Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Why Is Everyone Smiling?

The Rebel Consumer wants to know why people smile so often in advertisements.

Early in actor James Coburn's career he appeared in an electric razor ad for television. He said the hardest part was smiling while shaving. This was not a natural thing to do but a big grin was obligatory.

We have gotten so used to ads we have stopped noticing that everyone is smiling no matter how odd it is. People eating a slice of pizza are smiling, people losing weight are smiling as they bounce around now suddenly free of twenty pounds. People who were depressed are instantly happy leading full lives because they now take a prescription medicine. People with arthritis can dance freely with big grins on their faces. People who want whiter teeth are smiling because their teeth now light up a room.

I mean, come on! How absurd. And yet it is this nonsensical reality that we are exposed to hundreds of times a day in ad after ad. It is as though there were another world out there where everyone is always happy and confident.

As consumers we accept this reality, because we have no choice. If we watch commercial TV, the ads will be there. If we drive down the road, billboards will be there. If we walk into a supermarket, the displays will be there.

While critics of media often focus on a particular ad campaign or advertisements to a target group such as tweens, I believe the most destructive aspect of advertising is its cumulative effect. If everyone is smiling in all the ads, what do they know that I don't? Why are their lives happier than mine? Why can't I find a product that will make me feel that good? My life seems so drab and the world of ads seems so exciting; why can't I live like that?

Of course, this is all nonsense but when children grow up with ads, mature with ads, become adults with ads, when they have seen about one million ads on TV by the age of twenty-one, it may be hard to shake the feeling that ads present a better way of life. While we may deny it rationally, deep inside advertisers have convinced us that they offer a warm, smiley world by repeating their message day after day.

They have programed us. And those who think they are not programmed are the most vulnerable. This is because these people are not aware how media forces operate on individuals and on the society and thus they cannot resist these forces.

Yet if you want to unplug the influence of advertising, there are places to start that are quite effective. Here is step #1.

For just one day, pay attention to how often people smile during all TV ads. When you really notice, it's quite ridiculous. You may even start laughing after the two hundredth ad. It's like watching gangs of lunatics who believe everything is wonderful all the time no matter what.

And once you have done this, you have started to remove some of the sting and power that ads have over your life.


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