Last week I engaged in one of my favorite pastimes — watching the advertisements during the Super Bowl. Despite the game being one for the history books, I was disappointed by the performance of the commercials. However, this isn’t the first time I think people were disappointed by ads.
Advertisements play a key role in our expectations. At its basic level, an advertisement is meant to sell you a product. This is not a bad thing. We often need things to help us with our lives. There is a bigger issue though that underlies this practice. It is the way that marketers target their ads to us. Think of the ads that you watch. Yes, they demonstrate the utility of the given product. However, hidden within the ads are several appeals to our higher needs.
In ads, you see happy families, passionate couples, beautiful places, confident people and other images of people living lives of fulfillment. Advertisers know what we want. We want satisfaction, love, connection, self-esteem, purpose and self-actualization. This creates a problem.
Companies and advertisers understand people’s psychological needs and wants. But presenting them to us in ads alongside their products, they create an association between the things we want and the products they sell. The issue is they cannot sell us the things we want. A new car will not make your family closer. The woman you love will not love you because you wear Old Spice. Reese’s Puffs will not give a child a fun and memorable childhood.
We cannot buy our way into fulfillment. This is the issue with consumer capitalism. Companies are selling us false promises of a deep satisfaction that they cannot provide. We are convinced through ads that they can. This makes us go out to the store and buy that thing that will make us happy. We even get a little reward — a little dose of dopamine for our purchase. Soon after, we realize the products we bought did not bring the satisfaction that they sold us. So we buy more and more.
One major issue with society is the deep dissatisfaction that people have with their lives. We work too much, buy stuff to try to make us happy and buy stuff to try to impress or cause people to envy us. This is not the way to a good life.
We spend too little with the people we love and too much on things we don’t need. We focus on our stuff and not on ourselves. We should all take a minute, sit back and think about the things we really want to do. We need to think of the places we wish to see, the people we want to connect with and the things we want to accomplish. Odds are, you won’t find those in a Wal-Mart. This does not mean we shouldn’t buy things. But we need to examine the reasons why we buy. If you can honestly tell yourself that buying something will make your life better, go ahead and do it. Not everything that we can buy can do this.
I also do not believe that money is evil. We should buy things that will really provide us with long-term utility and won’t become another thing to clutter our lives. We need to consider these facts when purchasing things. I now realize there have been countless purchases in my life that are pointless. And looking back, I was prioritizing the wrong things. If we rely on our material gains as a source for happiness, we will have lives that are superficial and unsatisfactory.
If we want to be happier we need to think about the moments that truly matter. The moment you embrace the ones you love and the feeling that you wish it could last forever. The times you laugh or cry with your friends. The moment you first lay eyes on the wonders of Earth. That time you and a friend looked to the night sky and pondered your place in the infinite. Times when you helped out a stranger and made their day a little better, or when your friend was down and you asked what was wrong.
Ads are showing us the things we want. They aren’t representing products, but the moments and feelings the marketers are associating with them. No many how many hours you work, how much money you make or the amount of stuff you have, you will never buy your way into happiness.