need to accompany any good image-enhancing product advertisement). Those are what stuck in my mind the most, the number one association for me. Even if I didn’t make it to celebrity status by using Proactiv, at least I’d have my “before and after” shots on television ads. Maybe I could even do a short testimonial for them. I was in the before, and I was (hopefully) longing for that after.

It obviously didn’t work for me. And while I guess I’m not trying to make the claim that Proactiv definitely will not work for you, I do want to say that the idea that it definitely will work for you is bogus, and is, for what it’s worth, one of my biggest grievances with advertisements in general. Just as with the claim that drinking superfruits will make you healthy, there is hardly ever research presented to back claims up. Marketers get an association in your mind – whether that be rain forests or smooth, celebrity-esque skin – and they run with it.

I feel like we are so desperate as a consumer-driven society to grab on to the next big thing. It doesn’t even matter what it’s for. As long as it gives us hope in a better future (usually manifested in the form of a better self, I’m sad to say), we want to try it. It’s got to work. Our “hope” is nothing more than crafty (and deceitful) persuasion.

My Proactiv experience is one of many experiences where I’ve had false hope in something, only to have my hopes fade to cynicism. As I hinted, I have many complaints about, well, probably everything society has ever placed on a pedestal. For me, it just goes to show that we can trust in our worthless idols, or simply put our trust in God to provide us (simply) with all that we need.