Marriage and Marketing

Some years ago, there were two companies that produced canned salmon. For one, the salmon was pink; for the other, it was white. Popular perception was that the pink was more natural and healthier than the white. As a result, consumers purchased the canned pink salmon in such relative proportions that they threatened to drive the white salmon manufacturers out of business. An ingenious marketing expert saved the day for his company by putting the following words on the label of the white salmon: “Guaranteed not to turn pink in the can”. This clever ruse nearly drove the producers of pink salmon out of business. The case went to court, but not until the reputations of both varieties of canned salmon was restored.

Marketing is a strategy that can convince people of the merits of something without presenting them with any justifying information. People who smoked Kools swore that these cigarettes actually cooled their throats. They believed what it said on the label, and nothing more. This is the same problem that Socrates encountered in Plato’s dialogue, Gorgias, in dealing with the sophists who held that they did not need to provide people with knowledge in order to persuade them about the merits of something. Socrates concluded that this form of persuasion could work only among the ignorant and only in a crowd.

salmonIf the Gadfly of Athens were alive today, he would still encounter people persuading others without providing them with the requisite information that would justify their beliefs. Marketing strategists have succeeded, to a significant extent, in convincing others that marriage should not be restricted to a man and a woman. These modern sophists do this by asserting, but without substantiating, that same-sex marriage is a civil right. As a consequence, anyone who opposes same-sex marriage is said to be against human rights and therefore unjust, unwelcoming and uncivil. These are most serious accusations and places those who defend traditional marriage in somewhat of a quandary.

The assertion that same-sex marriage is a civil right, however, is specious. No one has the right to change the meaning of marriage, one that has enjoyed universal approbation throughout the world and throughout the course of history. If one did have this right, he could just as well change marriage back to its traditional form. The claim that anyone can change the definition of anything by sheer will power would not be an effecting marketing tool. But to associate same-sex marriage with civil rights, although purely a marketing trick, has proved most effective.

President Obama delivered a commencement address on June 14, 2014 and told the graduating class of the University of California at Irvine, and all those in attendance, that same-sex marriage is about marrying the person you love. A moment’s reflection reveals that no one can possibly believe this. Can a mother marry her beloved children? Can a married man marry any other woman or man that he happens to love? The president’s ruse is sophistical. It is effective because it presupposes a mass audience who are either ignorant or unthinking. Similarly, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that “the right to marry means little if it does not include the right to marry the person of one’s choice”. The minimal condition for marriage—mutual consent—seems to have but a subtlety that the judges of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts failed to recognize. Yet, this marketing trick made same-sex marriage legal in the Bay State. The judges proved to be more pernicious than judicious.

In a Seinfeld sitcom episode, George Costanza, who exhibited no acting skills whatsoever, insisted that his starting salary for a pilot project should be commensurate with that of Ted Danson. George’s logic was something like this: If Ted Danson is an actor and I am an actor, we should get the same salary. George simply omitted the inconvenient but sizeable gap between the abilities of the two. Similarly, advocates of same-sex marriage argue as follows: Since both heterosexuals and homosexuals want to marry, they should be treated equally. These two arguments are equally bogus because they omit what is most relevant and validating. In the first example, it is acting ability; in the second example, it is the complementarity that belongs to the very essence of marriage.

The dispute between the two companies that produced canned salmon was settled in the court. The dispute between tradition marriage and same-sex marriage will finally be settled in the court of public opinion. The critical question, however, is this: will public opinion on this crucial issue be formed by knowledge and careful reflection, or will it be formed by the unthinking masses?

Dr. Donald DeMarco is a Senior Fellow of Human Life International. He is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College in Cromwell, CT, and a regular columnist for St. Austin Review. His latest works, How to Remain Sane in a World That is Going Mad and Poetry That Enters the Mind and Warms the Heart are available through Articles by Don: