Anatomy of a Modern Ad: How Our Purchasing Has Power

I’m going to go ahead and call it: this is the best alcohol advertisement I have ever seen. This may even be the best advertisement I’ve ever seen. Why? 1) It tells a story. 2) It engages the audience emotionally. 3) It promotes positive messages about family and literacy and…. 4) It gives you something (a good feeling/entertainment/ etc) before it asks you to buy the product. I’ve noticed a growing trend lately: companies are not just relying on the traditional “best selling points” (e.g. sex sells). They are using their advertisements and marketing campaigns to promote ideas that improve the world. Whether it is empowering young girls to learn and build (see the GoldiBlox ad below), solving health problems in developing countries, or just telling and celebrating the stories of an increasingly diverse nation. This is in contrast to meaningless Wendell Berry Quote drivel like “Not Normal,” the Mini Cooper ad I wrote about last year. Of course, the main goal of all these brands is to sell product, no doubt about it. And it could be convincingly argued that they are simply responding to the Millennial Generation’s value-based buying habits. But, this is bigger than reaching sales goals. It has power.

Value-based buying habits? According to market research, “U.S. consumers ages 18-34 engage with brands far more extensively than older generation, and they expect their values to be reflected in the brands they purchase.” Like my generation is fed up with the murky waters of politics, we expect to know about the brands we support, and, in the same way we surround ourselves with people with our values, we choose companies who reflect our values. Combine this with the incredible potential of the internet and social media to create real social change, and you finally have a generation holding the reins of big brands, instead of brands choosing the direction of society. To refer back to the above mentioned study, “Social media and mobile devices amplify and accelerate the impact of Millennials’ brand choices and feedback.” We have the power to demand a higher standard of conduct and ideology from even the biggest companies.

I’ve seen this from the consumer point, of course, but I’ve also experienced it from the business side. My mom owns a granite counter top business. When she started her business ten years ago, her goal was to offer a level of craftsmanship and local expertise (versus big box store offerings) that consumers were having trouble finding. But more than that, from the start she was determined to either be successful as a honest business that took care of its employees and cared about its community or to go out of business without compromising her values. Everyone (*cough* male business owners *cough*) told her she needed to just try to be the cheapest, to not offer her customers so much extra help and advice, and especially to not pay her employees so much. But she didn’t listen.

I'm sure you recognize this little girl.

I’m sure you recognize this little girl.

And when I took over marketing for Granite Grannies, my job was easy. I didn’t have to come up with catchy slogans or convince people to buy things they didn’t need. All I had to do was tell our story, and show them our quality work. And you know what? It worked. Business is great at Granite Grannies, and the more the reputation of that brand grows, the more opportunities my mom has to keep supporting local craftsmen, paying good wages, designing home elements to last, and giving to local causes.

So, in conclusion, I hope you recognize how much power you have to change the world, just by the brands you choose to interact with. The recent Meaningful Brands study predicted that companies who aren’t deemed meaningful by consumers will have trouble keeping up in the near future. Their advice to companies: “”Impact people’s lives. Focus on well-being from your product. That’s tough. You have to have that right from the get-go.” So hold businesses to that standard. Don’t settle because you don’t think you have any power to change corporations. Thanks to social media, the individual has a voice and a platform and a chance to create a ripple effect. What ideas do you want to promote in the world? Use your buying power to harness the platform of advertising and encourage the growing practice of using branding to accelerate social change.

Joss Wheden, Gender Equality, and Injustice in General

In a 2006 speech, Joss Whedon explained his frustration when the question “Why do you write such strong women characters?”  was asked over and over at press junkets. He was upset that this should even be a questions. Why is it so notable that someone is writing strong women characters. Towards the end of the speech, he beautifully summed up his frustration with the status quo:

“Why do you write such strong women?”

“Because, equality is not a concept. It’s not something we should be striving for; it’s a necessity. Equality is like gravity; we need it to stand on this earth as men and women, and the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance, and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every and woman who is confronted with it. We need equality. Kinda now.” (Watch the rest of the speech here.)

Don’t see the problem? Skeptical that things are out of balance?

  • According to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Census, women earn just 77% of what men earn for the same amount of work.
  •  In 2008, the United Nations reported that one in every three women is likely “to be beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.” (And here are the facts for just the US in case you think we’re any better than anyone else- pretty sad)
  • The United Nations often cites the statistic that women do two-thirds of the world’s work, receive 10% of the world’s income and own 1 percent of the means of production.
  • According to the World Health Organization, one woman dies in childbirth every minute of every day.
  • Despite making up half the global population, women hold only 15.6% of elected parliamentary seats in the world.

