Morality, For Sale at a Store Near You


Preparing for the Houston Ice Storm 2014, Part Deux, I hit the grocery store. I was in that ready-alert state of mind that allows a person to see details usually missed. The promotional-items section at the front of the store caught my eye, as Kroger has designed it to do. They featured a new brand, Simple Truth. I think the product was potato chips, but I don’t recall because the name grabbed my attention.


A bunch of ideas came to my mind. One, the name reminded me of the Innocent  and Honest juices that annoy me so. These juice brands show up at parties, and when kids are running amok, tattling and the like, the names make me wonder if the branding is some sort of wishful thinking. Innocent even has a little halo in the logo. Honest goes for word play with Honest Tea, Honest Aid, and Honest Kids. The kid juices come in an annoying punch pouch that supposedly catches spills but actually makes the pouches almost impossible to puncture with the plastic straw. I avoid Innocent and Honest brands as a rule.

Two, I got an ear worm from Jonah Goldberg. I have a few of his old articles about consumer morality memorized. (I started reading him back in the days when one still had to print, rather than bookmark, favorite articles. I read them more than once.) The Simple Truth triggered this quote to playback:

Perhaps it was when Nietzsche pronounced God dead that so many decided to do His job themselves. Today, we are our own priests. Our truths are own “inner truths.” Our morality is bought retail.

I’ve seen this morality bought retail everywhere from furniture to fashion to food. A few years ago, I blogged about a WSJ article on triple-figure designer jeans. I wrote, “For the hefty price tag you get a pair of jeans and a public statement that you have enough money to afford such jeans and that you care about workers and the environment. … Fab jeans and good works for a couple hundred bucks–no actual action required.” I got comments about how cool this was. My sarcasm went largely unnoticed.  



But what I realized with the Simple Truth is that the morality pitch has gotten more direct lately. I suppose we are getting more desperate for confirmation of our goodness. We need to buy “Truth” directly off the shelves rather than rely on inspiring descriptions in product ads.

Look around the grocery store. It’s full of Philippians 4:8: “Whatsoever things are Honest, whatsoever things are True… ” Just, Pure, Lovely. We can buy everything but Chastity. They aren’t selling Chastity.

When I got home, I found confirmation of this trend. Among the Super Bowl ad pre-releases* Axe’s promo offers Peace for sale.

They are aiming for a culture morality trifecta. The product — a man’s body spray, in case you didn’t know — is not just named Peace. They called the ad “Make Love, Not War” to invoke the morality of the ’60s. And they created a cute and relatively short romantic hashtag for the hipsters, #KissForPeace.

Poor Peace. It is already a staple beauty-pageant-joke punchline, the safely unattainable yet high-minded declaration of good intentions. Now we can get it in an aerosol.


*As a writer, I like that the Super Bowl powers that be released some of the ads early, but as a woman worried about online isolation, I will miss talking first impressions with friends on Super Bowl Sunday. That was the best part. Something that often gets lost on the young social media masters: Twitter only magnifies what is already there. Companies won’t likely get early viral surges of the same magnitude by releasing the ads before everyone is paying attention. By then, the ads are ancient news for those viral-making players.



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