Drugs, Alcohol, War …brands? Inspiring belief can be dangerous.

March 8, 2010

“Where’s my Ipod?”

Toward the end of Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker the main character makes a disturbing, little speech to his infant child, essentially stating he’s lost the ability to feel love for anything except defusing bombs. It’s a poignant scene to say the least. Addicted to the adrenalin high of war, the officer becomes hopelessly caught up in it, forsaking his wife and baby boy.


A lot of stories about war portray it as hell on Earth. Hence the phrase “War is Hell.” Not so many assert war is a drug. Apocalypse Now is the other movie comes to mind that took this route. Here we got the ultimate line of dialogue: ‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

I believe most of us at least comprehend how and why some people become addicted to booze and drugs. Those things make you feel good. Most folks also get how gambling works on the psyche, same as extreme sports, even sex. The risk and reward is tied together. It becomes irresistible. Literally.

The pull from something dire as war is another matter. The risks far outweigh the rewards, unless, of course, you believe –really believe- in what you’re fighting for. God bless those that do. But, in fact, the main characters in both the movies I’ve referred to do not. These soldiers have become obsessed with war –killing and saving blur together. For them, it truly is a journey into the heart of darkness. There is no turning back. We know this addiction will kill them. And we know that they know it too. That’s what makes both these movies so compelling and intense.

Being drawn to something that will kill you is one hell of a paradox. Yet, addiction is commonplace. Putting my own demons aside, I’m drawn to the concept for pragmatic reasons. As copywriters, when we exploit addictive properties from the brands we work on we are doing our jobs. When we actually create addictive properties for the brands we work on we achieve the penultimate. We become, if you’ll pardon the expression, Gods of Advertising.

Indeed, we make you want what you don’t need. Not just want, but covet. As in can’t live without it. Think Apple, Starbucks, Nike, Play Station, American Girl to name but a few. And while only precious few achieve indelible, cult-like status, many more obtain phenomenal success for periods of time. Fashion brands are notorious for this: Guess. Juicy Couture. Von Dutch. Either way, creating belief systems for places or things is a lot like starting a cult.

As many of you know, this is one of my favorite themes. Cults can be attractive when they’re built around dolls or smart phones. Potentially, they may also turn dangerous as when youths steal and spend precious dollars to acquire products they crave, like gym shoes. Defusing bombs in Iraq more perilous still.

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6 Responses to “Drugs, Alcohol, War …brands? Inspiring belief can be dangerous.”

  1. Dree said

    “Either way, creating belief systems for places or things is a lot like starting a cult.”

    Cults come so easily to a lonely human consciousness though, don’t they? We all need a sense of community, whether it be with the methodist church, the 49’ers, or LEVI’s. Brands connect us with other people, make us feel like we’re part of a group. It is exploited by this industry, as you point out, but I don’t think we created the addiction itself. It seems like the natural solution for us as branders is a moral addiction, a moral cult. Which is a pretty tenuous idea…is it possible then, to just keep branding on the level of community? Or is the temptation too strong (or inevitable) to saturate the message with cultlike demands of devotion?

  2. SRP said

    Among other points, you are ever so right about brands that foster community. We all need to feel that and if a brand provides it for us, we dive in…

  3. As humans, our absolute highest motivation (second only maybe to breeding) is to feel that we are connected to something greater than ourselves. This could be a high school clique, an enviable social circle, a religion, a political party, or many other things.

    Emotions are HIGHLY addictive. People do all kinds of things because they get an emotional charge out of it. The addictiveness of strong emotions explains so much seemingly counterintuitive self-destructive behavior. Hate, fear, and anger are MUCH more addictive emotions than those related to love, because they come from a more primitive area of our psyches.

    Humans are not rational. We are instinctual and emotional, and then rationalize those deep motivators. As advertising people, we are much better at our jobs when we tie our brands to the deep motivators in human behavior. We can use that knowledge for good or for ill. Either way, we must be willing to accept the consequences.

    • SRP said

      True dat…
      Hence the phrase “emotional hangover.”

      • Thanks Steffan.

        This is beyond the scope of your post, but I’ve been exploring the principle of “transmutation” a lot lately.

        Transmutation being taking the powerful energies from our base desires and directing them at higher ideals.

        Every energy vibrates at a certain octave, and if we raise that octave, it uplifts everything that energy resonates with.

        And yes, that’s indeed very applicable to advertising. Mwahahahah….

  4. SRP said

    Transmutation? In the words of Bart Simpson:
    “Aye Carumba!”

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