A long and probably complex post about connections my mind has been making.
I don’t watch live TV, I use catch-up instead, but sometimes I do end up catching adverts. Because it happens so seldom I find it interesting to watch them, analysing and judging them, rather than trying to ignore them. The McDonalds ones often stand out. I find them sly. They take positive emotions or values and connect them with their products or portray themselves as the solution to common circumstances. There’s just something different about their attitude compared to other adverts.
This resonated because I’ve been reading the brilliant Common Cause report, and it says something similar. On p. 19 it says that a business, such as McDonalds, just wants to sell hamburgers, and in doing so the business doesn’t care what values they are affecting or strengthening. What their adverts are doing is taking ‘intrinsic’ values, such as companionship and well-being, and connecting them with ‘extrinsic’ ones, such as image, fitting in and consumerism. It is clearly not positive that the latter should be used to strengthen the former.
The report is aimed at civil society organisations, but what it’s saying is interesting and relevant to everyone. It talks about the various values that people hold, and the way that campaigns and marketing targets these values. What Common Cause is interested in is how these values are unconsciously shaped or affected by what happens around us, since the values we commonly see are the ones we attached greater importance to. The Common Cause report argues that these relationships should be more widely understood and used explicitly, in order to bring about common, positive and beneficial change.
I also found aspects of the Common Cause report related to aspects of Gladwell’s ‘Outliers’ in my previous post. The report says that when the relationship between various values held is plotted on an axis (with extrinsic <> intrinsic and physical self <> self transcendence) the relationship is similar across countries, even if the priority attached to values is different. People then feel rewarded when they act in line with the values they hold. This similarity and difference relates to ideas Gladwell has on cultural legacy and its effect.
Common Cause (p. 30) quote an observation about life-goal directed activity, which says that values affect the choice of activity, the effort put in, how long people persist and how they feel afterwards. But the answer to these questions can depend as much on the society as the person. Gladwell shows that what is considered a normal amount of, say effort, can be affected by your cultural legacy. This means the commonly understood frame of ‘effort’ or ‘work’ is different depending on the country. If the national frame of ‘work’ for one country means many hours, then that is considered normal. In another country the concept of ‘work’ may mean shorter and more flexible hours.
Therefore, similar priorities to similar values may be held – e.g. hard work – but the result can be different. These people will all feel rewarded when they have worked hard, but the product may vary. This is not something Common Cause touch on, but it is the alternative way of looking at things that Gladwell is trying to advocate.
There is also the fact that Gladwell’s need to understand cultural legacy, whether to adjust for it or simply recognise it, is similar to Common Cause’s need to be aware of and understand frames so that they can be worked with and used for change. Briefly, this also reminds me of a report I read a while ago for an essay, which considers a 21-hour working week. I wont go into it, but one point it raised was the many barriers to enacting such a policy. It concludes that while a 21-hour week cannot yet be a reality the report serves to open conversations and debates about the role of paid and unpaid work. What the report hopes, then, is to slowly adjust the common frame and cultural legacy attached to work.