There has been growing interest in the increasingly pervasive influence of advertising, marketing, and the science of persuasion in commerce, politics and, ultimately, every phase of life. "Selling" has moved from selling a product to selling an idea through a product to ultimately selling a lifestyle, a mentality, an approach to life through that product. A recent episode of the television program Frontline dealt with this intriguing reality and its effect on us. The impact of this trend in selling products and political ideas has serious implications for anyone interested in choosing salvation over perdition!
The New Kind of Selling
Many advertising and marketing gurus agree that the concept of selling has gone through profound changes over the last 20 years. In the past, producers would create a product and then try to figure out how to sell that product to us, how to "interrupt our lives" yet create some kind of bond that would make us want to buy their product over a competitor's. For centuries, "selling" involved face-to-face interaction between purchaser and producer which developed into a sense of trust and familiarity. After all, the man who sold you the horseshoes or the chair actually made those items in your own town. You might have known his family and even socialized with him. There was a built-in bond there. As industrialization and population shifts had their effects on society and culture, the product you were purchasing was increasingly created far from your home, and therefore a surrogate relationship became necessary.
This surrogate relationship was created by the brand name, logo, or trademark, which served to create an artificial familiarity to replace the actual familiarity which used to exist between producer and purchaser. Therefore, the image of Aunt Jemima was used to associate syrup with home. Additionally, it became increasingly obvious to advertisers and marketers that simply competing by price, size, or other tangible characteristic of a product was not enough to create the kind of brand loyalty leading to lifetime customers.
The combination of market forces, technology, and new ways of looking at selling have led to the present strategy of selling, which focuses on finding an association between words and emotional bonds to sell a product not as simply a store or a pair of sneakers, but as the subconscious embodiment of some greater idea thereby creating, in the words of ad gurus, "a link beyond reason" which survives changes in markets and the numerous negative messages present at the more rudimentary level of earlier selling.
In other words, if I figure out what "love", "trust", "health" and other concepts mean to you, if I discover what words trigger those emotional meanings and memories in your past, and then I use those words and associations in my product, you will subconsciously come to associate my product with "love", "comfort", "luxury" or "health" and we will establish an emotional, long-lasting bond resulting in product loyalty. Also, advertising and marketing people realized that consumers were increasingly able to avoid or ignore selling efforts as they grew increasingly cynical, suspicious, or tired of these artificial intrusions into their lives. Consequently, new selling often involves subtly integrating the sale of a product or idea with everyday life. In the revealing and ominous words of one selling guru, "Propaganda…wants to become the air we breathe. It wants us not to be able to find a way outside of the world that it creates for us." Thus, we see that the new kind of selling involves not necessarily selling a product per se as much as selling emotions and the ideas those emotions represent through a product. The implications of this kind of selling go far beyond the store!
The Methods to the Madness
Instead of simply working on a catchy tune or ad to sell a product as was done many years ago, today's selling involves using focus groups, brainstorming feelings sessions, and well-paid consultants and researchers seeking to discover what words, phrases, and ideas will sell a product or concept. The focus, then, is not so much on the quality of the product or the product itself as much as how that product can be tied to pre-existing emotional triggers in our mind such that we will develop an almost subconscious, habitual, automatic loyalty to that product. At that point, researchers claim, our product will no longer be subject to low-level concerns about price or practicality. This has been illustrated in such cases as the sale of the very expensive and gas-guzzling Hummer, which advertisers have associated with power, freedom, assertiveness, and even intimidation! Even though the car is not efficient or even makes sense in many situations, people keep buying it because their purchasing has become more a question of emotion rather than any rational thought.
Service or Servitude?
If you listen to advertisers, this kind of emotional selling is simply identifying and serving customer needs and wants. From this standpoint, such selling is a noble service which fulfills society's gaps. However, one can seriously question if what is really going on here is simply a sinister deception, mind control, or brainwashing. If you are lonely and need companionship, and if I can find out what words mean companionship to you, and then I use those words to sell you a fitness club membership, am I selling you fitness or am I selling my fitness club to you disguised as companionship? Some will view this as manipulation. To those who argue that fitness is good for you no matter why you are doing it, one can answer that jogging or swimming on one's own is also fitness, much less expensive, but much less attractive to fitness club owners!
Another aspect of new selling is the use of demographics to zero in on what issues, ideas, and emotions work with specific kinds of people. Modern technology has allowed companies to profile American consumers into 70 categories and untold subcategories and then determine what kinds of messages and words will inspire each kind of person. This form of narrowcasting means that different approaches will be used to sell the same product to different kinds of people or that certain people will be targeted for certain messages. The most recent election was the first time such techniques were used in politics, which has already used emotional associations and languages to influence voters.
