“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” Romans 12: 2 (The Message)
The purpose of advertising is to introduce a product or service to a specific segment of society and intentionally stir a desire to own or secure it.
The old advertisement about “contented cows” comes to mind. In 1901, Carnation Evaporated Milk Company began selling the Carnation brand – the milk “from contented cows.” What? Did the farmer place noise-cancelling headphones on the cows’ ears so they wouldn’t be riled by the constant gossip in the local pastures? What criteria did the corporation use to determine whether the farmer’s cows were contented? This is an example of the intentional ploy of advertising promotions – it doesn’t have to make sense!
Companies hire marketing firms to develop sophisticated and appealing ads. “The U.S. ad expenditure in 2019 amounted to 240.7 billion U.S. dollars” – and that’s just in the United States! (www.statista.com/statistics/272314/advertising-spending-in-the-us) TV commercials are designed to cause consumers to respond positively to their 30-second melodramas. Advertising companies hire psychologists and sociologists to help them better understand their target audiences. Focus groups are paid to give feedback about potential ad campaigns.
We are bombarded by thousands of advertising messages each day urging us to purchase goods or act or think in specific ways. Consider political ads. “Campaigns, party committees, and outside groups shelled out an eye-popping $1.23 billion this year to run political ads on television, digital and radio, according to new data fromAdImpact,a top national ad tracking firm.” (www.foxbusiness.com/politics/2021-ad-spending-most-expensive-off-election-year-ever) All this money is spent with the hope of wooing voters to respond to their cleverly-designed slick messages.
Advertising works! We see ads on TV, the Internet, signs, buses, trains, billboards, pencils, magazines, and newspapers… and we are even willing to purchase clothing with brand names or slogans of companies or teams or vacation destinations!
We can remember jingles and slogans years after the ads are no longer aired. Consider “Where’s the beef?” (Wendy’s), “Just do it!” (Nike), and “Breakfast of Champions” (Wheaties)… and hundreds more.
One of the consequences of this daily advertising frenzy can be a lack of personal contentment. We are wooed by travel ads, for example, and feel a sense of FOMO (“fear of missing out!”) if we can’t experience the “trending now” resort, cruise, or adventure shared on social media.
The question becomes: How much is enough? Have we become such a nation of consumers that it doesn’t matter how stuffed our closets, pantries, or storage units are, we feel a need to shop? Are we happy with our abundance or do we need the newest items we see advertised? As emotions are roiled by these kinds of ads, we can find ourselves with a disturbing sense of discontentment.
But there is a calming precept available to us. Here are Paul’s words to Timothy:
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” (1 Timothy 6: 6-11 NIV)
It turns out that circumstances and material goods cannot bring us true contentment. This comes from an inner sense of peace, with an understanding that there is something (Someone) greater than ourselves.
The restlessness or dissatisfaction with life can be a result of expecting everything: happiness, material items, perfect relationships, good health, opportunities and adventures, a lack of difficulty, and an unrealistic view that the world “owes us” the perfect life. In reality, we have so much more than most people who have ever lived on this planet. Even so, the truth is contentment is a spiritual condition.
“Thankfulness creates gratitude which generates contentment that causes peace.”
Todd Stocker, author and inspirational speaker
It turns out that contentment can be the direct result of an attitude of gratitude.
As Paul said in Philippians 4:11: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”
Maybe contentment is a choice.
So how can we help teens become media-savvy about the culture that surrounds them?
It is no surprise that our children and teens are discontented. They see, read, and hear about all the material items that they don’t have or places that they haven’t visited. They need a change of perspective, and conversations with adults can bring that about. Try these discussion starters:
• Ask, “What is the purpose of advertising?” Discuss types of ads and where ads show up.
• Ask, “How does it make you feel when you see something advertised that you would like to own?”
• Share and discuss this fact: “Advertising companies hire psychologists and sociologists to help them better understand their target audiences. Focus groups are paid to give feedback about potential ad campaigns. How does this information impact your understanding of ads? Does it change your mind about the credibility of advertising?”
• Ask, “Do you know someone who seems to always feel unhappy or discontented with life? Why do you think they feel that way?”
• Share: “Sometimes we hear about billionaires, famous athletes, or movie or rock stars who seem to ‘have it all’ and yet are bitter, angry, or dissatisfied with life. What do you think about that?”
• Ask, “If you were given $1000 but were told you couldn’t spend it on yourself or put it in the bank, what would you do with the money?”
• Share John 10:10. These are Jesus’ words:
“The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy. I have come to give you life in abundance.” Ask, “Who is ‘the thief’? What would you need to have an abundant life?”
• Discuss contentment and share ideas about how to experience it.
Note: Share this blog with your church’s youth pastor as a lesson for youth group gatherings.
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Sue Summers is a Christian media analyst, teacher, author, and speaker.
She is the Director of Media Alert!
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