Satan and I Have the Same Job

I made a career jump about four months ago, switching from the publishing world to the “dark side”—advertising. Despite the fact that my paycheck has always been furnished by ad dollars, part of me has felt all along that advertising is the main culprit behind the materialism, financial indiscretion, and covetousness we see so much of in our culture.

I felt good about making the career change though; it was a friend and member of my bishopric that recruited me for a job at his agency, and I’m working with a client whose products and services I genuinely believe in. So while I don’t take much pride in telling people I’m in advertising, at least I can sleep at night. (You lawyers know what I’m talking about, right? Right?)

I’ve been pondering on one of the stories from last week’s Gospel Doctrine lesson (the one Steve blogged about), and it’s made me think even more critically of my newly adopted industry. The lesson dealt with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and their first confrontation with Satan.

As you all know, Satan had an incredible sales pitch for the Fruit. I wonder how much work went into that pitch—did he take it through focus groups first? Did Satan’s team of fallen spirits develop brand strategies and craft brilliant PowerPoint slides to justify those strategies? Did they have Adam and Eve’s demographic profiles all worked out?

I don’t know what kind of background work went into Satan’s big line (what advertisers refer to as a “Call to Action” or CTA, or what missionaries refer to as an “invite”), but as we all know, it was certainly effective.

And advertising hasn’t changed much in the millennia since that initial sales pitch. “Take this (X). It’s good for you! Furthermore, it tastes great, and will make you wise/handsome/cool/popular! Act now and we’ll throw in a second one FREE!!!”

It worked then, and it works now. The key message in almost all advertising is the same as in Satan’s original message in the Garden: Your life would be better if you had (X).

The ads that are targeted at my demographic paint a picture of the lifestyle we could have if only we’d buy the right stuff. These commercials offer a peek at a hidden world of amazing all-night parties, close and comfortable shaves, fast cars, and hot, sexually unsatisfied chicks. Only one of those things actually exists in real life, but it’s easy to believe the lie and chase after it, maxing out your credit cards as you go.

Next time you see one of those commercials, recognize it for what it is: It’s the same lie that has been trotted out since the dawn of humankind.

And now I guess I should get back to work.


  1. so…. what you’re saying is capitalism comes from Satan? ;)

  2. I think this is an interesting post and reminds of one of Nibley’s hobby-horses. The clarion call of Satan that you can buy anything in this world with money.

  3. StillConfused says:

    “Take this (X). It’s good for you!” Isn’t that missionary work summed up?

  4. RE: #1
    I think he’s saying that the Commitment Pattern comes from Satan.

  5. Well, you lured me in with your title. And I thought, “You sell apples?”

  6. Eric Russell says:

    The key message in almost all advertising is the same as in Satan’s original message in the Garden: Your life would be better if you had (X).

    Jesus takes the same approach, “Have some of my water and you’ll never thirst!” He must have picked up some pointers from Satan.

  7. Bro. Jones says:

    #6 Truly. Just once it’d be nice to have a lesson or a missionary moment that was like, “Y’know, you’re going to be bored, broke, and miserable if you live this principle. Just suck it up anyway.”

  8. So I guess a more interesting post would have been to contrast Jesus’s invitation with Satan’s.

    Or the commitment pattern versus Axe body spray ads.

    The first difference that occurs to me is that one of them is based on a (deliberate) lie.

  9. When I read the title, I thought he’d been admitted to the bar. At least it seems like my job is hell….

  10. of course the difference between Jesus’s invitation and Satan’s invitation is that one is real and the other is fake. Most advertising today lies with the fake (pun intended) because it is trying to portray a particular product as more than what it is.

  11. Mark Brown says:

    Kyle, I’ve always wondered why advertisers can sometimes bo so fantastically wrong. When you think of the money that went into the rollout of New Coke or a car model that flops, it’s pretty easy to say that folks in your profession don’t know what they are doing. But then I see how demographics and focus groups can be broken down and targeted to the decimal point and I think you guys must be pretty smart. Which one is it?

  12. Jesus’ approach is that your eternal life will be better…us earthlings tend to assume that means our earthlife will be better, and then go on to assume specific ways it will be better.

    Whereas satan lies specifically about what will be better, implies other advantages that don’t exist, and then denies the consequences or the effects of them.

  13. Mike Parker says:

    You can buy anything in this world with money.

    I’ve always thought that marketing, advertising, and public relations were all basically the art of deceiving people in order to get them to hand over the cash.

