Sunday, August 23, 2009

Studying Schaeffer in the field of Humanities Enriches our Understanding of Consumer Behavior

Religion is a study in communication, but more than that, it is a study in human behavior. This article is an analysis by one of the most powerful minds of 20th century Christian apologetics. Dr. Schaeffer presents a clear justification for the Christian faith and explains the demise of its nemesis during the past few centuries, Rationalism. He is considered a founder of the Christian right (see Wikipedia, 2009, p. 1) and is often compared to C.S. Lewis or Michael Polanyi (see Burson, 1996, p. 1). Studying Schaeffer enhances our understanding of Consumer Behavior in three ways.

First it is a fundamental characteristic of a significant group of consumers in the United States and gives us understanding of that group’s behavior. According to Hawkins, et al (2007, p. 181), 79% of Americans believe in God, more than 50% say religion is an important part of their lives and 36% say they regularly attend services. Secondly, religion provides insight about human behavior. Finally, marketing is itself a religion with a commercial ratio that parallels traditional religion.

Marketing is a religion in that it is a meaning making process. Marketing creates an identity and negotiates its meaning and therefore its image with a target audience (see Drewniany and Jewler, 2008, pp 36-45). Marketing breathes life into the image in the imagination of the audience through communications based on a model of self-concept and perception for the audience (see Hawkins, 2007, pp 434). Redemption for those of us who worship the marketing image is through consumption rather than faith.

Schaeffer’s article analyzes the essence of the meaning making process: self-concept and perception. He tells us that the failure of Rationalism and its attendant secular humanism should not be a concern for Christians, or by extrapolation to marketers, because the presuppositions, the fundamental assumptions, of Rationalism were flawed. He argues that we can know each other, or in other words, we can know an audience. He further, convincingly, asserts that meaningful communication is possible.

Christians formed early science with the perspective that a reasonable God created the universe so therefore our communication and interaction to understand it is reasonable as well. Do we find the same perspective in early marketing, advertising and consumer behavior? According to Twitchell (1996, p. 36), there is what he calls a preponderance of “evangelical con artists” in the formation of modern marketing. He lists a dozen of the leading apostles of the then new science who were Christian preachers or sons and daughters of preachers, some founding agencies that continue to dominate today. One luminary is Helen Lansdowne.

She was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister and she studied three years at Princeton Theological before devoting herself to advertising (Twitchell, 1996, p. 33). Wikipedia (2009a, p. 1) notes that while Stanley Resor was the executive during the rise to prominence of J. Walter Thompson, Helen Lansdowne was “the creative genius behind JWT's ad campaigns.”

Pope (2003, p. 8) relates that Lansdowne’s first innovation was to advertise to the consumer’s concerns rather than about a product’s qualities. Based on her consumer findings, (p. 9) she developed the catch phrase “A Skin You Love to Touch” that she added to “gauzily romantic paintings of elegant young ladies, happily receiving the admiring attention of dashing young gentlemen.” This was not the life situation for most of the audience but she had found it to be their aspiration.

She was also the first to use sex appeal in advertising.

Schaeffer’s argument is important, postmodern despair is not any more correct than failed Rationalism. Reason can be applied to our endeavors, rather than resigning ourselves to the overwhelming effect of randomness. The consumer behavior model initiated by bible thumpers has worked and is still in use, much enhanced today by the application of reason from both academia and practice.

The self-concept of an audience can be discovered sufficiently. Meaningful communications can be made. This requires research but there should be optimism it will succeed. Hawkins, et al (2007, p. 434), like Schaeffer, divide self-concept into inner and outer spheres, they designate as the private self and the social self. They further categorize self-concept and establish relationships with it and life-styles (p. 441). This implicitly reaffirms Schaeffer’s point that although Rationalism failed as a basis to explain such actions, Christian epistemology does support the concepts of categories, self-concept, and associations between subject and the world that can be communicated.

Another area of consumer behavior that Schaeffer’s article can illuminate is an understanding of the 79% of the American public that is Christian (see Hawkins, 2007, p. 181). Hawkins, et al go on to say (p. 183) that Catholics and Protestants represent a significant subculture in the United States. They also note (p. 84) that Christians tend to be more conservative in beliefs and are active in action against non-Christian proposals such as liquor, gambling, pornography and other marketing activities. This is consistent with the activism promoted by Schaeffer, especially his later work A Christian Manifesto.

This has resulted in actions by some Christians such as boycotts. One such boycott (see Hawkins, 2007, p. 184) is against Disney. This was not only because of Disney’s support for gay and lesbian life-styles but also for a continuing practice of sexual messaging. In addition to Hawkins, et al, see Vitigliano (1997, pp 1-2), Tucker (2008, p. 1), and Anomalies Unlimited (2005, p. 1). Representative is the penis subliminal messaging in the Little Mermaid.

