How Advertising Molds Your Beliefs

The tourist business is overrun with people bored with themselves.
– Joan Clark, An Audience of Chairs

A majority of people on vacation have one of two possible objectives: to relax and have fun doing much the same things they could have done at home (with some adjustments) or to have experiences they can share later with others at home (to have stories to tell and pictures to share).

Many cities position themselves as vacation destinations by advertising the wealth and diversity of their shopping facilities. Vacationers going to these cities spend time shopping for items they could likely have found in their own cities if they had taken the time to look. They spend money wining, dining and entertaining themselves in settings only slightly different from what they could have found at home.

Bus tours usually move at such a pace that passengers don’t have time to learn anything more than they could have learned in an evening on the internet or by watching a few programs on selected specialty television channels. With no lost luggage, broken elevators or arrogant bellhops.

Those who “get away” to warm destinations during their own winter or who go to relaxing places beside water want to unwind from the hectic pace they maintain in their city lives. They could have done much the same activities at home if they had been able to separate themselves mentally and emotionally from their work lives long enough to enjoy the facilities in their own home communities.

If it seems as if I believe that most people live in cities they want to escape from, you’re right. In most countries in the western world, around 85 percent of their population live in urban areas, most in large cities. As of the beginning of 2008, for the first time in human history, more people on our planet will live in cities or similar urban areas than live in rural settings.

We have become a world of city dwellers. Yet most of us know deep down that cities may not be the best places for us to live. We migrate to cities because they have jobs to offer.

We no longer want to do jobs that require hard work, the kind that farmers and those who live in relative wilderness areas must do to survive. Moreover, we don’t have the skills those people need. We have to move to cities where employers will give us jobs and teach us what we need to do them. We get higher education to learn how to learn, not how to do. Yet we only learn the minimum we need.

We don’t want to live lives requiring us to do manual labour, requiring the back more than the brain. Yet most cities dwellers, when studied closely, know so little about what they should know to live successfully, efficiently and comfortably on their income that they waste a good deal of their time and money on purchases and activities that achieve nothing for them. But they make business owners happy.

By doing little that is physically demanding, they gain weight. So they go to exercise clubs, do workouts at home and go running so that they get the kind of physical activity they would have gotten if they worked on a job that required physical effort as well as some thought. They need the exercise to release some of the tension they build up through living stressful lifestyles. Stress being a consequence of “success” in big cities.

Some city folks with enough money buy cottages or cabins, by a lake or somewhere in woods or a rural area. Because they know virtually nothing about living outside a city, they spend money to transform their rural properties into something resembling suburban communities, but with more trees and maybe some water nearby.

Are they bored with themselves, as Joan Clark said? They don’t know. They believe they are doing what they should, meaning that they believe they are living well because they are living the way everyone else in their community lives, doing what they do, spending what they spend, vacationing the way their neighbours vacation.

Bored? They don’t believe they are bored because they’re doing what their social norms tell them they should be doing. They believe they are happy because they do what advertisers tell them they should do to be happy, which happens to be to spend money on the advertised products. They don’t even know if they are truly happy because they don’t have a clear idea of what happiness is. To them, happiness is what they are told it is by advertisers.

People who don’t think for themselves must depend on others to do their thinking for them. Industries do that and tell people what to do, how to act, what to believe, through their advertising. They do this so subtly and with such incredible persistence that few have any idea that their belief systems are being slowly molded different from what any of their ancestors believed.

They aren’t bored, just ask them.

Boring, for sure. It’s a challenge to find anyone in a city with whom to have a truly interesting conversation because most people are conditioned to spew small talk all day long. At parties, they must inhale alcohol and drugs to lose their inhibitions enough that they feel liberated, thus happy, they believe. At these most opportune times to exchange thoughts on worthy subjects, they fill their time with small talk and contrived nonsense.

But they’re not bored and they are happy. Advertisers have told them they aren’t bored and they must be happy if they have bought advertised products. They believe it.

They aren’t bored with themselves because they believe they aren’t bored with themselves. And they believe they aren’t boring. Which demonstrates textbook examples of how people can be made to believe anything if it’s presented to them in an effective manner and shoved at them often enough.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how, what and when to teach children in ways that will grow them into interesting, vibrant self-sufficient adults.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

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2 thoughts on “How Advertising Molds Your Beliefs

  1. One thing to consider is just how unsuccessful advertising really is. Here’s a quick test.

    Make a list of all the commericals you see watching TV for 2 hours. On regular commerical TV that should be close to 100 products.

    Now look around your house. How many did you actually buy? How many would you neve buy? How many have a negative opinion?

    When you go to the grocery store, you probably have seen commercials for most of the products. Yet, you resist buying most. That’s why there’s an express lane.

    Take a look at your mail. How many pieces of mail go directly into the trash?

    How many commercials have seen that are fun and clever and yet you can’t remember what the product is?

    Why do you think that most advertisers are delighted with a 1% return on their advertising?

    Maybe people can actually pick and choose what they want and that advertising can inform that decision but their not mind numbed robots. Must buy…must buy…must buy…

  2. Thanks for your comment Steve. The article says nothing about the effectiveness of advertising at selling products. It speaks to how the nature of advertising molds our way of believing about life. That, over time, has a great success rate.

    Is it the intention of advertisers to make us believe that we must buy, must buy, must buy? You bet! We are an acquisitive culture.

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