  14. I would like to buy patience for $500 please.

  15. Moniker Challenged says:

    I’m going with C. Experience watching Top Gear has led me to conclude that fast cars exist. Wait, what was the question?

  16. My intro to advertising professor always taught me that even the best advertising in the world won’t (in the long run) make up for a bad product. Especially when we live now, with so much information readily available to help evaluate a purchase.
    ‘Good’ Salesmanship however . . . well if you want to experience a miserable career just try and sell Kias or $1500 vacuums, because a good salesperson CAN make up for a bad product.

  17. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 13 – 14
    You can buy any material thing in this world with money, but as somebody who occasionally helps take care of the super-rich when they are miserable or sick, one thing is clear: Money cannot buy happiness, satisfying relationships, peace of mind, or even physical health.

    On the contrary, I have observed that the personality traits which lead to the acquisition of great wealth often make a person rather isolated and unhappy in the long run.

    Perhaps this is observer bias, however. The best way to test my thesis would be for somebody to give me at least ten million dollars. I will then blog on my overall happiness and you all can follow along.

  18. #17 A single point of data is not enough for a conclusive study, so I’ll take one for the team and also accept 10 million dollars to test this theory. Now who wants to be in the control group?

  19. So that’s the price of getting Mike to finally blog… at least we have an answer now. ;)

  20. Mark #11, there are blizzards of money whirling around in the ad industry, and those focus groups and studies seem to generally be used to justify an agency’s huge bill. Someone probably got a big bonus for suggesting that Coke needed to be “reinvented for a younger demographic”

  21. ” Someone probably got a big bonus for suggesting that Coke needed to be “reinvented for a younger demographic””

    Absolutely. I’ve worked with ad agencies for the past 5 years and this is how they work. They have to always justify themselves to their clients. I guarantee you that AT&T’s ad agency pitched them the idea to counter Verizon’s attacks by throwing a TON of money in a new ad campaign starring Luke Wilson.

    Also, see Pepsi’s ad agency justifying the new logo.

    Click to access pepsi_gravitational_field.pdf

  22. Are you people crazy? 10 million is nothing these days once you figure in taxes and low interest rates. It’s gonna take 40mil at least.

    I work in public relations and marketing, but have had the good fortune of working only for organizations that (flawed as they may be) I believe in and that generally make people’s lives better. There are problems with doing work (mostly) in-house, but if you can get it, it’s a good gig and one that I don’t lose any sleep over.

    Also: as with economics, finance, history, management, politics and law, when it comes to market research a big part of it has to do with what you are looking for and how you go about gathering and presenting the data.

  23. Tracy, I don’t mind being in the control book…but wouldn’t that automatically disqualify me? I’m not sure how you do teh 10million dollar study double blind though..because I woudl think it’d be pretty obvious to the person that they have the money…

  24. MikeInWeHo says:

    But is all advertising necessarily a “lie” ?? The Church has probably produced more TV ads than any religious organization in history, and most of us would agree those are pretty darn cool. I miss seeing them on TV lately. I probably watch the wrong cable channels now.

    Here’s a more immediate example regarding the Niblet competition. Is it a lie to say that voting for BCC as Best Big Blog and MikeInWeHo as Best Commenter makes you cool and gives you more liberal street cred?

    Of course not.

  25. Stephanie says:

    A member I know started a couple of new businesses and told my husband that they play on people’s fears. I think a lot of products/advertising essentially do the same thing. I admit I am distinctly uncomfortable with making money by playing on the fears of others. It is one thing to offer a product that fulfills a need and then do the marketing to let people know. It’s another to deliberately play on fear. It feels like manipulation to me.

  26. I actually gave a talk once comparing my job as a photographic retoucher and manipulator to that of Satan. I have spent years making women’s bodies look slimmer, giving them bigger breasts (in family photos no less, upon their request), adding hair to men, making food products look tasty that are actually repulsive. If it is printed, if it is in a magazine, if it is on TV, it has been worked on by someone like me. Even the most beautiful people in the world, get their photos worked on. It is all unobtainable in reality. But, I’ll certainly do my best to make sure you don’t know that. :)

  27. #25, now you’re talking about the news media, advertising, PR, Big Pharma, the two major US political parties, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Hollywood, lawyers, middle linebackers, assitant principles, and shortsellers.

  28. “assistant principals,” of course

  29. You are correct, Mike.
    Nor would it be a lie to say that voting BCC as Best Big Blog and MikeInWeHo as Best Commenter will earn you 30 Steve-bucks, which are worth approximately 10 Stapley-nickels each.