This caused concern, as did Disney’s misrepresentations about the relationship with the artist who admitted doing this in other work for Disney as well. It illustrates the extent some Christians pursue a company once it becomes part of their activated consciousness.

Implications for Consumer Behavior of Schaeffer’s Work
Schaeffer emphasizes the vital importance of imagination in the experience of human beings. The advertising consultant Roy Williams (2001, pp 20-1) suggests that reality begins with imagination, quoting the master philosopher Henri Poincare. Here Williams suggests that imagination becomes reality when we put energy behind it. He goes on (p. 68) to say that powerful marketing communications with the consumer begin by first engaging their imagination, “and take it where you will.” When reviewing the work of Dr. Jorge Martin de Oliveria, Williams (p. 18) extends Oliveria’s findings to marketing communications by asserting that the central aspect of all efforts in human persuasion is “the fact that people can only do what they have first imagined.”


A prominent example of imagination in marketing and consumer influence was by one of the most extraordinary persons of the 20th century, Greta Garbo. She captured the imagination of women in the 20s and 30s and is now considered the first new woman by feminists (see Fischer, 2001, p. 90). Both the style of her screen persona and the facts of her personal life inflamed the imaginations of her audience, primarily women. I have seen most of her movies and there is a theme in them all, a triangle – she is married to an older, overbearing man and having an affair with a younger man (see for example Vieira, 2005, p. 8). When discovered in the act, she is neither embarrassed nor repentant but instead is contemptuous, weary or angry with her older man. Conveniently for her character and to the relief of the audience, he is killed or dies off, leaving her to her virile suitor. She played her characters as women with mastery over their own image.

In her personal life, after her first films proved extremely popular and profitable, she challenged the MGM power structure. She ignored studio dictates, refused to participate in staged publicity and premiers, did not wear traditional foundational garments beneath her clothes, and was in general insubordinate, all of which created a growing tension. It reached the tipping point when she demanded seven times her salary to become the highest paid professional in the business and refused to do the film Women Love Diamonds because she thought it foolish (see Paris, 1994, pp127-8).

MGM finally detonated, finding her in breach of contract, and issued her a cease and desist letter. She went over their heads to Loews Inc., the parent company, and focused on the factual errors in the letter (see Vieira, 2005, pp 45-8). It was also observed that had MGM listened to her they would not have lost $30,000 with Women Love Diamonds (MGM went on with it using a different actress). Loews agreed, and MGM was forced to capitulate to the 21-year-old girl. The humiliation of the best brains in a place like MGM rocked Hollywood (see Paris, 1994, pp 129-30). She was given the salary and creative license and for the next decade produced a series of extremely profitable films.

In addition to her mastery of the moviegoers’ imagination, her own imagination played an important role in her success. Paris (1993, p. 9) quotes her reflecting back on her life alone, “Even as a tiny girl I preferred being alone….I could give my imagination free rein and live in a world of lovely dreams.” He also reports (p. 19) that she received intense religious training from her Lutheran church when young and later in life worked at converting to Catholicism.

Not one of my textbooks in the WVU IMC program has an index topic of imagination. Of course, I did find some by practioners such as Williams cited above. This seems to be an oversight in current academic thinking about consumer behavior. Imagination is a critical aspect of people. People of Garbo’s stature have used the imagination of their audience to create a world that could be but isn’t. Imagination is fertile ground for an aspiration that people may not have thought of or considered. Marketing that creates an imaginary world that engages the imagination of the consumer can also have the towering success that someone like Garbo achieved.

Another implication is Schaeffer’s reference to Chomsky’s Basic Grammar categories to make a point. After an exhaustive literature search on it, I found only one article not imbued with extensive mathematical symbolism, Talmy’s The Cognitive Culture System.
Talmy (1995, p 4) says there may be a correlation between Chomsky’s linguistic categories and the universals of cultural structure that Murdock reported in 1966. Murdock found the following seventy-three cultural categories in every culture:

age-grading, athletic sports, bodily adornment, calendar, cleanliness training, community organization, cooking, cooperative labor, cosmology, courtship, dancing, decorative art, divination, division of labor, dream interpretation, education, eschatology, ethics, ethnobotany, etiquette, faith healing, family, feasting, fire-making, folklore, food taboos, funeral rites, games, gestures, gift-giving, government, greetings, hair-styles, hospitality, housing, hygiene, incest taboos, inheritance rules, joking, kin groups, kinship nomenclature, language, law, luck superstitions, magic, marriage, meal times, medicine, modesty concerning natural functions, mourning, music, mythology, numerals, obstetrics, penal sanctions, personal names, population policy, postnatal care, pregnancy usages, property rights, propitiation of supernatural beings, puberty customs, religious ritual, residence rules, sexual restrictions, soul concepts, status differentiation, surgery, tool making, trade visiting, weaning, weather control.