There is much debate over the negative impact of this new kind of selling. One criticism is that it manipulates at a deeper, more sinister level than ever before under the continued guise of service. Another criticism is that instead of promoting interaction and cooperation between different people, techniques such as narrowcasting actually encourages partisanship, extreme individuality, and selfishness. I do not need to learn how to deal with others, compromise, cooperate, or even temper my views if society, the media, entertainment, and sellers actually encourage a very selfish, self-centered view of my world. Still another criticism is that quality, workmanship, and basic production becomes marginalized as the focus increasingly becomes centered on not how I produce something but rather how I can tap into your subconscious and manipulate you to buy that product. Also, it is disturbing that the new selling involves creating, in the words of ad gurus, a pseudo-spirituality which fills gaps that religion used to fill. It is one thing to sell shoes. It is quite another to sell those shoes as symbolic of pure freedom and choice.
Once I do that, I am selling the idea that pure freedom and choice are inherently good, desirable, and must be protected at all costs. The implications to such things as abortion are obvious. Finally, the application of these techniques to politics seems to enhance the hypocrisy of clamoring against single-issue voting while actually encouraging and using narrow choice motives to profile and persuade voters as I have detailed in past columns. It is naïve to pretend that voters do not vote based on narrow motives when those who sell political ideas base their work on identifying, profiling, and shaping their messages toward such narrow voting motives.
Implications to Faith
Once we see where selling has headed, it becomes strikingly obvious why liberals talk in terms of reshaping their language on abortion, stem cell research, homosexual marriage, and other controversial ideas. It becomes plainly clear why Pro-death advocates speak of "choice" and other euphemisms designed to sell killing babies as fighting for personal freedom and predetermination. It is obvious that homosexual or sodomite takes a back seat to gay as tools for promoting such lifestyles. While it is no less vile or despicable to observe how death and sin are clothed in the same fancy words and messages designed to sell shirts, it becomes infinitely more predictable and plain how that heinous bridge is crossed by those wishing to get from point moral restrictions to point moral free-for-all. We have even seen so-called liberal religious leaders or Bible quoting political leaders ignore the inherent evil of abortion or homosexuality, and instead focus on how murder and sodomy might be sold in the marketplace of ideas.
Taken in this context, we may call the recent elections as the failure of liberal, secular, atheist, feminist, sodomite, and modernist forces to completely sell their view of morality to enough voting consumers to win the election. They will likely not revisit the true absurdity of their messages since their blind product loyalty to those vile messages is firmly and passionately ingrained in their psyches. In the words of ad gurus, abortion, sodomy, stem cell research, and other issues have become pure love marks for these people, associating with deep images of freedom, choice, and other noble mental images.
From the perspective of those attempting to sell political ideas, there are three groups of idea consumers out there. First, there are those firmly and passionately loyal to the idea being sold. There is no great need to worry about these people since they are already "sold" on abortion, sodomy, etc. In other words, satan has them solidly in his camp.
Second, there are those firmly and passionately against such ideas as abortion, sodomy, etc. It may not be practical to directly sell abortion to such people since they will reject that sale. This is why those selling abortion have attempted to conceal their murder under the guise of some other, "greater" good such as choice or freedom hoping to get some of these opposing viewpoint to soften. Finally, there are those who are undecided. It is this group which those selling an idea focus on the most, tailoring their message according to the profiled needs and wants of the undecided person. Remember the devil is the father of half-truths and lies.
Despite the seemingly surface positive results of these elections, there are ominous clouds in the horizon for faith. First, the liberal media and entertainment industries are already selling irresponsible, selfish, sinful ideas to susceptible young people whose inclinations, concerns, and "triggers" have already been well identified. Do you think ABC and the NFL were naïve by running a soft-porn ad this past Monday night for a prurient program that wreaks of lust? Despite their hollow apologies and slaps on the wrist, they knew very well what they were doing. It was all planned. When you see the tone of commercials for erectile-dysfunction they have nothing to do with dysfunction of the body, but a license for lust, pure and simple. The hypocrisy of the executives and media is appalling. It is naïve to imagine that the same people who have figured out how to sell sneakers or revealing clothing to teens cannot figure out how to associate those products with notions of choice, freedom, and escape from moral restraints which those teens are increasingly buying. Connecting clothing or stores with notions of freedom, sophistication, and autonomy simultaneously sells that product and those notions in ways potentially destructive to morality. We have already seen how celebrities and concerts have been used to tie political parties and their agenda to already popular people and concepts. Presumably, these young will age into adults and maintain those subconscious or ingrained liberal associations imbued in their minds through entertainment and the media.
