Monday, February 9, 2009

Words on a bus…

Interesting discussion here, here, here and here has pricked a few thoughts that I'd rather not clutter up someone else's blog with. So I will puke it out here.

The flap is over a slogan on a bus in England (which we have learned will make its appearance here in Canada shortly as well). One aspect of this situation that seems under represented is what actual effect a slogan such as this has in social currency.

I begin with the effect of advertising is social structures. It is often argued (and often most vehemently in Christian right-wing discourse) that advertising is the culprit for the moral degradation of our social framework. At advertising's feet is often also laid the core ethos of our consumerist culture. These arguments are highly flawed. It is not that advertising plays no role in fashioning the mores of our social identity. Rather it needs to be understood in the complementary role that it actually plays along side the prevailing values of our culture. If fact a closer look at the data (stuff like the recent 2008 Canada Youth Survey (Bibby)) suggests that advertising is highly distrusted by most adolescents. The argument stands on the fact that teenagers and adults report a lifestyle that is busier than ever. Bibby reports that generally speaking people have asked ultimate questions (of life's purpose, life after death, etc) at a fairly consistent rate over the years – between 80 and 90 %. In the most recent survey he has seen a significant drop in the percentage of youth asking ultimate questions. His conclusion is that this maybe mostly due to the warp speed of our society. When adolescents were asked about the institutions that they trusted the most and the least advertising occupied the lowest rating. Again Bibby points to the speed of life and the available option that teens have to access the media that they want. Embedded advertising in movies and TV shows is the sad consequence of this. All this to say that in the end a slogan on the side of the bus is going to have a negligible effect on society as a whole –especially the impressionable minds of our young people. This will hardly register on the collective consciousness (save the few youth groups that end up buying the Josh McDowell "How to Combat Bus Signs in Your City" Campaign DVD study guide).


Frankly, I wonder whether drawing out the controversial nature of this slogan is giving this campaign far too much credit. The content of the sign is suspect–sure–but isn't dignifying such a feeble project with our hot indignation just as suspect. We live in an out-dated perspective of the world if we think that conventional advertising schemes like these will actually affect any noticeable aspect of our social fabric. Budweiser admit that there has been no verifiable increase in the sale of their products due to the advertising campaign they mount each year at the Super Bowl. If those millions of dollars can't sell beer better – how do we actually think that pink slogans on a bus will sell atheism any better…

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't need to use the word 'probably' in my claim that there is a God.

Patrick said...

I'm reading a marketing book entitled "The New Influencers". Paul Gillin, the author writes about the current generation, "They don't have the patience to listen to marketing messages. There are too many other things to do. As my fourteen year old daughter, Alice, said, "Constant advertising is annoying.""
If anything this marketing campaign can serve to open up some dialogue.