Advertising for Good

Advertising has been used to prompt us to part with our money for everything from chia pets to make-more-money schemes. Newer, shinier, fresher, it’s all been proclaimed in magazine, radio and television ads. Remember “whiter than white”? Wow!

So imagine, if you can, that we could turn advertising on it’s head, using it to prompt us, encourage us, entice us to do the very things that would do us the most good.

Instead of watching chocolate oozing, cars zoom-zooming or diamonds dazzling, imagine if we turned the wit and artistry of advertising to noble ends: to encourage us to be the best of ourselves. Imagine ads that promote kindness, patience and courage. Imagine ads that show us how beautiful generosity is and how appealing humility can be.

Since I started doing radio back in April 2012, I’ve been ending each show with a segment on Good News and another on Inspiration, encouraging listeners to think about what one thing they can do differently for themselves or to help someone else.  Imagine if instead of consuming we choose to share, instead of rushing to buy we offered to help, and instead of making much ado about the kind of car we drove or the clothes we wore, we focused on the content of our characters.

If you imagine that consumerism has become yet another form of worship, then the way to counter the influence advertising has had on our desire to aspire is to make it work both sides of the street: it can sell stuff, but it also has to pay it’s dues by encouraging, enthralling, enlightening us to aim for the best we can be.

I’ve long believed that what our ears hear our brains believe, and perhaps our eyes can be used to train our hearts.

Wouldn’t it be great too see how saving money makes for a beautiful and stress free life? How about ads that showed people happy to sacrifice one thing to have another? Or an ad that addresses the concept of acceptance of self? Why do these ideas get relegated to PSAs (public service announcements)? They should be as important as selling the next fashion accessory or computer model.

I’m not holding my breath that ad agencies are going to come rushing forward to do good with their considerable talent and influence, but wouldn’t it be lovely if we spent time fixing up our insides as we do decorating our outsides?

What do you think?

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Gail Vaz-Oxlade

Gail Vaz-Oxlade wants YOU! Join MyMoneyMyChoices.com to get smarter about your money and help others get smarter about theirs. Isn’t it time we eliminated financial illiteracy? Come find me on Google+ and on Twitter.

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26 Responses to “Advertising for Good”

  1. I think that would be an excellent idea.
    Great post!

  2. Pardon my cynicism today. I believe that while Gail’s idea is worthy, it won’t work in mass media. For one, TV is primarily aimed at entertainment. Two, many people don’t want to take such radical responsibility for themselves because then there wouldn’t be anyone to blame (society, the government, parents, schools) for their ills and they’re have to actually mature.
    But not all is lost. Why don’t we start here? I’ll bite. One of my goals this past year has been to simplify, to let go of “stuff”. And not material goods alone, but emotional baggage. It’s been an interesting process and not always easy. I’ve reached out to old loved ones with mixed results. But I’ve learned that I have the capacity to connect deeply with people but get hurt just as much. My challenge this year is to ride the wave of “letting go” because I tend to replay and nurture old wounds. Tough stuff. Whew! Thanks for listening!! What’s my bill :)

  3. There are some companies who have started running ads similar to what Gail is suggesting. One for an insurance company comes to mind where each person witnesses some tiny act of kindness and then they, in turn, pass it forward with their own act of kindness until it comes full circles.

    But I do agree with M. It can start here. The ideas we share, the examples we share, may influence the next reader to pay it forward.

    One of my goals this year is downsizing. I have way too much fabric and yarn and the sewing room is threatening to explode. So I’ve started with knitting mittens. I know, mittens are small and don’t use up much yarn. But I live in Michigan and it’s cold. Every pair of mittens I’m knitting will go to a person in need. A homeless child, a veteran living on the street, the person whose budget barely manages food so warm hands are not an option. It’s a little thing because I can’t make more than 2 pair per week (I work full time) but it’s a start.

    My second goal is to see how far I can stretch $10 at the grocery store every week and to give that food to my church’s food pantry. Last week it was 6 cans of veggies, 4 cans of soup and 3 boxes of mac & cheese.

  4. @M It’s possible… that’s the whole thing — if communicating is entertaining, why can’t positive messages be entertaining? The two are not mutually exclusive. The second sentence is so cynical… and not a view that everyone would agree with. I certainly don’t try to blame someone else… etc.

