Saturday 18 Aug 2018 | 19:58 | SYDNEY
Saturday 18 Aug 2018 | 19:58 | SYDNEY

Marketing marriage


Michael Fullilove


13 March 2008 14:26

There’s an arresting billboard just off Dupont Circle in Washington featuring a handsome African-American couple emerging from a church after making their wedding vows. He looks great in his tux, she looks beautiful in white, and they're being showered with confetti. The weird thing about the image is the tagline beneath it: ‘Married people make more money.’

It turns out this is part of a new campaign dubbed ‘Marriage works’, which is put about by an outfit called Campaign For Our Children. CFOC describes the campaign at the Marriage Works website. The purpose is to promote ‘one of the world’s most cherished institutions: marriage'. They cite research indicating that married people live longer, enjoy better health, have lower rates of substance abuse, make better parents, and are happier in general.

All this may very well be true. Being happily married myself, I’m all in favour of marriage. Marriage works very well indeed for me. But it doesn’t work for everyone, and — more importantly — it doesn't work with just anyone. People should get married if and when they find someone they want to spend their lives with. People should not get married because it will increase their chances of promotion or lower their body mass index. (Editor's note: See here for a counter-argument.)

I'm highly dubious about NGOs promoting such a life choice, which is far too important and mysterious to be sold like a bar of soap or, well, a presidential candidate. In fact, this campaign is strangely reminiscent of one of my fondest discoveries, the Singapore Kindness Movement. As its website explains, SKM was established when former prime minister Goh Chok Tong called for Singapore to become a ‘gracious society’. It is tasked with encouraging Singaporeans ‘to make a positive commitment to gracious living through simple acts of kindness in their daily activities.’ Of course, this being Singapore, SKM has a vaguely Stepford feel to it: the Patron of the Movement is current prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, and the ‘Adviser to the Movement’ is Dr Lee Boon Yang, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts. SKM observes neatly that ‘The Adviser guides the activities of the SKM Council.’

I can see what both these organisations are getting at, but don’t they understand that not every facet of human life is susceptible to marketing?