Feb 082012
Authors: Jesse Benn

This past weekend, a record number of people around the country and the world sat down to watch the Super Bowl and, more importantly for some, the Super Bowl commercials.

If you paid attention to these, or any commercials, you might have noticed that they rarely advertise the benefits of the product they are hawking. Instead, advertisers tie their products to what we really want: friends, fun, beauty and ultimately, happiness.

It makes perfect sense. Can you imagine if Budweiser had to stick to simply advertising the “benefits” of its product, rather than show a bunch of beautiful people doing beautiful things? Picture it: a regular American comes home from work, gets a beer out of the fridge and sits down on the couch (the beer for making “Jersey Shore” slightly more watchable). The end.

That doesn’t exactly make me want to rush out to buy a 12-pack of Bud, but that’s just me.

Next, take the example of Coca-Cola. Sure, Coke tastes good, but when is the last time having one brought you closer to family and/or friends? Or made you feel like a fuzzy polar bear?

The point we should be taking from these commercials isn’t about the product they are trying to sell, but about the qualities they use to do it. Joking, laughing, playing, getting together with friends and family –– these are the things that make us happy –– and you don’t need to buy any particular product to have any of them.

But take it a step further, because these commercials are really telling us something more than just to buy their product –– they are telling us to make enough money to buy their product.

So the message we get in this country, from the time we are very little kids to the time we are all grown up, is that more money equals more stuff. And if I learned anything from watching commercials this Sunday, it’s that more stuff means more happiness. So, more money must mean more happiness.

But, since we already know that stuff doesn’t equate to happiness, despite what the advertisements tell us, money must not equate to happiness either, right?

Well, the answer is that it depends. One study from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School found that money, up to $75,000 a year, correlated to a higher level of happiness when compared to lower incomes. After this point, however, the positive affect money can have on happiness is capped.

So, some amount of money does indeed buy some happiness, but it’s only one factor.
And although the Princeton study doesn’t mention exactly why the correlation is capped at $75,000 per year, it’s unlikely that it’s because people who make that much are able to buy as much Coke and Budweiser as they want. More likely it’s because that is just enough money, at least in the U.S., to feel secure.

While $75,000 a year may not be enough to buy an endless supply of extra stuff, it is enough to know that the big things –– a trip to the hospital, major vehicle repairs, mortgage payments and other similar expenses –– will be covered.

The other more important factors are the things that advertisers use to make us want their junk – family, friends, laughing, health, beauty: the real prizes in life.

The advertisers know this, and that’s why they use these values, that are completely unrelated to their actual products, to sell us their crap.

And as the number of ads we are subjected to every day increases exponentially, from around 500 in the 1970s to 5000 in the new millennium, the importance in what we do with them increases as well.

Fortunately, that’s up to us. And for me, I plan to keep buying into the values advertisers use to sell their products, rather than the products themselves.

Jesse Benn is a senior political science major who watches the Jersey Shore, but doesn’t drink Budweiser –– he’s not sure which is worse. His column appears Thursdays in the Collegian. He can be reached at letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 2:25 pm

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