Christian Minimalism

Marketing Desire

We are bombarded by advertisements for products every day.

Although the actual number of advertisements we see each day is up for debate, it’s no secret that we come across ads all the time. Scrolling through social media, using an app on our phones, watching YouTube, watching movies and TV on many streaming services or cable TV, billboards, and print media ads (magazines, newspapers, etc) are just a few of the ways ads make it to our eyes and ears.

Even if you just pop in a DVD in an attempt to avoid ads (if you still own a DVD player!), product placement is rampant. It’s now normal to watch a movie or TV show, and see the actors or reality TV participants eating Doritos or driving a specific car because companies have paid to have their products featured.

It would be easy to assume that– because marketing and advertising have become so ingrained in our lives– we would be able to tune it out. But it’s not that simple.

If ads only marketed their products and their uses, we could probably ignore them most of them time (unless we actually needed the product). But that’s not what most ads do.

Modern advertisements are designed to tap into our emotions and deepest desires.

Marketing Desires

Historically, advertisements showed the product, what it was used for, and had some sort of “hook” or catchy phrase to remember the product. Though our ads today often follow a similar format, the messaging is very different.

Current advertising is less about the product, and more about connecting the product to what we truly desire.

Becky Zieber, Content Strategist for DigitalMarketer, wrote a fantastic article showcasing how historical ads focused on the product, while modern ads focus on a desire or movement. As Zieber puts it, current ads “sell the why, not the what.” By looking at historical ads vs. modern ads for similar products, Zieber illustrates how messaging has changed over time.

For example, Zieber shows that a historical ad for a razor focused on the product itself, specifically its safety attributes. A modern ad, however, focuses on the use of a razor and inclusivity among young women. The messaging in the modern advertisement: when one uses this razor, one is part of a movement to be welcoming and inclusive– something we probably all want to be a part of.

In short, this modern ad taps into our desire to belong and be part of something greater than ourselves.

On the surface, it sounds silly to think that a minute-long razor commercial can tap into something that deep. But modern ads are powerful. They target the base desires we long for as humans– connection, belonging, love.

If you need more examples of how appealing to our human desires is a driving force in marketing and advertising, check out this article named “The 16 Desires: Use Them in Your Marketing.” It names Dr. Steven Reiss’ 16 human desires and how to tap into these human desires while selling your product. The article’s main argument is that selling your product will be extremely difficult if marketing and advertising doesn’t address these human desires.

If your product does not serve at least one of these basic desires, it’s unlikely to ever gain market traction. If it fulfills many (and most really good products do), make the most of each, with care and subtlety, as you present your selling message.

“The 16 Desires: Use Them in Your Marketing” by Roy Furr

I would run out of space here on Christian Minimalism if I highlighted all the recent examples of how ads attempt to tap into our deep human desires– but below are two major examples.

Target and “Affordable Joy”

Last year, Target publicly announced that they would be starting to focus on “delivering affordable joy” to customers. This is how they describe “affordable joy:”

This year, the retailer plans to launch or expand more than 10 owned brands, bringing thousands of new, differentiated products to guests at incredible prices. Additionally, the retailer will appeal to value-conscious shoppers with more items starting at $3, $5, $10 and $15. In addition, the retailer will deepen its focus on offering clear, compelling promotions, introduce enhancements to its Target Circle loyalty program and debut a new advertising campaign that celebrates how Target delivers affordable joy.

“Press Release: Target Unveils 2023 Strategic Investments to Fuel Growth and a Differentiated Guest Experience,” PRNewswire, February 28, 2023

Target, then, is making a marketing and advertising push to appeal to our desire for joy by having products that cost less, and intentional messaging in ads that “celebrate” how we can now buy joy.

Spoiler alert: We cannot purchase joy. Products do not bring us lasting joy. Only God brings us enduring joy.

Then [Nehemiah] said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord, and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Nehemiah 8:10

Though Target would like to make us think that buying these less expensive products can bring us joy, in reality the joy of the Lord is our strength– not buying more things just because they are more affordable.

To be fair, I regularly shop at Target for the things our family needs. I don’t think Target is evil for marketing “affordable joy.”

However, as a Christian minimalist, it is important to be aware of the marketing and advertising tactics used, and how they are specifically engineered to appeal to our human desires. Even though I have been living as a Christian minimalist for over seven years, I still have to intentionally remind myself that buying a $5 bauble won’t bring me lasting joy– even if while shopping, in the moment, it feels like it will.