    But letting go is an awesome experience…

    I think watching the situation with Tim Tebow play out in the media is fascinating and depressing sign of our culture these days. The divisive lines that draw up, simply because he is a man of faith, and positivity…. it’s crazy.

    I try to do an act of kindness every day… it’s a small simple thing.. but makes me feel good, and makes others feel good.

  5. I love the message. It’s tough to look at advertising in the same light when you see the pro-woman’s self-confidence message of the Dove campaigns (LOVED that sped up photo shoot video) when you know its the same ad company and the same owner who promotes Axe, where the women are slaves to fragrance. I suspect if we got the creative people onto that kind of pro-helping others campaigns, they’ll still seem like hypocrites as they take on the more lucrative form of advertising to sell products.

    In the end, we’re all only human.

  6. I’m a take-control-into-my-own-hands kind of girl. Rather than waiting for advertisements to change, I limit my exposure to them by not watching TV. Not having a cable bill every month saves us a bunch – directly, and indirectly due to lack of exposure to advertisements.

  7. positive messages come from positive people. I am a pessimist by nature. In order to combat this I list to myself every day 10 things (no matter how insignificant) that were positive. This includes being helpful to others (opening the store door etc.) and laughing at the extremely fat squirrels running across the snow this morning. Good and bad habits take practice to become second nature. I’d rather work on the good ones. B.T.W. l like the idea of making mittens. Have you thought about chemo caps for your local cancer hospice? They are also quick to make and much appreciated.

  8. Amen.

  9. My favourite example, LUSH cosmetics has a really horrible campaign against Canadas oilsands yet has a store in the west edmonton mall. If the oilsands are that horrible why have a store in the west ed?

    I am not a fan of using Negative Campaign Ads to drive Sales.

    Great Post Gail.

  10. to defend M’s point….the reason it wouldn’t work in mass media could be that it’s entertainment needing/using advertising dollars. how many businesses are going to pony up cash to pay for something that doesn’t yield a payout to them….it has to be us making a change in the world around us.

  11. I find that the commercials that have these positive, uplifting messages are the ones that I remember the most. Sears had a commercial running before Christmas that showed people just having fun in everyday life and ended with a kid jumping up and down in front of a Christmas tree loaded with gifts. Their message? Today is a gift…what will you do with it?

    Here is the link to the commercial if you want to see it.

    http://www.sears.ca/custom-content/the-gift?extid=110712_ca_Vanity_EN_Online_TheGift#overlay-video

    Donna

  12. Ad companies and corporations spend millions of dollars figuring out how to make you feel insecure, scared, anxious, upset, and even “crazy” because they know in a survivalist mental state you’ll buy more stuff. …Just like an anxious squirrel will get more leaves to bury itself with. It’s an instinctive animal state–when you’re unsettled, you naturally surround yourself with more. And buying too much stuff puts people into debt, getting them depressed. The pharmaceutical companies don’t mind because depressed and anxious people get prescriptions. …And they tend to eat more. Which puts you on blood pressure and diabetes meds and then you eat more again and buy even more stuff because you’re depressed about body image and your health. So–retail, agri-business, and pharma all win in this equation.

    Do people even know that the layout of many stores (especially at the front), the lighting they choose, and the music and sounds they pump in is all *designed* to make you feel mentally unstable? They’re actually allowed to commit that type of psychological warfare against folks. They get away with it and nobody says anything. If anyone else played with your brain that way, you could have them in court for mental abuse. …And then everyone wonders why people snap and go crazy and do horrible things?! Why do we freely let advertisers make us crazy and then wonder why everyone’s crazy?! :(

  13. avatar Marilynne Says:
    January 4, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    I agree with so many of the comments above. I tend (well most of the time) to ignore ads and buy only what I need …except for the odd antique, but hey, a girl has to have one vice???? and it is recycling?????
    As for the small deeds – great idea. My “thing” is to pick up bottles and cans discarded in my (otherwise) beautiful neighbourhood. Once I have a bagful I go off to the recycling place and get cash. I donate the proceeds to a charity …last year it was only $65 but it was more than I would have given otherwise.
    Volunteering is another way to give back to one’s community.

  14. Without getting into the nitty-gritty detail of positive vs negative, I strongly believe each person is truly responsible for their actions and outcome.

    To achieve this, self-awareness and awareness of how your environment is set up to illicit a response from you is very important.

