Last week I was invited to do an interview to discuss my thoughts on Pinterest’s recent decision to ban weight-loss advertisements across its entire platform. Having some thoughts on the matter, I agreed to the interview knowing the host always enjoyed a lively discussion and made room for multiple perspectives. To be honest though, I was not sure mine was going to be taken kindly.
The connection between psychology and marketing runs deep. Companies know that, as consumers, we tend to buy based on emotion more than any other factor including affordability. We do not buy a product or service; we buy what we think that product/service will give us. Confidence. Beauty. Acceptance. Armed with this, savvy marketing companies have unleashed swarms of ads designed to manipulate our psychology to their benefit. While this may sound sinister, there are a lot of great and ethical companies out there with products that make a real and positive impact on people lives. That said, there are also companies that are more than willing to exploit our fears, wounds, and insecurities to access our pocketbooks. Any kind of messaging done wrong has the potential to trigger feelings of shame, blame, and other internal conflict that can leave the creators facing a backlash of epic proportions.
So why was I worried about the interview.
If you have followed me for any length of time, you know I am a massive proponent of self-efficacy and personal empowerment. While I can appreciate the line, Pinterest is trying to set in its online community, I worry that this move may feed a narrative that suggests that other people/companies should only produce content that is comfortable for the viewer. This is a dangerous and slippery slope.
You might feel yuck looking at an advertisement. You may even feel yourself getting angry or reactive, but instead of lashing out and demanding the ad be removed, you are much more empowered by asking, “What is making me feel this way?”.
I guarantee you, it was not the ad. Instead, in the milliseconds between looking at the ad and feeling yuck, you told yourself something about yourself – and it probably was not very nice. It might have sounded like, “Wow, he looks great. I looked great once, I have really let myself go”, or perhaps, “She seems so organized! Man, I am such a crappy mom”. Etcetera, etcetera. In less time than it takes to blink, you looked at an image, judged yourself, and drew a conclusion that left you feeling awful. Then you blamed the ad.
The side-effects of cancel culture.
A dangerous social trend currently taking root is to remove or “cancel” things that trigger personal discomfort. We have entered the era where our feelings have become everybody else’s responsibility. This movement is likely well intended but the unfortunate biproduct is the mass shirking of personal responsibility, a social epidemic of victimhood and the erosion of individual mental health.
To be clear, I think the development of marketing standards and ethics is both necessary and beneficial. It is important for such an industry to filter out practices that intentionally mislead or deceive. But, as adults, our wellness, and sense of self, should never be left in anyone’s hands but our own. The most effective way to protect ourselves against external messaging (from anywhere and anyone) is to think critically and understand how we take in information.
Everything you see, hear, and experience must be interpreted before your brain can provide you with an emotional response. There is a massive psychological difference between “That ad made me feel ashamed” and “I felt ashamed after I watched that ad”. The latter highlights the interpretation and inner dialogue as the problem – something you have full agency to change. The former identifies the ad as the problem, which you can do nothing to change. When we can do nothing to change that which harms us, we are truly disempowered.
Are you saying nothing can make me feel bad?
I am saying only you can make you feel bad. Fortunately, I am also saying only you can make you feel better.
Hard to believe? Let us look at some of the inner dialogue that leaves you feeling less than fantastic. Just to prove it can work in different situations I’ve include a social example.
Here’s what to do:
- On a blank piece of paper, write down 1-2 sentences about any event that left you feeling yuck!
Eg: My best friend invited me to a back yard BBQ at her exceptionally large and impressive estate. I did not want to go but she insisted.
- Write how you felt when the event occurred.
Eg: I felt uncomfortable and inadequate, all I wanted to do was leave.
- Write down how you interpreted the event/situation. What did you tell yourself?
Eg: As I looked around, I told myself I am too lazy to have a life and a home like hers and I should be ashamed for not working harder.
- Write down another possible interpretation.
Eg: I could have told myself her path and success have nothing to do with my own. My choosing to compare us does nothing to enhance our friendship, which I have come to enjoy very much.
- Write down how you feel when you replace the old interpretation with the new one.
Eg: I do not feel as ashamed or embarrassed. I do not think I would have wanted to leave so badly. I realize her friendship is the most important thing, not the size or décor of her home.
It is inevitable that we will encounter things that trigger immensely powerful negative reactions within us, but we must NEVER believe that changing how we feel requires intervention from the outside world. The most powerful tool we have is our ability to determine our own perspectives. We do this by getting to know, challenge, and upgrade the interpretations we make about our experiences or ourselves.
So, the next time you are upset about something (or someone) that makes you feel yucky, just remember…
The ability to make you feel anything is a superpower that only you have. Use it wisely.
Here’s to an empowered week 😉
Bonnie J. Skinner, MEd, RP, CCC
B. Skinner Coaching & Psychotherapy