Last week I wrote about trying to find contentment by getting back to a simpler life, one freer from forms of mass entertainment and consumerism. There’s an additional benefit to this than just living a simpler, less hectic life. You are likely to find freedom from the pervasive advertising in our culture. The less advertising you see and respond to, the more money you keep in your pocket.
Think about it: All of our mass entertainment comes with advertising. Video games now feature sponsors within them. Movies make you sit through ads before the film even begins and then there is blatant product placement in the movie itself. The Internet, well, it’s sometimes nothing more than advertising. Go out to eat and there are ads on the tables and stuck in the menus. And in television, the shows get ever shorter while the commercial breaks get ever longer. The assault on our wallets never stops, until you take a conscious step away from the mass consumer and entertainment culture.
When you start to create your own entertainment by using your imagination and your talents, when you opt to help others rather than plop on the couch, and when you spend some time involved in your community, you free yourself from the advertising. There’s no advertising when you play tag in the yard with your kids or build a treehouse for them. There are no commercial breaks when you go to a community sponsored concert. And there are no ads on the snow shovel you use to help your elderly neighbor clean her driveway. Maybe some hot chocolate and good conversation, but no ads.
What the advertisers know and fear is that they cannot sell to people who make their own entertainment. They dread the idea that people might get sick of the material life and start looking for something simpler. They fear those of us who choose to entertain ourselves rather than plopping on the couch to watch Survivor. They fight tooth and nail to keep us interested in the consumer culture because without it they can’t make money. They resort to shiftier tactics and flashier products. The ads get louder and longer. The commands to use the product become more demanding. When you opt to walk away, to become your own entertainment, they resent your attempt to be free.
But think of the benefits. With less exposure to advertising, you’re likely to spend a lot less. If you don’t know about the latest gadget or CD, you’re not likely to buy it. In this house, our spending dropped twenty percent the first year after we dropped cable. Coincidence? I think not. All our bills remained the same (except cable), but where the spending slowed was in the random stuff like CD’s, DVD’s, restaurant meals, and miscellaneous products. We simply didn’t know about as much stuff so we were less likely to buy it. Cutting spending wasn’t a conscious decision, it just evolved because we weren’t exposed to as much.
You also become more relaxed. Next time you’re watching TV and the long, loud commercial break comes on, notice your reaction. I bet your heart beats a little faster, maybe you get a little more agitated, and even a little angry that you’re having to sit through this junk. Advertising has the ability to ramp us up and it’s not pleasant. When you move to a simpler way of being, you’re not exposed to the plays on your emotions and you stay relaxed. When you’re on the couch reading a book your heart may pound because the story is intense, but you’re not getting agitated listening to used car Bob shouting at you to buy, buy, buy, now, now, now.
Chances are that if you try a simpler way of being, you’ll become the other thing that advertisers fear most: Someone who reacts negatively to being sold to. In the years since we dropped cable and made the decision to step off the consumer treadmill, I’ve discovered that I’m much more sensitive to advertising and I can’t stand most of it. I’m actually less likely now to buy from companies that have obnoxious ads or those that advertise constantly. I find that I hate buildings that have been named after companies, I hate companies that send me junk mail, and I hate companies that advertise in public spaces like on park benches and on the floor in the grocery store. I’ve discovered just how much advertising intrudes on every day life and I resent it more now than I ever did when I was constantly exposed to it on TV, at the movies, and on the Internet. I now make a conscious choice to avoid some companies, strictly because of their advertising practices.
If you really want to make advertisers nervous, create your own entertainment and become someone who dislikes being sold to. Step away, at least a little bit, from the mass entertainment and consumer culture and try living a simpler life that uses your own imagination and talents to entertain yourself. You’ll probably save more money and discover a more peaceful, relaxed existence.