    I’ve been practicing this for awhile and it is always a WIP, but I think I have become sufficient at this.

    Some things just simply make me have a good laugh and I move on to something more productive and positive.

  15. Ads promoting kindness, patience and courage would be refreshing.

  16. I so agree with Gail.
    I always think the Giver is the Taker. When you think about it, and if you have ever done something nice for someone else, you may know that the reward of feeling good about yourself by knowing that you’ve made someone’s day just a little bit better, is more rewarding than any type of materialistic crap that we collect in our lifetime.
    I get more satisfaction out of doing a good deed, than I do from buying something that I don’t really need.

  17. I agree with you Gail. Kids are influnced by advertisements a lot . Recently, my seven year old nephew (living another country) has asked for a toy and mother has she does not have extra money this month. He immediately responded and said that is why we have credit cards and it is easy to buy things with credit cards. It is because he has seen and advertisement in the TV for ease of use credit cards!!!

  18. I think that people certainly do believe what ads show them, and unfortunately it’s all consumerism and negative influences. The ads for money management are about things like debt consolidation, making it seem like the norm. It probably is the norm, and no thanks to the media. Commercials and ads tend to give people (myself included) a case of the “give me”s.

  19. This article reminds me of a (unfortunately, now defunct) website that actually teaches you the tricks of the trade in order to “advertise” to yourself. The website is called Take
    back your brain… and at the risk of this comment being devoured by the spam filters, I will leave out the link, Google will help you ;) Even though it is no longer being updated, I recommend a cruise through the archives.

  20. @ Donna – YES! I love that commercial! I was going to post about it but saw it on your comment. I know it’s for Sears but I love the message it sends out and get choked up and happy at the same time about the older home movies!

    @ Deb – I think knitting mittens is a fantastic idea!

  21. avatar Marc Eric Says:
    January 6, 2013 at 6:16 am

    Challenge taken. I’m a copywriter in the field. Will try it out, shoot it and put it on Youtube. We’ll see how it goes. I think that if well written, witty and fun, it could work.

  22. Yes Gail, that would certainly be nice. There are some advertisements that do aim to make us feel better about ourselves and strive to do better with our lives, however they are far and few between the steady of stream of buy buy buy and pay later ads all aimed at enticing us to spend where we don’t need to.

  23. I was invited to a gathering yesterday by a friend of mine; I didn’t know a soul other than my bud. One of the ladies there walked up to me and said “You radiate goodness and warmth”. I was stunned!

    It has long been my project to work on myself; to be content with me, with my belongings, with my place in the world. And I’ve always believed in doing the little things to make a difference in someone else’s world. Pay for a tank of gas. Buy a coffee. Share my lunch. Say a prayer. Hug someone. The smallest acts of kindness and caring will change someone’s day.

    So if the marketing/advertising/entertainment worlds don’t care to invest in my kind of feel-good world, I can always choose to ignore them. I am not perfect, and I know I have plenty of work to do to better myself. I get to choose what makes me happy, and what inspires me. The look-at-my-new-expensive-car advert, the see-all-my-new-clothes people, don’t interest me in the least. So call me Pollyanna, I like the new world I’m building for myself.

  24. I was invited to a gathering yesterday by a friend of mine; I didn’t know a soul other than my bud. One of the ladies there walked up to me and said “You radiate goodness and warmth”. I was stunned!

    It has long been my project to work on myself; to be content with me, with my belongings, with my place in the world. And I’ve always believed in doing the little things to make a difference in someone else’s world. Pay for a tank of gas. Buy a coffee. Share my lunch. Say a prayer. Hug someone. The smallest acts of kindness and caring will change someone’s day.

    So if the marketing/advertising/entertainment worlds don’t care to invest in my kind of feel-good world, I can always choose to ignore them. I am not perfect, and I know I have plenty of work to do to better myself. I get to choose what makes me happy, and what inspires me. The look-at-my-new-expensive-car advert, the see-all-my-new-clothes people, don’t interest me in the least. So call me Pollyanna, I like the new world I’m building for myself.

    And kudos to all you who are giving in your own way! The smallest gift is large when it is given with love.

  25. I really enjoy the ads that the Foundation for a Better Life puts out. I always assumed they were Mormon-affiliated but it turns out they don’t have a religious affiliation. They’re just trying to send a positive message. Nothing wrong with that!

  26. NICE BLOG

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