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.