Caveat Emptor: Does advertising contribute to our indifference to things that can hurt us?

November 24, 2014

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What are you scared of?

In Eula Biss’s new book, On Immunity: An Innoculation she writes about fears, rational and otherwise, associated with vaccinating ourselves against terrible diseases. It’s a good read, a lot more interesting and scary than you might think. However, it was a tangential paragraph about fear in general that I bookmarked for later consideration:

“We do not tend to be afraid of the things that are most likely going to harm us. We drive around in cars, a lot. We drink alcohol, we ride bicycles, we sit too much. And we harbor anxieties about things that, statistically speaking, pose us little danger. We fear sharks, while mosquitos are, in terms of sheer numbers of lives lost, probably the most dangerous creatures on earth.”

Biss provides more context as well as fascinating quotes around the topic but you get the idea. We are scared of remarkable things but are indifferent to mundane items that are, frankly, far more dangerous to us. For example, every spring entire football stadiums are emptied out because of lightning spotted in the area. The rarity of being struck by lightning is more or less a cliché yet we fear it excessively. Of course, we don’t question authorities for taking such precautions. But I am struck by certain ironies, perhaps not so obvious. Consider that in those same football stadiums countless cups of beer and nachos are zealously sold and consumed even though alcoholism and obesity will, in fact, kill thousands of people in this country ever year; and a lot of them probably at those very ballgames that were postponed do to weather.

I know very well the tendency to do things that are bad for me despite knowing full well they are bad for me. When I drank, the fear of poisoning myself to death was not present; not like the fear of being struck down by a lightning bolt. To different extents, all humans are like this.

I can’t help but wonder what role popular culture and, in particular, advertising plays in this potentially dangerous mega-quirk of our thinking. Advertisers pummel us with enticing messages about alcohol, cars, soft drinks and fast food.

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Fear of flying but not bacon…

Sexy women slobber over bacon double cheeseburgers inviting us to join the “mile high club” referring to piles of bacon. Bud Light proudly states it’s the beer for those who are “up for whatever.” Ad nausea, literally and figuratively.

The theme for this blog is, “we make you want what you don’t need.” I came up with that more as a provocation regarding the sins of envy and gluttony. Is it possible many persuasive communications are even more insidious? Over time do many of them actually cause us to allay otherwise rational fears for our emotional desires?

Of course they do. Caveat Emptor!

One Response to “Caveat Emptor: Does advertising contribute to our indifference to things that can hurt us?”

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