Monday, December 9, 2013

Tossing a Wrench in the Wish Machine

The WISH MACHINE is running at maximum capacity. My inbox is more inundated than ever before the call to buy this or that for this or that bargain price or to get free shipping or some accompanying extra. The sidebars of my inbox are perfectly attuned to my desires, and the commercials on television make me long for a) chocolate, b) the good old days, or c) a magical Christmas surprise.

It might be a good time to share a few lessons in debunking advertising with your children. Give them a few basic instructions and then sit down to pick apart the commercials. You will have done a lot to slow down the wish machine, whose primary purpose is to make you feel bad so that they can sell you something to make you feel good. Here are the basics*:
  • The Weasel Claim: this ad ALMOST says what you heard, but with qualifiers: Leaves your dishes virtually spotless. In other words, not actually spotless.
  • The Unfinished Claim: this ad promises you MORE: Our product will save you more. More what? More money, more time, more anxiety?
  • We're Unique: There's nothing else like it. This implies that is superior but the product may only sport a minor difference. Perhaps there are many things like it but this is the only place you can get it in this color. 
  • Water is Wet: makes a claim true for any product of its kind. 
  • So What?: Something true is stated but it doesn't give any real advantage over another brand. Brand X has twice as much of something - but do you need it? Can your body absorb it?
  • The Celebrity Testimonial: Just because someone famous says it's good doesn't mean that they actually use it or that it works. 
  • The Scientific Claim: The use of numbers to sound authoritative. "Wonder Bread builds strong bodies 12 ways." What ways? How can that be proven. And so on. . .
  • Compliment the Consumer: "For the discriminating diner" or the "person who knows quality".
  • The Rhetorical Question: Asks a question that really has no bearing on the product's quality: "Don't you wish you had a peaches and cream complexion?" tells you nothing about the product.
How your kids respond to the "Wish Machine" will impact their later happiness a great deal. This is nothing new. Even the Old Testament contains reminders to hope for what is real and good. The write of Ecclesiastes goes on and on about chasing after things that will not satisfy. 

There is no easier time than Christmas to get caught up in wishing for things that will not make you happy or more satisfied.  Depending on which source you read, your kids are exposed to between 247-3000 marketing messages a day from the wish machine. Even if it's the lowest figure, 247 messages is a lot. Fortunately, there is also no better time for getting wrapped up in things that will last: the Christ child, your family, holiday traditions, giving to others.How many messages about the child, the family, the meaning of the season do they hear? 

Building awareness is one of our jobs as parents. Teaching them to look both ways before they cross the street and teaching them not to hunger for things that won't satisfy them are just a couple of the privileges of being parents. So go - tear apart a few commercials and then go and make some holiday traditions. You'll enjoy it all!

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