Deborah Morrison is the chambers distinguished professor of advertising at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication. Recently, she wrote a piece for Co.Create in which she calls on advertising people to transcend the consumption cycle and train the full might of their creative firepower on what she calls the great and wicked issues of our day. You know the ones: Global warming. Hunger. Energy. Gun violence. Mass extinctions. Overpopulation.
As I write this, Dr. Morrison and nine advertising students are in Alaska studying climate change. They’re learning how to find the stories in the science—stories that most of us would never see, and not because they aren’t compelling. On the contrary, they’re beyond compelling, the stuff of nightmares without end. The stories are there all right, but they’re mute and colorless and shapeless, entombed beneath a mountain range of data. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Data can do many things. It can prove theorems, send rockets to the stars and cure diseases of every stripe. What it can’t do is light a fire under the collective ass of society. Data can’t do that, but stories and ideas can.
Decisions are a big part of life in the 21st century. Never before have we had to make so many of them. Online shopping means you can purchase an item from anywhere and have it delivered conveniently to your doorstep. Dating sites like OkCupid and eHarmony give access to potential romantic partners from all around the world, while Amazon brings the world’s largest product warehouse onto your computer screen. The seemingly endless options may appear to be a blessing, but under certain circumstances, you can have too much of a good thing.
Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper conducted one of the first studies demonstrating the effects of “choice overload.” Using jam, essay topics, and chocolates, they found that people were more likely to make a choice — and be happy with that choice — when presented with fewer options. Paradoxically, despite the negative effects, people found the larger choice sets more appealing and enjoyable to choose from. Some have called this phenomenon the “tyranny of choice.”
It is very easy to forget how influential Coca-Cola has been to culture over the years.