    These can be traded for various goods and services in any respectable Mormon-themed department store.

  30. MikeInWeHo says:

    Like Mayor Daley said oh-so-long ago:
    Vote early! Vote often!

  31. Steve Evans says:

    Scott, yes it would be a lie. Stevebucks cannot be earned in such a way.

  32. We use the same techniques in missionary work. Prepare – Invite – Followup – Resolve concerns. We have slick MormonAds. We have glossy brochures. We talk about what is “uplifting”, not just everything that “is true”. We gloss over the “meatier” parts of the gospel, and present the things that will make the widest appeal. We look for those that are down, who just had a death, or trauma in their lives.

    In this case, we do it because we believe in our “product”, but I would argue that the majority of people in the US and the world think our “product” is just as flawed as the ones we complain about.

  33. I believe that’s Snave bucks.

  34. We look for those that are down, who just had a death, or trauma in their lives.

    Wha?! We do? Holy crap, when I was a missionary I hated finding people like that, because they always wanted to cry to us for an hour until they felt better, and then then never wanted to hear from us again.

  35. Mike S, I kind of agree, but the best “selling” of Mormonism is still done on a one-to-one basis by neighbors and friends, right? I can’t back that up but it seems right.

    We kinda touched on this in a BCC post a few months ago:

  36. Satan and I have the same job, we’re both trying to lead children of God-and pretend we have power over them, there’s also my attraction to heat (cooking) and tendancy to restrict other’s choices (you may not hit the oven with the melon baller), and my tendancy to think Jesus is not as powerful as he is…I also frequently try to encourage people to eat fruit and gain knowledge.


  37. Thomas Parkin says:

    It doesn’t work perfectly, but I find it useful, when people talk about things being ‘worldly’ or ‘of this world’ to turn the phrase ‘you can have anything in this world for money’ around to ‘ if you can have it for money, it is a thing of this world.’ So that you can buy a person’s influence, but you can’t buy a friend; you can buy a house, but you can’t buy a home; etc. The thing that you can’t buy for money is the thing that has potential to endure … to be, ‘stronger than the cords of death’ …

  38. Yup,

    I have to agree with britt (36) and Paul (5), the real people we need to suspect are Dole distributing, and those Mexicans on the freeway off-ramps. Satan-workers.

  39. In my work selling computer networking, security, and high end computer equipment, I’ve always deluded myself into thinking that I am providing a valuable service to my customers. And sometimes I do.

    Satan’s sales pitch could only work with one-time end user customers, though. If he wanted repeat sales, he would have to gradually lure them in by first providing what they actually did need and want, and slowly corrupt them with new features, contrived obsolescence, and end of support threats to be really successful. Trust me, I know.

  40. Wait, Kevin, so Satan’s in IT now?

    Like crafting the perfect jingle, my work involves getting something (physics concepts) to stick in your head. Sadly it doesn’t induce people to throw money at me. Well, time for more research!

  41. Ben,

    I always heard the devil’s in the details, but things change. Good luck getting a physics concept to stick in my head. I’ve read about half of Lisa Randall’s book on string theory and multiple dimensions (Warped Passages, IIRC), and not much of that has stuck in my head, other than you could be in a really small extra dimension, and not even be aware of it.

  42. The advertisements in The Invention of Lying alone were worth the price of the movie ticket.

  43. Steve Evans says:

    Not to trump y’all, but I am the one with Satan’s job. Lawyer, hello!

  44. Kyle, you said that at least you work for a client whose products you believe in. Based on your limited exposure to the industry so far, what percentage of people in advertising truly believe in what they are advertising, that product X will improve peoples’ lives? This is probably a little overly simplistic, but I’m curious nonetheless.

    I’m sure everyone would like to be put on campaigns that they enjoy and that few are in a position to pick and choose, etc., but do you think that a little moral relativism creeps in when, as a breadwinner, you’re really just trying to put food on the table?

  45. My intro to advertising professor always taught me that even the best advertising in the world won’t (in the long run) make up for a bad product.

    Anything made by Microsoft?

  46. Nathan, I think very few are lucky enough to be able to believe in their client at the outset, but I don’t think they expect to. I work on a tech/IT campaign, and it’s probably not very interesting for anyone on the campaign but me (my background is tech journalism).

    But there’s definitely a certain amount of kool-aidism when you spend all day every day thinking about your client’s benefits and competitors’ flaws.

