A Book Should Not Be Known By Its Cover
There should be a market out there for McDonald’s wrappers for parents who find it difficult to feed their children. An article published some time ago in Forbes magazine said that children showed a preference for food that was packaged in McDonald wrappers rather than plain ones. Stanford University pediatrics researcher Thomas N. Robinson, M.D., and colleagues conducted this study among three and four year old children. A clear 77% said fries from the branded wrapping tasted better while only 13% said that they preferred what was taken from the plain wrapping. Nevertheless, there were 10% who said that both tasted the same. For other items like milk, chicken nuggets, carrots and even hamburgers about 20% could only tell that they were the same, with or without branding. Of course, in all food items a clear majority preferred the ones packaged as Mcfood.
The study also went on to say that the factors that influenced these decisions included the number of television sets in the home and the frequency at which they ate at the Mc. Doctor Robinson says, “It’s really an unfair marketplace out there for young children. It’s very clear they cannot understand the persuasive nature of advertising.” “This study demonstrates simply and elegantly that advertising literally brainwashes young children into a baseless preference for certain food products,” said a physician from Yale’s School of Medicine. “Children, it seems, literally do judge a food by its cover. And they prefer the cover they know.”
Around eight years ago, the Institute of Medicine released a study that showed that the advertisement industry was using sophisticated methods to reach out to children who were too young to know the difference between advertisement claims and truth.
Yes, we further know that Google and other on-line service providers generate their revenue by targetted ads. ‘Targeted ads’ are advertisements that are tailor-made for you based on your browsing history. Today, on-line advertising has moved even a notch higher. Suppose you are in an airport and are online before you board your flight. Based on your location, the services that may by relevant to you and your previous browsing history, the few seconds of advertisement that can be shown to you is put up for an auction. Whoever bids the highest gets your eyes and attention for that brief time period – and you did not even know it.
It’s Me! It’s Me!
Now, for those who are cheerfully thinking that it is only little children that are susceptible to the lure of advertisement, think again. How many things do you have that you really do not need? One of the legends of advertising, Bill Bernbach says, “All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarise that society. We can brutalise it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level.”
We are right now in the midst of a season when corporates spend heavily on advertisements. It’s the shopping season. It began at Dussera continues through Diwali and runs through Christmas to the New Year. There are industry sectors who have more sales in the last quarter of the year than in the remaining three quarters put together. One would have noticed that the weight of the newspapers also has increased; not because there is better coverage of events, but there are far more advertisements.
The Lust Of The Eyes
How does this influence the church? Advertising has its advantage to society. We know about products available in the market, and can also compare different products to select what best suits our requirement, with the help of advertisements. The larger the sales of a product the lower is the cost of the product. So, a larger market can be reached with ads thus bringing the cost of products down.
But on the other side, we should be careful not to allow advertising to direct our buying decisions. Many a time we end up buying things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like (Dave Ramsey, The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness). It probably is true for most individuals today that they are not able to distinguish between needs and wants. Of course, the blame for it cannot be laid at the door of the ad industry. The ‘lust of the eyes’ works in us, finding a world ready to satisfy every urge.
Most people cannot think of a birthday or an occasion like Christmas or New Year without buying something new – clothes, bags, shoes, gadgets. Advertisments beckon us with lines like ‘gift yourself.’ Then also, the status of a person is gauged by the kinds of gadgets they possess, the cars they drive, the home they live in, the job they have and the salaries or income they take home.
The disciple of Jesus is called to live counter-culturally with respect to this kind of materialism. The Apostle John warns that we should “not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever” (1 Jn.2:15-17, NASB)
Well, coming back to children. They mostly reflect their parents’ choices, tastes and desires. For children their parents ‘actions speak so loudly they cannot hear their words.’ So, is it time for some self-introspection? In conclusion let’s put a few verses together: “He who was rich became poor for our sakes so that we through His poverty may become rich,” and “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” Christmas is a reminder that we ought to be generous givers to the poor and needy, and maybe not our immediate family who possibly have it all.