Competition may be considered a healthy and integral part of capitalism, but recent and not-so-recent history has shown that a degree of regulation is also necessary. Good business practice, however, does not ensure good taste in marketing. When a company presents itself as part of an individual’s private life, things get weird. Welcome to the status quo. An ad by Citibank illustrates the point. It’s no longer enough to simply have a checking account. It has to be a “checking relationship.”
Beneath the headline, the image of a couple reinforces the notion of an intimate bond, one that can come with rewards. The boundaries between business and pleasure blur, as do the rewards themselves. A glittering possession and a romantic partner become interchangeable. A besotted brunette points to a display case and simultaneously places her finger behind the text overlay “Live your dreams.” The message is a familiar one: All our desires can fit neatly into a shopping cart.
Rewards programs may be widespread, but their popularity does not make them fundamentally sound. Being encouraged to spend money for the sake of accumulating points runs contrary to the time-honored values of thrift and moderation. Are we so childish that we need to be congratulated for paying bills or making everyday purchases? Are we so destitute in our private lives that a relationship with a business entity somehow fills the void? Or are we just blinded by petty greed, eagerly claiming our free prize after spending thousands of dollars?
If money has become our god, then convenience and romance are the new prophets. “Bank online… Make memories offline,” declares another Citibank ad from the same campaign. At first glance, the ad appears merely sentimental, but the link between experiencing intimacy and managing capital penetrates the psyche. The sales pitch: With greater efficiency comes more quality time. But does the logic add up? Are we really making memories with our partners, or viewing account balances on our smartphones while they do the same?
The more advertising we absorb, the more commercial we become. Without a critical eye and a value system beyond the fancies of the marketplace, our quest for personal identity and romantic love resembles a soap opera. The polished parodies and shallow transactions conveyed in still and moving images become our reference points for life outside the frame. But life is not a commercial, nor is a relationship, and here we are made to pay—fifty percent in most cases. In the end, seeing another person as a reward can come with penalties.