- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 27, 2011

Culture Challenge of the Week: Marketing a World View

What was your first clue that the Christmas season is upon us? Ads, ads, ads.

Many adults have learned to push through the marketing blizzard and spend responsibly. Some of us manage to maintain the religious motivation for our holiday celebrations and gift-giving. Advertising might pad our shopping lists, but it probably won’t shape our values.

Other parents, however, slide right into the trap. They totally miss the fact that Black Friday’s midnight stroke unleashes a marketing assault aimed squarely at our children - and it plays upon parental desires to make them happy.

Marketing to children delivers a tidy sum to the corporate bottom line. According to a recent story in USA Today, children influence nearly $1.2 trillion of household spending every year. Parents want to keep their children happy, and far too many children think the latest, coolest “stuff” unlocks the door to happiness - or at least to popularity.

But the advertising onslaught is not just about selling “stuff” to our kids. It’s about selling popular culture as well - a materialistic mindset often flavored with mixed-up, sexualized messages.

It used to be fairly simple for us to identify ads and curtail our children’s exposure to them. Not so anymore. Advertising comes embedded in games, movie trailers and the interactive features of brand websites.

Advertising video - shown on closed-circuit TVs strategically placed in the junior section of department stores or embedded as website content on branded sites - blurs the line between easy-to-spot commercials and featured entertainment. That means children drink it in: They want not only the item, but also the “cool” factor laden with cultural messages. And busy moms start drinking the Kool-Aid, too.

The Gap, for example, plugs its new “I Want Candy” holiday collection for girls with a short music video by 11-year-old Canadian Maria Aragon. The original song lyrics are suggestive - “candy” carries a sexual connotation. Selecting Maria to promote the clothes is a problem as well. She rocketed to Internet fame singing Lady Gaga’s gay anthem, “Born This Way.” But the song’s catchy, the clothes are cute - so it’s the perfect way to promote a lifestyle and a look at the same time.

And, of course, that’s what the clever marketing of goods has always been about: promoting goods through promoting a lifestyle. But the lifestyle promoted to our children by today’s pop culture is often one of “free sex” cleverly packaged in smiles, laughter and bubbly tunes. Most parents are so concerned with keeping their children happy that even we don’t stop to examine the insidious messages that crouch just beneath the surface like lions waiting to devour our children’s innocence.

How to Save Your Family: Wake Up and Drink the Coffee

We need to stop unwittingly contributing to the “cause.” It’s time to wake up and not just smell the coffee, but drink it, too. Far too many of us have been supporting the worldview of the culture by routinely plunking down our cold, hard cash in exchange for the easy purchase “everybody” wants.

We’ve allowed ourselves and our children to fall victim to the “happy tunes” and smiley faces that have become the facades for an empty lifestyle composed of teen sex, homosexuality and a total rejection of God and His moral absolutes.

Stop. Just stop. Take a day or so during the holiday mayhem that’s also a creation of the culture - remember, Christmas is supposed to be about that “silent night, holy night” - and survey the cultural landscape and how it seeks to control your family.

Then, start discussing the commercials, storefront posters, email messages, etc., with your children and help them realize how very clever adults - people they don’t even know - are trying to manipulate their emotions, desires and even their sense of right and wrong. In so doing, be careful not to become the family Scrooge - remember, Christmas is also about “joy to the world.”

Replace the acceptance of the lies that would rob us of our souls by embracing the joyful message and love of Christ. Shower affection, family interaction and good gifts on your children. Go out of your way to have their friends over, to plan family outings, to seek out good entertainment your children will enjoy. Cook together, serve your neighbors and those in need together. And if there are popular items your children want that are practical because of their usefulness, pure fun or beauty, don’t hesitate to purchase them if you can afford them.

The point is to be as purposeful and committed in your presentation of Christmas and the real “reason for the season” as are those who seek to sell you and your children a brightly packaged bag of coal and lies.

Yes, it’s easy to feel like David confronting Goliath - but with the truth on your side and God’s help, you can save your people, too.

Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at rebecca@howtosave yourfamily.com.

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