The Coca-Cola Family

Another great example of marketing to our deepest desires is this recent Coca-Cola ad, titled “New Guy.”

In the ad, a couple arrives at a family game-day party, and the boyfriend of the couple is being introduced for the first time. He brings some Cokes to share, and throughout the ad we see his nervous journey from meeting everyone for the first time, to finally becoming accepted into the family group as they chant “New Guy! New Guy!” and embrace him (all the while drinking Coca-Cola products). The ad finishes with the words: “The Coca-Cola Company. Proud sponsors of what matters most.”

It’s clear that Coca-Cola wants us to equate drinking their sodas with belonging, acceptance, and family. The ad is deftly selling an experience of human connection– while drinking fizzy beverages.

But Coca-Cola takes it one step farther. They not only want us to equate drinking their sodas with the desire for family– they want us to equate their sodas with “what matters most.”

Here at Christian Minimalism, we define minimalism as a focus on the aspects of life that matter most, and intentionally removing everything else. For those who are striving to live as Christian minimalists, these aspects include fellowship, self-care, stewardship, spiritual growth, vocation, and service.

Though Coca-Cola products don’t make the list of what matters most, the Coca-Cola company definitely wants to have their products embedded into what matter most for us. Their messaging in this ad attempts to forge the connection of Coca-Cola sodas with family and love.

Again, I can appreciate drinking a Coke, Sprite, or Fanta now and then– Coca-Cola isn’t evil for tapping into our deep desires for belonging and love in their advertisements. But it does mean that we as consumers have to be aware of what these companies are trying to do through marketing and ads, so we aren’t sucked into the “Coca-Cola sodas=love” equation.

A Spirit of Self-Control

As I’ve mentioned above, one of the main ways to avoid equating advertised products with our natural human desires is to start noticing when companies use this tactic in their ads. As we become more aware, we are better able to then reign in our urge to buy the product in order to fulfill that desire.

In other words, by becoming aware of how companies attempt to sell their products by connecting them with our deepest desires, we can (with God’s help) cultivate self-control.

In the Bible, Self-control is listed as one of the fruit(s) of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). When we are living as God intended, and guided by the Holy Spirit, self-control is a natural outgrowth.

We also read about self-control in the Second Letter to Timothy:

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

2 Timothy 1:5-7

We are not to fear our human desires– to desire love, belonging, and human connection is a natural part of who God created us to be. With God’s help, we can cultivate a spirit of power and love and self-control so that we do not try to fill those deep human desires by buying products we don’t actually need.

How is God helping YOU to be more aware of how companies market human desires to sell products?

Did you like this post? Check out the Christian Minimalism book!


Becca Ehrlich, AKA The Christian Minimalist, is striving to be a Christian minimalist in a consumer society. She currently lives in Upstate New York with her husband Will and their son Theo. You can read more about her story and how her blog came to exist by clicking the website link above.


  1. Thandekile

    April 8, 2024 - 7:50 am

    Thank you for your article it is key and touches on the deepest issues…thank you

  2. John

    April 8, 2024 - 8:09 am

    I believe that with age comes wisdom which allows one to see beyond the wants and the needs. I’ve discovered that the older I get the less I want and need and need to hold onto.

    I also think the most egregious commercials are those that end with something like this…”Ask your doctor about..” or “be sure to tell your doctor if you’ve ever had…” In January 2023 Big Pharma spent $1.1 BILLION on advertising. Let’s talk about sucking people in based on fear for one’s life.

    As I finish this a Target ad just appeared suggesting Target has all the things that make you you. Not buying it, whatever it is.

  3. Loretta

    April 8, 2024 - 8:48 am

    During the Christmas Season, my family and I watched some classic Rankin-Bass Christmas shows that included vintage advertising. As you said, they were much more product based. My 22 year old daughter was, specifically, fascinated with them, especially one for a car maker that gave a tutorial on how their new bumper system helps protect your car in the event of a minor collision. Her comment was “Wow! They really just focus on why their product is the better choice.” It was really eye opening.

  4. Jim Wilson

    April 9, 2024 - 3:07 pm

    I don’t pay attention to the ads that companies post about anything ,they have all the flash and glamor of the products like cars ,tires ,drinks, things to eat ,cosmetics etc.It all looks good but have no desire for it,by the way I read your blog and enjoy the things that you send me ,I read and keep those to look back on . I have a scripture section on contentment and intentional living. Enjoy hearing from you.

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