Advertising Discontent

Twice a week I work out at my friend Dan’s house. Earlier this week, during conversation between weights, Dan shared with me the following story from the book Your Money Counts by Howard Dayton.

An American company opened a new plant in Central America because labor was plentiful and inexpensive. The opening of the plant proceeded smoothly until the workers at the plant received their first paychecks. The next day none of the villagers reported for work. Management waited . . . one, two, three days. Still no villagers came to work. The plant manager went to see the village chief to talk about the problem. “Why should we continue to work?” the chief asked in response to the manager’s inquiry. “We are satisfied. We have already earned all the money we need to live on.”

The plant stood idle for two months until someone came up with the bright idea of sending a mail-order catalog to every villager. Reading the catalogs created new desires for the villagers. Soon they returned to work, and there has been no employment problem since then. (Howard Dayton, Your Money Counts, pp. 46-47.)

This is a fascinating story on many levels (economics, culture, work ethic, outsourcing, etc.), but it clearly shows how advertising can create discontentment leading to increased spending. The tribe’s story is almost a microcosm of the consumer culture that has developed in America. Now of course the answer to all this is not to stop working or to stop purchasing all products. Both of those solutions would bring the economy to a grinding halt. But we should be aware of the market forces that drive us to spend so that we can make better choices and manage our money more wisely.

Dayton finishes off the story with these three helpful facts about spending:

  • The more television you watch, the more you spend.
  • The more you look at catalogs and magazines, the more you spend.
  • The more you shop, the more you spend.


  1. Sharon Gamble says:

    As a non-shopper, this was a great article for me. I avoid the mall as much as I can. I am contented with what I have until I see all that stuff and wonder if perhaps my life would be easier/better with something or other. When we lived in Germany, the only place I could shop was the local PX. Buying jeans was simple. There would be one rack with one or two styles of jeans in my size. I’d buy one. When we returned to the States and I first went to a mall again to buy jeans, the sheer number of stores and choices hurt my head. I went home without any! The other big incentive for me to not spend unnecessary money — reminding myself that, compared to most people in the world today — I already have far more than I need. It’s all perspective!

  2. Margaret says:

    The message by John Stott was meaningful to me, reading it on Good Friday. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Ray Fowler says:


    I don’t like shopping in a physical mall, so that is no problem for me either. Now internet shopping, that is a different matter. Easy access to all sorts of books and music and books and DVDs and books, and did I mention books? Now that can be a challenge!

    God bless, and have a wonderful Easter!

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