Media, marketing and meaningful travel – Part 1

by Steve Brock on September 28, 2011

Last time I looked at how worry blinds us to wonder. But worry isn’t the only culprit.

 I just watched on DVD the documentary, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. It’s by Morgan  Spurlock,  the same guy who brought us Super Size Me! This time, fast food isn’t the focus. Product placement is.

The whole movie is about advertising and how companies place products in films, video games and elsewhere with the goal of increasing impressions (and ultimately, sales). This is all familiar territory to me since I work in branding and marketing.

But what stood out to me was that word, “impressions.” Marketers count an impression as any exposure to a particular brand. That could be a mention in a news story on the radio, a banner ad on the Web, a product review forwarded on Twitter, a billboard or a glance at the magazine rack in the supermarket.

The documentary, which cleverly got companies to sponsor the movie by placing their products in the film, illustrated the lengths marketers will go these days to create impressions.

I loved Spurlock’s interview with Ralph Nader in the documentary. Spurlock asks the veteran consumer advocate, “So where should I go where I don’t see one bit of advertising?” “To sleep,” was Nader’s reply. And that’s pretty true.

I’ve read that we’re exposed to something like 6,000 media impressions every day. So is it any surprise that we’ve developed defenses to this media assault?

One casualty of our thick-skinned, tone-deafened senses is wonder. When we block out virtually everything that comes our way, wonder becomes the baby swirling down the proverbial bathtub drain.

So what can we do?

We could try to flee the noise, live in a cabin in the woods and write long manifestos about the evils of so-called civilization. We can even travel to other cultures, but in today’s globalized economy, you end up with the same ads you see here just in another language.

I have, however, found two approaches that I’m trying, thanks in part to travel, that are a bit more practical. I’ll describe the first one here and the second one next time since it takes longer to explain.

First, I fast. Yes, that ancient practice is still an important spiritual discipline today. But refraining from food isn’t the only way to fast. When I’m on a trip, I don’t turn on the TV or pursue keeping up with the news. You can’t walk through an airport without some assault on the senses and some exposure to media, but you can fast from the intentional intake from TV, radio, social media, etc.

When I do this, I’m not running from the world; I’m simply choosing to minimize its influence for a period of a day or a week.

If you’ve never done a media fast, it may sound silly or a bit Luddite-like. But try it. You might be surprised by the results. We rarely realize the influence that media has on us until we step away from it.

Just try not to do it next week, or at least don’t count reading blogs in your list of things from which you should refrain. Otherwise you’ll miss the second exercise I’ve found which is somewhat counter-intuitive, but even more effective at helping us retain our ability to perceive wonder in a world of stuff and messages about stuff.

To be continued…

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