This I Believe

dave - ridgefield, Connecticut
Entered on May 26, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65

IT’S MY FAULT

I believe that, as a nation, we’ve lost touch with the idea of a common good and, more importantly, I believe it’s my fault.

Our epidemic of self-centeredness is old news, and to preach the virtues of mutual welfare is trite and self-righteous at best, even on public radio. So instead, let’s affix blame. Specifically, let’s affix it to me and my cohorts in the marketing and advertising business.

Now, our responsibility for this mess springs not out of malice or greed, but from good old common sense.

Let me back up. Long ago, people made their own blankets and salted their own pork. But the machinery of mass production gave rise to companies that made and sold large quantities of things, made piles of money, and distributed it to employees, who used it to buy things made by other companies.

What was inevitable here, of course, was competition, making something else inevitable: salesmanship.

With the birth of advertising, selling became a pretty sophisticated business. Legions of gray-flannelled men came up with great slogans like Say It with Flowers and Put a Tiger in Your Tank. How naïve.

Then, in the 70’s, they discovered something that changed the business forever. You—the customer. They realized what’s important isn’t what they want to sell but what you want to buy. Selling gave way to marketing. In 1973, Burger King invited you to Have it Your Way, and the era of customer worship was born.

For three decades—a whole generation—we’ve been told You Deserve a Break Today. You Asked for It You Got It. You’ve Got Questions, We’ve Got Answers. Your Potential, Our Passion. See What Brown Can Do for You. It’s All About You. We Never Stop Working for You. We’re on Your Side. Driven by You.

You, you, you, you, you. Or, from the consumer’s point of view, me, me, me, me, me.

Bombarded by all this, you could be forgiven for concluding the only thing that matters is what you want. And politicians can be forgiven for concluding that pandering to self-interest is the success in the civic realm.

Actually, no they can’t, but that’s a different essay.

Today, marketers spend millions to find out what you want and then promise capital-y-you satisfaction. With self-interest greasing the wheels of commerce, how will we ever get out of this mess?

Well, I have an idea.

About 15 years ago, marketers made a commitment to show diversity in their communications. The message has gotten through. Today, lily-white advertising stands out as odd, and we’ve managed to raise a generation that research shows to be far less racist than its parents.

Advertising has the power to undo its own damage. So, fellow ad-guys, let’s make a commitment to trading in “you” for “we.” Let’s show people serving others, not just themselves—not as the focus of advertising but as a fact of life. Let them drive that ultimate driving machine to volunteer at a homeless shelter.

Come on, ad, people. Get on board. I promise, it’ll make you richer and better looking, too.