I think this is the start of a useful taxonomy to organize our understanding of a culture, especially differences. I am not suggesting that cultures are the same in these categories as far as marketing communications is concerned. I do suggest that these seventy-three common categories would be a way of organizing culturally relevant information.

A less mathematic, more up-to-date and more actionable study in this area could benefit consumer behavior. One area that comes to mind is avoiding embarrassing cross-cultural marketing mistakes. As examples, three of the cultural cognitive categories are mourning, numerals, and athletics. The category mourning would store the aspects of mourning in different cultures, aspects such as symbolic colors, white is Asia, black in the west, and brown in India; also numerals - 13 bad luck in the U.S., and 4 is bad luck in Japan; as well as athletics - use local sports stars - Nike wasted years pushing American sports stars in Europe to no effect.

List of Figures
Figure 1 Francis Schaeffer, retrieved on April 11, 2009 from

Figure 2 L’Abri Retreat, retrieved on April 11, 2009 from

Figure 3 Jose Ortega y Gasset, retrieved on April 11, 2009 from

Figure 4 Resor and Lansdowne, retrieved on April 11, 2009 from

Figure 5 Woodbury Soap ad by Lansdowne, retrieved on April 11, 2009 from

Figure 6 Disconcerting Disney Artwork, retrieved on April 11, 2009 from

Figure 7 Greta Garbo in Mysterious Lady, digital rights owned by George Ray

(these images are incorporated according to the Fair Use provisions of the copyright laws for educational purpose)

Anomolies Unlimited (2005). Well, it does look like one. Retrieved on April 10, 2009 from

Burson, Scott R. (Summer 1996). A Comparative Analysis of C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer-The Most Influential Apologists of Our Time. Lamp-Post of the Southern California C. S. Lewis Society 1996 Summer; 20 (2): 4-29. Retrieved on April 5, 2009 from EBSCOHOST.

Clarkson, Frederick (1994). "Theocratic Dominionism Gains Influence". The Public Eye Magazine VIII (1 & 2). Retrieved on April 9, 2009 from

Cochrane, Matthew (April 24, 2007). Book Review: A Christian Manifesto. Retrieved on April 9, 2009 from

Drewniany, B and J Jewler (2008). Creative Strategy in Advertising. Wadsworth.

Elliott, Hannah (November 20, 2006 ) Baylor prof says Francis Schaeffer returned to fundamentalist views. Associated Baptist Press. Retrieved on April 9, 2009 from

Gelles, John (Oct 12, 2007). Ann Coulter's Ridiculous Claim that Jews Are Christians! Retrieved on April 10, 2009 from

Hamilton, Gregory W. (2007). A Review of “A Christian Manifesto” in the Light of Scriptural Revelation. Liberty Express journal. Retrieved on April 9, 2009 from

Hawkins, Del, David Mothersbaugh and Roger Best (2007). Consumer Behavior. McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Kaplan, Robert (2001). The Coming Anarchy. Vintage.

Olasky, Marvin (March 03, 2005). Francis Schaeffer's political legacy. TownHall.Com. Retrieved on April 9, 2009 from

Parkhurst, L.G. (2008). Francis and Edith Schaeffer. Retrieved on April 9, 2009 from

Pope, Daniel (6/13/2003). Making Sense of Advertisements. George Mason University.
Retrieved on April 8, 2009 from )

Schaefer, Francis (January 1972). He is There and He is not Silent. Bibliotheca Sacra. Retrieved on April 2, 2009 from EBSCOHOST.

Spanos, William (4/22/2003 ). The Detective and The Boundary: Some Notes on PostModern Literary Imagination. State University of New York at Binghamton. Retrieved on April 7, 2009 from EBSCOHOST.

Taleb, Nassim Nickolas (2007). The Black Swan. Random House.

Talmy, Leonard (Jan 95). The cognitive culture system. Monist; Jan95, Vol. 78 Issue 1, p80, 35p. Retrieved on April 8, 2009 from EBSCOHOST.

Tucker, Maryanne (2008). Subliminal Messaging and The Disney Corporation. Retrieved on April 10, 2009 from

Twitchell, James (1996). AdCult USA. Columbia Press.

Vitagliano, Ed (1997). Why Boycott Disney? AFA Journal. Retrieved on April 10, 2009 from

Wallace, AFC (1963). Culture and Personality. Random House.

Wikipedia (2009). Francis Schaeffer. Retrieved on April 7, 2009 from

Wikipedia (2009a). Stanley Resor. Retrieved on April 7, 2009 from

Whitehead, John W. (3/8/2007). Is the Christian Right a Fascist Movement? The Rutherford Institute. Retrieved on April 9, 2009 from

Williams, Roy (2001). Magical Worlds of the Wizard of Ads. Bard Press.

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