On TV we are bombarded with the things that we ‘should’ care about: cars, clothing, food, and chalk white teeth. We are sold these things using the basic psychological tricks of habit and sex appeal. I want to start this off by saying that this is my opinion, so you are entirely entitled to disagree. It would not offend me, and I greatly welcome both positive and negative feedback.
Anyway, have you ever seen a commercial for toothpaste, face wash, or febreeze? I know, who uses Febreeze these days? All of these commercials use habit formation to get you to purchase their products.** For toothpaste, they had trouble selling their product for years and then all of a sudden they came up with a psychological tool for reinforcement. They used the feeling of minty clean teeth as their tool, by making each commercial rely on that clean feeling. Due to this, people would continue to buy toothpaste because every time that they brushed their teeth, they realized that they had the “ahhh” feeling of minty teeth in the commercials. Not wanting to miss out on that feeling, they continued to buy the product. Any commercial that focuses on a feeling associated with a product is using this same technique. These feeling are what creates a schedule of reinforcement for the use of a product.
If they aren’t selling to us using habit, they’re using sex appeal. However, while companies spend millions on women who are scantly clad, covered in makeup, and have cleavage spilling from their shirts, according to the book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning,’ by Viktor Frankl, man’s basic desire is not sex, it is love. Viktor was in a concentration camps during the Holocaust, and he is also a psychotherapist. Due to his background in psychotherapy, he was able to observe the psyche of the people around him and see what is important to people at the likely ends of their lives. Throughout his countless conversations with other camp victims, he never came across one person that told him “I really wish I could have sex right now with a woman in a bar”. These men wanted to hug their wives one last time, wanted to see the sparkle in her eyes and feel her love aiming in their direction. They wanted to hug their children and have one last chance to be good men. So why does the media, the one thing that has the most influence over the people of our country, sell things based on sex appeal? Why are we perpetuating the thought that sex is the end-all of life when the elderly and those who are in terrible situations such as concentration camps never even think of that as the end-all? If we listen to the media to create our system of priorities, we are setting ourselves up for a world of regret.
Anyone familiar with Stephen Covey’s work, including The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, knows that one of his key points is to, in a sense, live life backwards philosophically. He terms it starting with the end in mind. his philosophy is that you should imagine how you want to be remembered and ask yourself if your current actions are lending to your life’s ‘big picture.’ Do you want to be the person that always treated others poorly, the bitter person, or the selfish person? How do you want to make others feel when they ‘touch’ your life? In this vein, we can gain a sense of ‘expertise’ on this philosophy from work such as Frankl’s and testimonies from the elderly. Nobody wants to be remembered as sex-crazed or shallow. Keep reading, I promise I have a bigger point here.
So, as a country, we have the power to apply these ideas to how we are perceived by the rest of the world and to our citizens…our children. Do we want to raise our children in an environment where they grow up thinking that they are to be sex symbols if they want to be important? Do we want them to look at the media, one of the most influential parts of their lives, and see nothing but sex selling products? They learn: I can use sex appeal to get what I want from people; they will invest in me if I am ‘sexy’. Yes, it’s a long-shot, but why couldn’t we come together as a country and begin to realize what we are doing to ourselves, the distorted perception of life we are adopting from media, and the vanity we are investing in?
Media is such a powerful tool. It has the power to get presidents elected, ruin or build reputations, build entire industries, and make one competitor corner a market. Is that what we want to be utilizing our most massive tool on? We could utilize it to formulate new ideals, focusing on the parts of life that truly matter, teaching our citizens the value of real relationships, intelligence, and integrity. It would only take a few people who care more about long-term benefits rather than instant gratification to start a revolution. So, I ask you, if anyone from the media industry is reading this blog, please consider the power that you posses and use it in the right ways. I think we all want to live life in the best way possible, so let’s encourage ways to actually do that.
**More information on habit can be found in the book ‘The Power of Habit’.