Cigarettes, Alka-Seltzer, and The Devil Wears Prada

I have a colleague who refers to marketing as “voodoo”. But marketing isn’t voodoo. Voodoo is the attempt to manipulate spirits through the ceremonial use of lifeless artifacts. Marketing is the attempt to influence the minds of people to spend their hard-earned cash (or precious energy) on lifeless artifacts (or ideas, deadly or otherwise). As such, marketing is much more powerful than voodoo and certainly more dangerous. This is about the darker side of marketing, not its more beneficial uses.

Modern marketing techniques can trace their way back to the Father of Spin, Edward L. Bernays. Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, is perhaps the first professional public relations man. In the 1920s, George Washington Hill, the president of the American Tobacco Company, had a problem. In his view, nearly half of the adult American population wouldn’t even consider lighting up one of his products. You see, in that day only men and prostitutes smoked publicly. Hill hired Bernays to solve his problem.[1] Bernays in turn orchestrated one of the most successful publicity stunts in history. He hired twelve lovely young models to march as suffragette activists in the 1929 Easter Parade in New York City. He called them the Torches of Liberty Brigade.[2] He then told the press that a group of women’s rights marchers would light up “Torches of Freedom.” On his signal, the models lit Lucky Strike cigarettes in front of eager photographers. The resulting media storm helped break the taboo against women smoking in public.[3] Sales of Lucky Strike cigarettes tripled over the next year.[4]

The CDC reports that one of the most common advertisement themes for cigarettes in developed countries is that smoking is both a passport to and a symbol of the independence and success of the modern woman.[5] Edward Bernays lives on. The American Cancer Society estimates that cigarette smoking is responsible for the death of an estimated 173,940 women annually in the United States alone.[6] (I told you marketing could be dangerous.)

Herta Herzog, another Freudian marketeer, had a simple suggestion to help double the sales of Alka-Seltzer. “You show a hand dropping an Alka-Seltzer tablet into a glass of water. Why not show the hand dropping two? You’ll double your sales.”[7] And so it was. And you may chuckle at the simplicity of the manipulation, but let me ask you something. Did the “Pop, pop, fizz, fizz” jingle just go through your head as you read this? (I told you marketing was powerful.)

In The Devil Wears Prada,[8] the protagonist, Andy Sacks (played by Anne Hathaway), is a somewhat serious young woman who believes she expresses some of her individualism through a blithe disregard of fashion and a disdain for haute couture. The antagonist, Miranda Priestly (brilliantly portrayed by Meryl Streep), deliciously dispossess her of her illusion of independence. After explaining how it came to be that the cerulean colored sweater that Andy is wearing came to be manufactured, Miranda says, “it’s sort of comical how you think you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.”[9] A fictional scene, yes; but one which is loaded with truth. (One need only examine the history of swimwear to see the intentional manipulation of social mores by the avant-garde fashion industry.)

I share these vignettes simply to demonstrate how susceptible to suggestion we are as people. Products, practices, and social shifts take on popularity in viral fashion and we comfort ourselves with the idea that it is happenstance—the perfect storm—when in fact it is more often than not driven by influence peddlers. The world around us and the drivers of that world seek to mold and shape us to their agendas, uses, and enrichment. We are foolish to disregard the danger. Of course, it’s nothing new. In 57 A.D., Paul of Tarsus wrote to the fledgling church in Rome warning them to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) If as Christians we do not continually adjust our thinking and outlook to align with Scripture, we will fall prey to the marketers of the world’s ideals;[10] which brings me to current issues.

I know of a good many well-meaning Christians who hold a pro-choice position under the guise of being pro-woman, not pro-abortion. I also know of other well-meaning Christians who support gay marriage under the guise of human rights. But this isn’t happenstance or even love (true love doesn’t encourage self or other destructive behavior). It is conformity to a long campaign of successful marketing. A reductionist line of this marketing campaign takes us from Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965 to Einstadt v. Baird in 1972 to Roe v. Wade in 1973 to Lawrence v. Texas in 2003.

Griswold v. Connecticut was a case precipitated by Estelle Griswold, who was the executive director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut. Its intention was to have contraceptive laws in Connecticut struck down by the Supreme Court. The Court’s decision cited the 14th Amendment as its reason for deeming the law unconstitutional and fabricated from whole cloth a constitutional right to privacy. It became the precedent for what followed.

Eisenstadt v. Baird was used to extend contraceptive rights to unmarried couples, essentially granting legal status to fornication and cohabitation.

Roe v. Wade, as you most likely know, is the famous case that resulted in the legalization of abortion in the United States. What you may not know is that it was the fruit of the active pole positioning of Sarah Weddington, a lawyer who considered her own career and success worth the murder of her unborn child in 1967.[11]

Lawrence v. Texas legalized sodomy in the United States. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in his dissent of the Court’s decision:

Today’s opinion is the product of a Court, which is the product of a law-profession culture, that has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda, by which I mean the agenda promoted by some homosexual activists directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct…. [T]he Court has taken sides in the culture war, departing from its role of assuring, as neutral observer, that the democratic rules of engagement are observed.

In doing so, Scalia warned, the Court had undercut the States’ rights to make laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity.[12]

Our culture extols the virtues of fornication. Adultery is standard shtick for evening melodramas and public figures. Obscenity is ubiquitous. Prostitution is legal only in certain counties of Nevada, but is practiced nationwide. To date, eighteen states have legalized gay marriage (in no small part because making it illegal is fraught with difficulty even when done through legal democratic process). A federal district court just punched a hole in Utah’s anti-bigamy law. Some have taken Scalia to task for the slippery-slope argument that he embraced in his dissent, but the slide continues. How long before we are forced to legalize the rest of the list and beyond?

Simply put, legal doesn’t equate to moral. Popular isn’t necessarily beneficial. And public opinion is all too easily molded by those with the resolve, skill, and dedication to accomplish it. Let’s not fall prey to their devices. Let’s arm ourselves with the Truth. Let’s live a renewed life.

[1], accessed 12/29/13.
[2] Dr. Tim O’Shea, 2001, “The Doors of Perception: Why Americans Will Believe Almost Anything”,, accessed 12/29/13
[3], accessed 12/29/13.
[4], accessed 12/29/13.
[5], accessed 12/29/13.
[6], accessed 12/29/13.
[7] As told by Malcolm Gladwell in What the Dog Saw, © 2009 by Malcolm Gladwell, p. 93-94. When I grow up, I want to be able to write as well as Malcolm!
[8] Please note that any mention of a film is not an endorsement thereof. Watch any film I mention at your own risk and discretion.
[9], accessed 12/29/13.
[10] In the face of the free Garden, the Serpent sold the woman the only fruit she didn’t need. (Genesis 3:1-6) The Lord accused him of dishonest merchandizing. (Ezekiel 28:18)
[11]–or-notoriety–came-early.ece, accessed 12/29/13.
[12], accessed 12/29/13.


One thought on “Cigarettes, Alka-Seltzer, and The Devil Wears Prada

  1. Why don’t right minded and modest people begin designing and marketing their own clothing lines? It would be helpful if they were also manufactured out of reliable and time tested materials such as heavy denim and followed Biblical guidelines for both covering nakedness and not mixing fibers. We know how difficult it is to find modest clothing especially for women in the stores today as everything seems to be designed to be ‘edgy’. Kinda makes you wonder the ‘edge’ of what abyss they are standing near.

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