Lately on my evening commute, I’ve been listening to a book called Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell (and Live) the Best Stories Will Rule the Future. Though not immediately clear from the title, this book covers marketing communications and advertising, and the role advertising has played in shaping our society – how, in the vacuum of relevant cultural myths to help us cope with our ever-changing world, advertising has stepped in to fill that gap by creating new myths.
I’m not done with the book yet, but it has already inspired a lot of navel gazing on my part.
As he explains the history of advertising in the US over the past century, the author, Jonas Sachs, breaks the “traditional” advertising model down into its most basic two components: cause anxiety in the consumer – aimed at our shortcomings in status, sex, and safety – and then show how all our fears are assuaged by buying the right product.
Oh, I’m smarter than that, says I. No silly magazine or TV ad is going to scare me into spending my hard-earned money!
And yet… and yet… in quiet moments, in alone moments, I am starting to realize the anxiety which advertisers count on has become part of the fabric of my very being.
I’m not smart enough. Not witty or funny enough.
I like to think of myself as a well-adjusted, high functioning, productive adult. But on any given day, the anxiety hums on in the back of my mind, like a soundtrack to my life played so softly in the background you can barely make out the tune. Everything is great! …but if I could just earn more …accomplish more … BE more…. all thoughts trickling from my subconscious like a persistent drip, drip, drip of self doubt.
Not talented enough. Not successful enough. Not popular enough.
Even links to blogs follow the anxiety model!
Not “in the know” enough.
The anxiety is everywhere!
And how do we deal with the constant undercurrent of anxiety that’s not inspired by a single, specific ad?
Retail therapy, of course!
Although sometimes retail therapy opens our eyes in ways no one could have predicted. We sometimes see just how bad the situation has deteriorated.
A year ago, I stood in a department store changing room, sobbing as I beheld my bikini-clad self in a full length mirror. I wasn’t overweight. Well, I was carrying a few extra pounds but isn’t everyone? But that day, I had to admit that I hated how I looked in that bikini. That I hated my body for failing my self image.
As much as I decry how the mass media has damaged women’s ability to love themselves and their bodies – resist the false image of the perfect figure on the magazine covers, cries I – I was just as much a victim as anyone else.
Not thin enough. Not pretty enough.
But I didn’t turn to retail therapy, an erstwhile gym membership and diet pills for a quick fix. (And I certainly didn’t buy the bikini hoping I’d “get there” someday!)
I did what I do best: I researched! I uncovered a set of lifestyle changes that made sense to me, particularly in the context of human evolution, which I thought would work for me. While there were a few purchases along the way – a few books, a blank calendar for tracking, and my ever present FitBit – those were driven by my own interest, not marketing. (Well, ok, except for the FitBit!)
And even if I can (allow myself to) wear a bikini in public now (without tears), I won’t. Because it’s not me that cares how I feel about myself in a bikini, it’s the advertisers who hope I feel inadequate doing so. It’s my itsy bitsy teensy weensy act of defiance!