I’ve been listening to some commercials lately, mainly on the radio, and I’ve noticed something. It’s about the way we communicate and what that means about who we are and what we believe. This has nagged me for years, starting with experiences in corporate America, listening to politicians and glad-handers of all stripes, and now really recognizing it in more and more advertisements. What may seem trivial to some, I believe carries some significance.
Do you remember “the day”? When we say “back in the day” what we mean is generational. Nevertheless, advertisements used to tout the benefits of a product by presenting a list of features. It was straightforward. If advertisers have a finger on our collective pulse, and they spend a lot of money to accomplish just that, people were also straightforward then. Now, ads must either be hilarious or just not say what they mean OR mean what they say. It applies to people as well.
Besides funny ads, others range from disingenuous to subliminal in what they suggest about people. A current example is (I use ACME generically) a radio ad with a mock phone call from a customer. The female caller, when given the price for services, asks incredulously, “Why do you do it ACME?” The company jingle states the answer. They sing, “At ACME we really do care”. Am I to believe the guiding principle behind this operation is about caring? Does this suggest there is no profit motive? Is it a benevolent endeavor? If I visited one of their locations and told them I had no money, but needed the service, how much of the love would I actually feel? I would be able to precisely quantify “caring”, and it would ring up around $100.00 plus tax.
Another one is for a product that meets a real human need. The business sells scooters that assist people who have limited mobility due to age, illness, or accident. The owner of the company states something like, “my wife and I started ACME because we believe everyone has a right to enjoy life to the fullest”. While that goal is admirable, their bank probably wanted a 5-year proforma income statement with some assumptions and back up data.
The blunt truth is better. Profit is great. But we have been socialized into a form of touchy feely sensitivity that makes even the declaration of a profit motive a form of political incorrectness.
While profit carries a negative stigma, workaholism is an alter at which we worship. Conversationally executives boast of vacation days not taken, and of turning the lights out each evening, as they are the last one out the door. This has manifested in advertising.
A particular ad had men playing golf, and their heads were computer monitors.
The tag line suggested these people, as individuals, never stopped thinking about work, thus the symbolism of the computer monitor heads while recreating. How offensive if really pondered, is the notion of a person, to the detriment of family, never allowing work to be out of sight and out of mind? It is strange what we will accept.
What do these ads say about the results of the demographic research that led the companies to launch them? Is our societal reflection one that looks so receptive to the mischaracterization of companies as philanthropic and simultaneous glorification of veritable human machines as employees?
Yes, and it effects everything for religion to politics.
When we say that a company exists because it “cares” or that it is OK for an individual to become indistinguishable from their career, we expect people to not take it literally. And people don’t. But we get so accustomed to this symbolic speak that our hearing becomes jaded.
Religion offers an example. Religion is a growth endeavor, presumably not driven by profit. When a Christian denomination makes the claim that they “really do care” in an advertisement, how is that claim digested when it is sandwiched between a brake shop and a scooter store both making the same claim? Ads claiming a business “cares” do not convince listeners of the altruism of a business, because there is none. Do the listeners hear the church ads any differently? I don’t think so. Not only do the ads not convince listeners of the churches amity, their presence mixed with forgettable and ignorable consumer ads cheapens the church and the intended truth behind the words.
How though would the “we never stop working” concept play for the church? I fear just as badly. Just as listeners know the guys with computer heads and the claims made are symbolism for dedication, they assume similar claims by the church would be symbolism as well. In fact, if a legitimate claim to 24/7 dedication can be made, it is by true believers regardless which religion.
The tools of 21st century communication are available to the church and we should avail ourselves to them. Broadcasting church services all over the world is a great way to reach people living in places where they cannot legally visit a church. But here at home there are thousands who do not attend services. Churches advertise in an attempt to draw them in and sincerely reach them with their faith message. The ads for these broadcasts as well as general ads for various denominations are symbolically drowned out by our society having depreciated the real meaning of words.
Finally, like profit is to business, faith is to churches. It may be received even more poorly to suggest that right and wrong, evil and good actually exist and are recognizable. If service companies are an outreach of caring, what does that say about Christians claims of sin and redemption? The church even suggesting they know something to be absolutely true is far more unpalatable than a company openly chasing profit.
Christian churches that wish to reach the unchurched, and “meet them where they are” I guess it will take a talking gecko or a flatulent horse. Back in the day we just rang the church bells.