By Megan Stiles, CVA®, AFC®
Discover for Yourself What is Important to You
You’re smart, popular. You own what designers are bringing to the stage this season. You are at the newest pop-ups and popular restaurants. Your tech is the latest. You know which clubs host the best parties. People want to be you and be around you. You have one flaw: you lack the financial resources to fully realize the lifestyle you’ve defined as successful.
It’s natural to spend more as we earn more, adjusting financial goals and lifestyle. Problems arise when we internalize the messages of advertisements telling us we are incomplete and unhappy without their product. Maintenance of this lifestyle causes us to increase our debt. Consumer debt is at an all-time high, and millennials are more likely to have credit card debt than savings. In turn, we work longer hours to pay off debt and end up reducing the time spent with family and friends, depleting our energy, and degrading our work performance (Hansen). We feel more stressed, anxious, and depressed when we let advertising define our happiness.
Advertising is Everywhere
Advertising plays a big role in our lives, whether we acknowledge it or not. While the total number of advertisements you’re exposed to is disputed due to the difficulty in measuring, studies find the average is around 3000 advertisements per day (Fyvie). Consciously experiment with your day to see just how this amount is plausible. Adverts are found in the usual places: radio, social media, webpages, billboards, and magazines. And less obvious places: conversations, everyday objects, clothing, vehicles, and foods we eat. Adverts are an integrated part of our culture.
Culture is defined as a pattern of behaviors shared by a group of people, that can be related to foods, language, clothing, music, or celebrations. Pop culture is ever-changing and depends on when and where you live, referring to specific activities and products that are aimed at a large part of the population. Advertising reflects pop culture, creating a narrow standard of the ideal (and recently has started to expand its definition of “the ideal”) (Fyvei).
Despite this reflection, there is a growing school of thought that believes, rather than reflecting pop culture or providing social education, advertising is inventing culture and ignoring social issues. Adverts tell us what we need, why we need it, how we will be left behind if we don’t get it, and they have celebrities to back up their messages. “Unfortunately in our society the social relations and economic conditions of capitalism are so conceptually dominant that they infect all of our thoughts and actions” (Raoul & Bonner).
Luckily, we think we’re able to ignore close to 90% of what we see. But the reason it’s possible to claim that “99% of adverts make little or no impact” on your behaviors and still find advertising selling at an ever-increasing rate is that adverts have their most powerful effect when they are background noise. Don’t simply ignore advertising, actively resist it.
Stop Listening to Advertisements
One method of insulating against the incessant messages is to develop a lifestyle of radical contentment and embrace simplicity. Being content is a radical act because it goes against the hedonic standard of always wanting more. It empowers you to decide what is a priority in your life, what makes you happy, and how a product can be (or not be) useful to you. This is achieved through the process of simplicity, which is defined as “choosing to leverage time, money, talents, and possessions towards what matters most” (Scandrette). At their cores, simplicity and contentment focus on you rather than how you compare to others. Contentment is not about denying yourself or never improving. It’s about finding calm and joy in where you are, what you have, and your relationships. Simplicity invites you to actively decide if a purchase is what you want.
Sitting down with your expenses to develop an active spending plan and set financial goals will help develop the behaviors that put you in charge of purchases. When you know what’s important to you, your financial lifestyle becomes sustainable, and advertisements won’t have power over you. Challenge yourself to find contentment and achieve simplicity.
Advertising Shits in Your Head: Strategies for Resistance, Vyvian Raoul & Matt Bonner, PM Press, 2019
Free: Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most, Mark Scandrette, InterVarsity Press, 2013
Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More, Morten T. Hansen, Simon & Schuster, 2018
Mad for Ads: How Advertising Gets (and Stays) in Our Heads, Erica Fyvie, Ian Turner, Kids Can Press, 2021