(Statistics via Policy Mic)

Gender inequality and the suppression and oppression of women is everywhere. From the obvious- gang rapes in India– to the subtle- women being shamed into hiding their intelligence or artificially altering their bodies to accommodate male desire. You have to make the conscious decision to open your eyes and see it. You have to tune your mind to recognize the absurdities of society instead of just blindly accepting the traditions and norms that you have inherited. Inequality of all kinds can be effectively countered legislation, but it will never disappear from minds and hearts (the places that determine our actions) unless each individual makes the decision to fight the prejudice and hate  that brews unnoticed in our minds.

If inequality (of all kinds: poverty, racism, misogyny)  is unbalance, then it’s pointless to just stop actively perpetuating injustice or assume we aren’t guilty because we haven’t been actively acting on prejudice. And to look the other way is just to become an accomplice. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” We are off balance, and the only thing that will stop us from falling is to move actively to a state of balance, to get off the wrong train and start going the right direction.

The Psalms are full of descriptions of God’s justice and the terrifying punishment in store for those who oppress the poor and weak.

  • “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble….For he who avenges blood remembers; he does not ignore the cry of the afflicted. ” (Psalm 9)
  • “But you, oh God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand…. defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.” (Psalm 10)
  • “You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty. ” (Psalm 18)

There is no category for those who weren’t so bad, but didn’t actively turn from injustice. Pretending injustice doesn’t exist will not excuse you from a God who listens attentively to those who are downtrodden and abused by the status quo. It’s not enough to abstain from certain destructive practices; we have to get leap off this train taking us from one war and system of oppression and wide-scale injustice to another that actively seeks justice and healing. It’s not enough to stop owning slaves. It’s not even enough to codify the equality of African Americans in law. We have to actively reverse the deep injustices that are the result of centuries of hate and decades of untreated racism. It’s not enough to acknowledge that women are under and misrepresented in the media. We have to write the strong women characters. It’s not enough to refrain from directly stealing from the poor. It’s not enough to think that someone should do something about the exploitation of immigrants. It’s certainly not enough to just sit back and watch the widening gap between the rich and poor.

We have to train our minds and heart to recognize injustice at every level and in every guise. When our eyes are open, when our minds are turned in the right direction- then we can start to change things, change minds, and change the status quo.

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Quite Possibly on the Wrong Side of Midnight

[Today’s daily post asked: Where were you last night when 2012 turned into 2013? Is that where you’d wanted to be?]

I didn’t notice when the figurative clock in my traditional-clock-free-home struck midnight, and I was too absorbed in writing a reflective New Year’s Eve post to see midnight return that strike with a vicious left hook. Too bad. I hear it was a great fight; clock boxing never gets old. As 2012 rolled over and conceded the title to 2013, I was at home, contentedly writing a list of all the things I’d learned this year.

Home is a basement apartment near the University of Maryland. The house was built in the 50’s, and my walls are almost all knotty pine paneling (and I’m blonde….I might as well start calling myself Betty Draper). I have a second hand table and vintage 70’s desk chair in the corner. I like to adjust the lighting so that it’s bright enough to read, but still ambient. Then I light a couple candles, turn on my illuminated globe, and immerse myself  in whatever ever I’m currently reading or studying (last night I was reading Myths of the Pagan North by Christopher Abram). I can spend hours this way, stopping every now and then to brew a new cup of tea, check facebook, or look up something on wikipedia or my globe.

Salvador Dali also enjoyed Clock Boxing

Salvador Dali also enjoyed Clock Boxing

I suppose some people, particularly people my own age, might give me a weird look if I told them that my ideal evening, on a night traditionally marked by indulgence and care free celebration, would be to take a shower then sit at my desk reading and learning late into the night. I would probably enjoy that weird look. I usually do. I would probably get an even weirder look if I said my evening actually led me to a new found appreciation of Wagner; that I spent the night listening to the entire prelude to the Ring Cycle while reading up on the opera, its creation, and it’s connections to Tolkien’s One Ring.

•••

Mini Cooper has this “inspirational” ad called “Not Normal” running right now. It shows you scenes of poor office people bored, a wife and husband having a boring breakfast together, a boring pair of shoes, and a boring computer programing job. Mini Cooper then shows you what “Not Normal” looks like. Not normal consists mainly of live bands with light shows, dangerous escapades by a youth that are free from the need to earn money. Continue reading

#NYE So Long 2012, You’ve Actually Been Rather Helpful

So long 2012. You’ve been an awful year at first glance, but then again I’ve learned so much this year. I’ve learned about perseverance, about the importance of Christian fellowship, more about the importance of The Fellowship (of the Ring, duh), and the history of Iceland, Norse mythology, and Vikings. I’ve learned how to handle big set backs and feeling directionless. My belief that Will Ferrel is never going to stop being hilarious has been reinforced. I’ve gotten better at understanding my family and trusting my friends. I’ve learned that a good roommate is better than living alone.

