The Great Disconnect: Advertising, Psychology, and Real Life

UPDATE: All the fruit flies are gone.  It took about 4 days.  I highly recommend the Terro Fruit Fly Traps.

Ok, on to today’s post…

I recall my dad telling me that he had teared up in reaction to AT&T’s “Reach out and touch someone” ad campaign – this was in the early 1980s, I think.  The ads showed people reconnecting with loved ones via the telephone, and they were fairly emotional spots.

I didn’t have the same reaction to the ads, mostly because I was a busy mother of young children at the time.  I was reaching out and touching folks on a regular basis, running after kids and what-not.

I thought of my dad’s reaction yesterday, when I saw an ad for Walmart.

This ad, which has a tagline I cannot recall (I don’t know if that says more about me or Walmart), features mini-vingnettes of Walmart workers in their everyday lives, then switches to them succeeding and smiling and practically dancing to work – because Walmart really cares about them.

It states things like, “Yesterday, he was a cashier” as it shows an employee giving his “team” a pep talk as their new manager of some kind.  Or shows a family eating at the dinner table and states, “Yesterday, they couldn’t afford healthy food.”  And so on.

The point is, I guess, that Walmart loves its employees and wants to help them make their lives better.  Then it hints at some big change coming this October (2015).  All the while, upbeat music plays in the background.

I thought, “This is clever.  This really attempts to pull the ol’ heart strings.”

And then I got sad and mad and teary-eyed, but not because of the ad’s message or execution, not directly anyway…

…it was because of the disconnect.

The disconnect between real life, and what we imagine our ideal life to be.  And the power that businesses and people with money and politicians and other people with power/influence have to make that ideal life a reality…

…or not.

I am an idealist.  I am, at heart, an optimist.  And, despite massive evidence and experiences to the contrary, I still stubbornly believe that if you want your life to be a certain way, with persistence you can make it so.  Or similar to what you want, maybe.

It’s nonsense, of course.  My own life attests to that.  I think – seriously – that a lot of this point of view came from watching “people overcome adversity” films as a child.  No, I really do think that.

Movies like “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, “Mrs. Minniver”, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, and on and on.  Movies where you just knew, no matter what happened, the hero/heroine was going to be ok.

Heck, even one of my all-time favorite movies, “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” – how I loved Gene Tierney!! – wasn’t supposed to really be an inspirational film, but it ended up being one, because she got to be with the one she loved, in the end.

As a child who often was left to my own devices at home, I watched an awful lot of TV.  As a child whose life was chaotic and full of shouting and hitting and unsafe adults – my next-door neighbor and godfather sexually abused me for years – movies that portrayed adults doing the right thing, battling evil, and overcoming obstacles were my escape into a world I desperately hoped was out there.

Those, and monster/alien B movies heh.  That’s a whole other post on anxiety and monster movies.

So I am firmly convinced that media played a huge role in this ridiculous “tilting at windmills” thing I do.  And that speaks to the power that media have to shape our lives and attitudes.

Advertisers know this, of course – hence the “feel-good” campaigns in general, and that Walmart one in particular.

Effective, too…I am now wondering what this “thing” is that Walmart has planned for October. Not that I expect anything good out of them, because in general I think businesses do what they do based on profit, nothing more nothing less.  But the ad stuck that deadline in my mind, so it was effective in that sense.

The emotional reaction was me thinking about the following:

~ How much this campaign cost…

~ How much research was put into it…

~ How Walmart actually knows what consumers want from them, in terms of how they treat their workers…

~ How Walmart actually has the money and power to make this an actual reality for their workers, but won’t.

How do I know they won’t?  Aside from my cynical, left-of-Fidel-Castro self, it’s because – putting on my psychologist’s hat – the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

Walmart has never done anything good for their workers unless they were pressured into it by someone – whether it’s more hours or a living wage, they just never budged until some unions started making a stink about stuff.

Aside #1: Gah! I really wish there was a union of therapists, that is so badly needed for therapists and their patients.  Why don’t I…oh yeah, I don’t work as one anymore, am too much of a troublemaker, and therapists as a whole are an “everyone for himself” kind of profession.  As I painfully discovered. Several times.

So, Walmart knows.

They know the American people, even as they shop there in droves, are not thrilled about the bad press Walmart gets every time it does something cruel or boneheaded – like when they held food drives for their employees, because their employees had to get food stamps while working there (because they weren’t being paid enough to afford to eat).

Walmart does not want to be seen as “the bad guy”.  I can’t actually see it making a huge dent in their sales, but I guess it must.  I’m sure it’s that, and not Sam Walton crying at night because the bad press hurt his feelings.   Because…well, many obvious reasons why he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the press except in terms of the bottom line of profits.


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