    I’m thinking this topic extends to lawyers as well.

  47. People that make these assumptions both don’t really understand what good advertising is -and- do a poor job of breaking down a complex process into a simple sentence so you get ridiculous unoriginal statements like advertising or marketing is lying.

    It also explains why so many people can be content to believe Bush or Obama are worse than the devil — once you ignorantly break down their actions from your subjective point of view you are left with “the obvious” (to you): Advertising is lying, Bush is like Hitler, Obama is the devil, etc.

  48. A followup to my point
    DC19: 6-12
    The cynic would say God seemed pretty willing let people to be pretty terrified by the brand values for endless and eternal punishment and the words seem to have been chosen carefully. Believers of advertising is lying sure would conclude all that imagery or endless fire and brimstone and hellish punishment a la Dante’s inferno was awfully close to claiming girls will like you if you drink Pepsi.

    You might say the Lord is the ultimate marketer. Of course if you believe marketing is bad this sounds negative.

    Of course I don’t think you or the rest are too serious, but just passing on the same uninformed memes we all do from time to time.

  49. I haven’t reread the whole thread, but I don’t think anyone made a blanket statement like that, sam.

  50. Kyle,
    Have you met sam before? sam is one of our beloved commenters who excels in misrepresenting what OP authors write, while ironically saying that you’re passing on “uninformed” memes.

    Play it again, sam.

  51. #48

    Actually, D&C 19:6-12 falls into the venerable tradition of upaya or skillful means (Buddhist; see the parable of the burning house in the Lotus Sutra).

  52. In the later 1700s, the leading American Universalist Elhanan Winchester began considering the dilemma of possible divine false advertising on this precise point. A prominent friend explained to him that to threaten unending torments for the damned was the Lord’s way of safeguarding against sin to the max. Winchester eventually responded by saying, in essence, that truth in advertising ultimately sells the product best. Of course I’m injecting modern terms into his comments – my favorite of which was given as a response to his friend’s . . .

    OBJECTION.—It would not be prudent in God, even if he intended finally to restore the wicked, to let them know his gracious designs beforehand; it is time enough to let them know his gracious purposes towards them, when his former threatenings have failed of their effect, but not before.

    ANSWERED.—God has thought it the abounding of his wisdom and prudence to make known to his saints this mystery of his will, even his purpose to rehead all things in Christ. This discovery is chiefly intended for the comfort and satisfaction of the good, and not for the encouragement of the bad. [The Universal Restoration, Exhibited in Four Dialogues Between a Minister and His Friend . . . [Worcester, Massachusetts: Isaiah Thomas, Jun. . . . , 1803], xxix. First published London, 1788; first American edition at Philadelphia, 1792.)

    Convinced that the Lord wanted “eternal” and “endless” punishment to be understood as reflecting His divine nature (rather than the duration of divine retribution in an afterlife), Winchester disseminated this more positive “advertising” so widely (and in so many copies and editions) that his original volumes are still readily available at antiquarian bookstores today, two hundred years after they were printed. Winchester grew to proclaim his greater confidence in “the fulness, sufficiency, and willingness of CHRIST to save me, and all men, in such a manner as constrained me to venture my soul into his arms; . . .” (ibid, 144)

    It’s all a matter of perspective, timing and different “markets” of course, and it would appear that Joseph Smith came to view positive advertising with more confidence as well. In D&C 19 (March 1830), the divine injunction was, “. . . show not these things, neither speak these things unto the world, for they can not bear meat . . . ,” but even that careful version was published openly three years later (as just quoted, in the Book of Commandments 16:22-23 [1833]). By 1835, the wording began to hope for broader public exposure: “. . . and show not these things unto the world until it is wisdom in me; for they cannot bear meat now . . .” ( 1835 D&C 44:2; now D&C 19:21-22).

    Most Latter-day Saints may have been impacted only subliminally at first, however. For most effective results, advertising must be timed and directed judiciously. According to Grant Underwood, Joseph Smith did not begin “publicly and repeatedly to denounce the heaven-hell dichotomy” until 1843. “Toward the close of his life,” finally, Joseph “. . . began to emphasize a pluralized rather than a polarized picture of eternity. He interpreted hell symbolically, diminished damnation’s domain, and extended the limits of salvation.” (The Millenarian World of Early Mormonism [Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois, 1993], 56).

  53. John Taber says:

    Steve 43: I saw the title and thought the same thing.

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