Secondly, I fear that liberal forces have many more soldiers who are versed in this kind of subliminal emotional selling of ideas. While conservatives did succeed in selling morality in this past election, it seems that there are more messengers from many more directions selling liberal thinking. Unless something is done, these numbers will eventually tip the scale to the side of liberal ideas and thinking enough to spread greater harm.
Third, much of this new kind of selling involves deception, manipulation, and sensory/emotional artifacts. Genuine, absolute Catholic teaching, however, is based on truth, free choice, and direct messages based on clear-cut teaching. Basic Catholic teaching may no longer be enticing to a society and culture whose sensory and rational appetite has been corrupted by the diluted, superficial, and amoral fast good of Madison Avenue. Lastly, with such a majority of betraying Judases composed of a dumbed-down clergy and laity, watched closely by liberal radical clergy, blasphemous theologians, and rebellious lay mob groups all under the watchful eye of the New Order Vatican. They are all plunging knives into the heart of our Catholic faith from within by selling their own cheap and easy brand of Protestantism, masked as 'Catholicism.' Legitimate, absolute Catholic faith must battle on external and internal fronts.
A review of modern advertising and marketing techniques and gurus presents an eerie reflection of the threats to traditional Catholic doctrine and faith. Selling a product is no longer the focus in the commercial and political marketplace or arena of general opinion.
Instead, vast amounts of research, money, and efforts are being poured into profiling the potential consumers of a message to determine what is important to them and what emotional buttons they will most effectively react to. This kind of emotional selling sells its product as a vehicle or path to a greater, often subconscious need, desire, or basic association triggered by words, phrases, or images. Key components of this strategy are "consumer profiling" and narrowcasting, in which precise messages are delivered to particular groups depending upon their profiled needs, wants, and likely emotional buttons. While many in the ad and political industries argue that these methods only enhance the ability of a seller to serve the consumer, there are many who argue that this is precisely the kind of subliminal manipulation which allows liberal entertainment and media forces to shift society's attentions and preferences over time. Furthermore, end times observers greatly fear that this is precisely the mechanism by which the antichrist will do his harm. There is something indeed ominous about using techniques which sell soup to sell political and social ideas whose effect may be much more significant than chicken soup!
Despite the recent elections, it is clear that there is a much greater marketplace at work above and beyond goods and services. We are witnessing the very real sale of ideas and greater concepts in the media and entertainment industries. No longer are we buying shoes, shirts, cars, coffee, yogurt, or club memberships. We are buying the subliminal connections, real or imagined, which researchers have identified between words and messages and our pool of emotions. When advertising executives readily admit that they are seeking to go "beyond rational" into some Pavlovian response, when they aspire to create a "pseudo-spiritual" , almost religious connection between consumer and message through a product, and when we have people who take pride in such manipulation, we have a brew quite dangerous to absolute morality.
Combine that brew with a society already hungry for greater meaning and depth to their lives, and you have the makings of a passionate, loyal lifetime customer buying a product of political or social perdition. Here, the church of Vatican II is culpable because they dropped the safeguards of morality, dissolving the powerful and widely respected and feared Legion of Decency, doing away with the much needed Prayer of St. Michael in the Leonine Prayers after every Low Mass, and eliminating the Order of Exorcist in the Sacrament of Holy Orders; in other words an open invitation to the evil one; to paraphrase Bob Barker, "Come on down!"
This, I believe, was at the crux of the revolution in the 60's and the overthrow of traditional Catholicism and faith has been further sabotaged over the last half of the century with the establishment of the New Order, defended from the ramparts of the Apostolic Palace, Curia and Chanceries. Yes, the New Order has dug in and truth has been compromised. Yet these new ideas, rather than being regarded as "foolishness and harmful to souls," are celebrated and made malleable fodder for the one St. Paul warned against in Ephesians 6: 12, as not flesh and blood "but against the rulers of the world of this darkness: against the spirits of wickedness in the high places."
The paradox between arrogant self-confidence and ignorant moral standing so characteristic of such selling is evidenced by California politician Diane Feinstein, who ignorantly observed that the message of homosexual marriage had been rushed too much for certain voters ( presumably us…ignorant, faith-based simpletons) to grasp. Those of us who believe in the ultimate victory of Our Lord over this false selling in the temple know that He will surely overturn these moneychangers as He did so well long ago. The only question, however, is how many of us will be strong, disciplined, dedicated, trusting, and loyal enough to be passionate, lifetime consumers for the product of life, mercy, forgiveness, sacrifice, and salvation which Our Lord has been trying to convince us of for 2,000 years? The real question, the true demographics every loyal Catholic needs to be concerned with is contained in Luke 18: 8, "when the Son of man cometh, shall he find, think you, faith on earth?"