…he has become a human who no longer believes the commercials are true, which, perhaps, is what a human was designed to be.

Don Miller, Through Painted Deserts

I’ve been thinking about commercials since came across some before and after pictures of São Paulo last week. The city, on of the largest metropolitan areas in the world, decided to clear their streets of visual clutter and ads. The difference is striking.

The affect of advertising is amazing to me. I see how my young boys are easily influenced by ads designed for small eyes and interests. I’m perhaps more alarmed to realize that I don’t realize the subtle effect that the same business has on me. I’m not terribly affected by the latest Disney pitch or kid’s cereal; it’s the things I’m not aware of that concerns me. Not all ads affect in the same way. I’m particularly attuned to the you deserve or you need rhetoric when it’s blatant (especially the ‘you deserve a vacation’ or ‘you deserve to eliminate your debt’ type ads) but that’s when it’s obvious. The idea of someone telling me I deserve a product – as though it were an inalienable right – is preposterous, but the fact that I sometimes tell that to myself sometimes is also troubling.

Advertising has its place, of course. They give Superbowl viewers something to look forward in between obtrusive football action. Without ads I’d not know which cleaners help my dishes shine better, which movie to see (is there seriously a Macgruber movie coming out?!?), or which fragrance will attract the most women. But I’d also not realize that I need more stuff to be happy. I continue to try to deemphasize stuff without being paranoid about it. And it would be easier if commercials weren’t so darn entertaining. Of course, there is a legitimate need for things and a legitimate sense that we ought to be enjoying the gifts and blessings that we have been given (at least to a healthy extent).

Don Miller, in his first blog post on commercialism and faith, suggests taking a mental count of the number of ads you are subjected to each day. Those who count such things (who are they?) say the average person is exposed to 3,000 commercial messages every day. It’s hard to be conscious of such things, but certainly a good exercise. I’m noticing subtle messages I hadn’t noticed before and hope to continue to raise my awareness of these things. Miller goes on in the second post to talk about ads filling the inherit loss that we all feel as part of our separation from God. Interested to see where he goes with that.

My dad had a habit (and I assume still does) of changing the channel during commercial breaks. Rather than subject himself to 2 minutes of useful or humorous sales pitches, he’d rather watch a few minutes of a show he wasn’t watching, often turning back to the original show after it resumed. That used to bug me, but as I’ve grown, I can appreciate the sentiment.

The quote at the top of the post is the author’s admiration of a friend who no longer believes commercial messages. It certainly seems like high praise. And as appealing as a advertisement-free city would be, I hope I can at least choose to lessen their affect on my mind.