Commercial Illusions

Posted: May 4, 2008 in Compassion, Discrimination, Homelessness, Poverty

I don’t know if I’m getting smarter or if television commercials are getting dumber. Lately though, it seems like the commercials aren’t all that entertaining – not that there ever were, except perhaps during the Super Bowl. But some of the commercials being aired are really way out there in the ozone.

What really gets to me is that someone actually took the time to put the idea down on paper; went through all of the trouble to "develop" the idea for presentation; was paid for it; and someone approved it. Then, additional money was spent so that the ad would air on television or radio, or so that it might show up in print media and online.  

Advertising in this nation is big business. Despite the economy going through a "lull" American advertisers still spent 0.2 percent more in 2007 than they did in 2006.

TNS Media Intelligence, a company which provides "… strategic advertising intelligence to advertisers, advertising agencies and media properties," issued a report on March 25, 2008 which stated,

"The advertising market continued to sputter at the end of 2007 and finished the year with measured spending of $148.99 billion, up 0.2 percent compared to 2006"

All of this makes me wonder…

It’s obvious that advertisers want to be able to make as large a profit as possible from their commercials. Yet, if commercials are indeed getting dumber, what does that say of us as a society?

Considering that advertisers spent nearly $150 billion last year and ended up making a profit, then the ads must have been effective. This means that we, the consumers, are actually jumping at the bait. But, is that good?

Let’s be honest about it. Most of the commercials that we are exposed to are targeted at our egos. These ads are designed to feed our desire to be special; to be head and shoulders above the rest (forgive the pun). All of it, however, is superficial. It’s nothing more than window dressing.

Worse than that though, advertisements have a subliminal impact how we view those around us by creating an illusionary status quo. This in turn restricts our ability, and sometimes our desire, to interact with those who we perceive as not fitting into the mold of what we have been told is "normal" or "acceptable."

Those in our nation who live a life of poverty are those who are the most vulnerable to being viewed as not fitting into the status quo – particularly the homeless.

By virtue of their residential status, the homeless don’t fit the images we see in television commercials. They don’t have the attractiveness of the "beautiful people" in magazines. They don’t drive fancy vehicles. They don’t wear designer clothes. They aren’t seen at the "hot spots." If anything, the homeless are the antithesis of what we’ve been told by commercials is the norm.

That’s perhaps the biggest reason we have a hard time viewing the homeless as being worthy of our notice. They don’t fit the visual cues of what we have come to accept as being "regular people."

The homeless are just like everyone else in ways that really matter.

They feel every emotion that you and I do. They laugh. They cry. They experience joy. They experience despair. They can have their feelings hurt when we shout obscenities or other disparaging remarks at them. Their self-esteem can be damaged when we treat them as though they are worthless. They can foster hope within their hearts: hope that they might be able to find a way out of the situation they’re in.

Even more importantly, just like you and I, they are able to respond positively to being treated with dignity and respect.

In Adam Bede, British novelist George Eliot wrote,

"We hand folks over to God’s mercy, and show none ourselves."

If we expect the homeless to rise above their homelessness, then we need to help lift them up and not push them down.

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