Throwing that nasty ring out, cause that's how I do.

Throwing that nasty ring out, cause that’s how I do.

I’ve read so many great books and magazines and articles as well as so many entertaining imaginary texts from imaginary friends when I’m feeling awkward in public. I’ve learned that there are actually some good things about no longer being in college. I’ve gotten better at hanging pictures on the wall. My cooking skills have improved; I’ve added a mixed berry pie and innumerable variations on tofu to my repertoire. I learned about James Bond’s childhood, the fiscal cliff, Schrödinger’s cat, iphonography, and picked up some key geological terms.

While dabbling in gardening, I learned how hard it was. While dabbling in banjo, I learned that I am much better at reading a book and remembering everything in it than learning any skill that requires daily repetition. I have learned that this shortcoming is a big roadblock in exercising, getting better at the violin, being a successful blogger, and keeping acne under control. I have gotten better at exercising self-control at the computer and not binging on netflix (but I reserve the right to put aside this control when a new season of Parks & Rec, Downton Abby, The Office, 30 Rock, Psych, Once Upon a Time,  or HIMYM come out….so basically I’ve only learned self control because I’ve watched everything on Netflix already.) Continue reading

Doing the Roo: Songs I’m Going to Hear This Weekend

Hellooooooo darrrrlings. I have several indubitably insightful posts in the works, but nothing that is quite ready for your well-trained eyes. It seems the longer I wait between posting, the harder it is to hit publish. My vanity must grow well un-read. Blogging is an exercise in trimming the gorgeous, oft-blushing rose bush that is my ego. While you wait with baited breath for next offering, I’d like to share with you some songs from some bands that I am going to see/hear this weekend as I journey to Tennessee the for the 11th Bonnaroo, a magical four days filled with hippies, thousands of unwashed bodies, southern heat, great food, and of course great music. This will be my third year in a row going.My mom and I are rolling from DC to Tennessee in my beloved Swag Wagon (aka station wagon). As always: here’s the playlist.

Barton Hollow by The Civil Wars

Go On Say It by Blind Pilot

Continue reading

The Importance of Being Mom

Let me just say that if Mother’s Day was a competition, I would win because I have the best mom ever (collective “awwwww”). But seriously, amid all the buzz surrounding Time Magazine’s controversial cover image of a thin, chic woman nursing her preschooler, the eternal debate over what a makes a good mother has been ramped up. I’m not in any mad rush to procreate, but I like to think about parenting because it’s better to have the education before you get the job. Of course, like every child, I have to take a look at my own mother and figure out whether I want to be just like her or do everything exactly opposite the way she did. Honestly, I don’t think I can settle on one of those, and I think that says something good about my mother. I have a lot of respect for the way she raised me, but since one of the things she taught me was to think for myself, I also have different opinions than her on parenting. Today is Mother’s Day (obviously), and I want to say a few words about what my amazing mom did well and just generally brag about what a cool person she is.

As many of your know, I consider “weirdness” one of my virtues. I couldn’t have become who I am today if my mom hadn’t let me explore my own personality, be a little silly, and express myself from the get-go. As soon as I could pick my own clothes out, I always wanted to wear mismatch socks. It wouldn’t have been that hard for my mom to say no and teach me how to pick out socks like a normal person, but she didn’t. She let me wear any sock combo my little heart desired. To this day, I rarely wear matching socks. Continue reading

I Hereby Forbid the Phrase “I’m not into politics.”

To those of you who eagerly refresh my blog home page five times a day expecting some new profusion of wit and magical hyperlinking, I am sorry. To the rest of you who don’t even look at it when I post links on facebook and twitter, shame on you. I thought we were friends. And friends don’t let friends write to imaginary audiences (something created in the minds of bloggers who are too cool for imaginary friends).

So, now that I’m back from my spend-days-in-sweats-only-watching-TV-having-a-mental-breakdown-about-my-impending-graduation-and-being-single-forever-because-no-one-could-ever-love-a-blogger hiatus, let me ask you  a question. How many times have you mentioned politics, a law, or a politician as it’s relevant to the conversation, only to have someone say, “I’m not into politics.” Unless you are that someone, the answer is probably way too much. On a normal day, I might let this slide, but today is Wednesday, and Wednesday makes me grumpy. 

Here’s the thing: because we have a democratic government, “politics” is not a hobby or a form of entertainment. You can “not be into cat farming,” and you can “not be into the holographic performance of 2Pac at Coachella,” but like it or not, you’re in politics (although honestly, if you didn’t think that hologram was cool, I question your life choices). Continue reading