Moral Compass? Part 1

October 28, 2020

In a video I saw lately a person discussed the use and the role of imperative commands in advertising, to sell stuff. He pointed up the effects of the direct impact on our emotions, and the triggering of our almost automatic reflexive responses to, written and spoken vocatives and commands. He cited Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again!’ as an example of this psychological ‘trick’ at work in politics

I cite Boris Johnson’s ‘Get Brexit Done!’ as an example across The Atlantic.

I noticed its presence as a ‘trick’ creeping into British advertising in the 2000s with the National Lottery ad slogan “Play Here Now’ There’s no psychological space within this slogan for a measured appraisal to be done by a person who hears or sees it

Lately – again – on a hoarding holding a poster for the network provider EE – and since then I have found a similar ad from EE on Facebook at – I saw these words in huge letters, without any other images or pattern than the EE turquoise colour and a small logo as background:

Rock On

Game On

Binge On

Here is a screen taken from the Facebook version of EE’s ad. Note the ad offer is for what EE terms ‘Plan Envy’.


Of course everyone will say ‘yes, we know; but it’s just advertising’. But it is, isn’t it?

Could such an advertising pitch have ‘worked’; been tolerable, acceptable, to the ordinary person in say 1960? Even to those said to have been ‘uneducated’ and of working class status? I don’t think so – it would have shocked people, as being outrageous.

In those days I recall ordinary people looking towards California in the USA as some kind of half- mythical quasi-paradise plus a half-outrageous shocker of a place. California was thought to be almost futuristic, scifi, in its citizen’s perceived ridiculously high standards of living and cost of living; but also the antics of famous people which came out of the place and into our glossy magazines and Sunday papers were again shocking but spellbinding. An almost fictional place.

I say this just to give you a glimpse of the credulity and naivety of ordinary British people in 1960. The innocence.

How far have we come. This kind of advertising from EE is not uncommon at this present time. The vocative case is used when a person addresses a crowd directly such as in:

“Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears!”

The aim is to engage listeners, to ‘bring them into your confidence’, to ‘pal up to them’ as Mark Antony is doing in his famous opener. The EE ad is doing this – it is saying - “We’re with you – we’re just like you – and we enjoy the same things as you do – you’re our pal – and you’re just like we are - and so we’re offering you….”

This is the hidden emotional presentation being thrown at you. Hidden because it’s all implied in the ‘pally approach’ of the three statements:

Rock On

Game On

Binge On

The ad is inciting you to Rock On, Game On, Binge On, because it’s OK to do this, this is what the ad is telling you, and this is what the good life is about.

The ad may look simple, and as having had no thought behind it at all. That again is another deception – it has been thought through and considered at length – probably a large amount of research and ‘creatives’ effort, and some huge money has gone into these nine words on a turquoise background with an EE logo nearby, facing you in large letters at the traffic lights on a hoarding as you wait to go forward. Even the situating of the hoarding at traffic lights is no accident.

You are being manipulated – and the science of psychology has been mined to its utmost to get you hooked into the offer. So don’t say ‘it’s just advertising’ - it’s a signal act of moral bad faith, deliberately so.

Those persons whom you know who are ever obliging and ever-so pally and buddying up to you, and who seem to do anything you ask them to, because they look up to you, and consider you to be a great person etc – if you are a typical ‘person of the world’ you get quickly to disdain them and to treat and consider them lightly: like Eddie Murphy as Donkey in Shrek says, when Shrek at last warms to him and shows a glowing affection towards him:

Aw cut that out – nobody likes a kissass!

That is how these EE people, those who commission such ads, and who pay huge sums to have you manipulated, look upon you the consumer, as that person whose persipcuity is not worth a cent, one of those citizens in the democracy of whom Lincoln was said to have said “Can be fooled all the time”.

I’m not jaundiced, believe me I’m not.

Now there is also the message in the ad – not the hiden buddying up message but the meanings of the actual words used in it. Their aproach to you is an incitement to let go – of your troubles maybe, and get some recreation, but to let go excessively and recklessly - the words are egging you on to indulge yourself heavily – what else can Binge On mean? And Rock On is a call to you to loosen your tether, which binds you to work and to your duties, and to obligations to others, and provides you with the necessities of life - pays the rent so to speak.

Games On is more innocuous, but does invite you to settle down and get involved in some sort of match going on before you. Binge On is the real indicator of social levels of depravity – you are being invited, sanctioned, recommended, as if by a quasi-official source – EE company itself – seen as being a higher-up entity than oneself at the least – to let go of restraints, to indulge one’s appetites and enjoy, drink, eat, whatever, to large excess, to more than mere repletion, even to bloating and blind drunkeness and letting go to the winds all circumspection.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with this – our society is telling us that there’s nothing wrong with this; since there’s no higher purpose to life, nothing but material goods and the pleasures you can obtain from them; of course it’s the sensible path to just let your hair down and not concern yourself about serious issues – they are someone else’s problems.

Again in the Facebook ad of EE’s there is that Plan, Plan Envy, which is to say – buy this Plan Envy and be a source of gruding aspiration and admiration to your friends; grudging because your friends are piqued at you having such a ‘good’ Plan as EE can provide you with; yet wanting that Plan for themselves. Typical envy these days is seen in the rancour in which people who have had good fortune suddenly are held in by their neighbours and even by friends. Friends?

Often one hears on the streets such envious rancours expressed about Lottery winners; it can be seen expressed in rag newspapers which encourage and perpetrate such feelings in their readers – if it is not ‘the foreigner’ it is ‘the love rat’ or ‘the outsider’ of any sort – the targets are set up, they are the scapegoats for our own bad behaviours.

And public life is also infected now by this silly but highly corrosive and nasty and dangerous flippancy and carelessness, because now we have so many people voting for a person who seems to them to be ‘ a loveable rogue’ a ‘prancing toff’ and a ‘jolly good fellow’.

Where can this end but in tears? Where can it lead but further down the rabbithole? Who has done this - ‘an enemy has done this’.

One reason why so many of us do not believe much of what we hear via media, and prefer to believe what we hear as gossip hearsay on the streets, is because our understanding of the responsibilities and of the duties we bear inherently to others, even to strangers, even to foreigners - God forbid! - are salutary, not just for neighbours and for the demonised other, but for ourselves.

We are training ourselves, and we have been trained, in a course leading to dissolution – of society and of ourselves – ourselves at an age at which we should still be good and hale. A Universal Principle is that no-one gets away with anything, even if it looks as if they have, they have not.

You have ‘what goes round comes round’. You have ‘your sins will find you out’. You have ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch’. You have ‘God said, you can take what you like – but you have to pay for it’

This is proverbial wisdom and some is also from Scripture.

How can we live well, and get the best out of ourselves and our life, if we are encouraging, sanctioning, promoting, envy, dissolute behaviour, sensual appetite to excess, resentments, and rancours, plus a bundle of other self-destructive states of mind and their concomitant actions.

‘Play Here Now’ sounds like the manifesto of a hedonist epicurean, a materialist and a ‘Don’t worry be happy’ mindlessness that wants to blot out unwelcome truths, and pretend that they will go away and things will continue to go on just swimmingly of their own accord.

A false hope and a nasty selfish one. This is why hope proper pertains to unselfishness, and why hope proper is in the gift of God alone, and because it is hope proper, this is why He offers it to all of us, but the nasty manipulators of you are always working to hide as best they can this ray of gracious light from your sight, and so quell that hope proper from being within your grasp.