« Back to Humane Connection

Compassion and Kleenex®: Marketing to Our Higher Selves

Written by Zoe Weil | Published on February 27, 2009 | Filed under Humane Connection
The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Humane Education website at http://humaneeducation.org/blog/2009/02/27/compassion-and-kleenex-marketing-to-our-higher-selves/

Waiting for my plane to board a couple weeks ago, I was watching CNN at the gate and was amazed to see that advertisers are now linking compassion with products. As a humane educator, I’m used to analyzing ads with students, asking the question, “What deep need or desire is the ad trying to fulfill?” Usually, students point out power, wealth, love, sex, beauty, esteem, etc. But on CNN, a Kleenex® ad that kept replaying was linking compassion towards others with facial tissue, and then mocking such behavior:

(Can’t play the video above? Watch it here.)

To meditative music we witness a western monk right an overturned baby turtle, place a beached goldfish back in a stream, and rescue a spider. Then he blows his nose into a Kleenex® tissue while the announcer says that Kleenex® kills 99% of bacteria. “That’s right. Kills.” The compassionate monk is startled. The commercial ends.

What are we to make of this? After just finishing Buy•ology by Martin Lindstrom, I’m newly aware that sex in advertising doesn’t really sell products the way we thought it did. Maybe compassion does; even when you then joke about it. I actually think this is a good sign. There are new books and new studies linking our happiness with kindness toward others (I write about this in my new book, Most Good, Least Harm), and while this Kleenex® ad may be snarky, it’s presumably based on the assumption that we humans want to be good; we want to be kind; we aspire to do more compassionate acts.

Whether this ad will make you buy Kleenex® brand facial tissues is another story, but I’m glad to see our highest selves targeted by ads instead of just our fear and greed.

Your thoughts?

~ Zoe