A Paradox of Individualism: Me vs. the Environment

I don't usually pay much attention to advertisements—billboards, television spots, print ads—but when I'm driving, I often listen to the radio (when I don't throw on an old Nirvana cassette), and besides tuning in to college and public stations, there's no good way to avoid listening to adverts. And like on television, they often repeat during every commercial break. Nonetheless, it took me several listens and a contextual conversation to make the connection I'm about to describe. A recent Bochner Eye Institute radio spot says something like, "We know you could pay less for eye surgery, but why would you? You've only got one pair of eyes." (If anyone can point me to a recording of the advert, let me know.)

What they're saying is clear: by using an eye surgeon or service that charges less, you're putting your eyes at greater risk of complications or worse. They are trusting that consumers will pay a premium for a service that offers better quality and lower risk. It's a long-term scheme: pay more now and worry less later.

The same argument applies to many consumer products and services: you can pay more for a better car and (hopefully) it will have lower maintenance and fuel costs down the road; you can pay more up front for a better new home and it is less likely to sink into the ground; you can pay more for quality clothes and they will last longer and maybe even remain in fashion.

It's a risky game, presenting these arguments to consumers in the age of convenience and cost-consciousness, but it must appeal to enough of us that some companies continue to employ it. I think it's especially effective for cars and homes, and occasionally effective for luxury or semi-premium items, like watches and dishes. But it's mostly ineffective for more everyday items, like clothes and furniture, and it's very ineffective in the face of competing campaigns from fast and convenience food companies.

But back to the eyes: they are an integral part of the body, providing probably the most important sense in our visually over-stimulated culture. In this sense, they are us, and without them, we are nothing. I suppose I've answered my own question here, but still: if this type of advertising does work (if only in relation to certain products or services with recognizably high value, why doesn't it work with respect to environmental concerns?

I think (I guess it's just hope, really) it's clear to pretty much everyone that our environment is more truly beneficial than our eyes or any other body part a person could lose without dying. That is, without our environment, we are truly nothing.

Is it that environmentally focussed organizations and companies haven't tried this line of argument? I don't think this is true. Do they just not have enough money to get their message out to enough people? Possibly. Is it that we simply value the environment so little, or that we are incapable of seeing the value? Maybe they're up against a short-term culture with a mindset that is just too fixed to change. Have we made ourselves disposable, and therefore not worth spending premium money on, like we would for a fancy car?

Tell me dear readers: why do people choose the cheap and low-quality product over the one that might last a life time or longer?