Funeral Advertisements

    Funeral advertisements are a debated topic.  Some see them as a negative thing, that ads aimed at the general public forget the individual and de-personalise the industry.  But these public ads also do a lot of good, they help to bring funerals back to the public.  As such grief and the funeral industry are made more acceptable.

    As I dig into the funeral industry I find those who dislike the way funeral companies are advertising on mass to the general public.  They complain that funeral companies use to be more subtle, and target specific groups.  For example the company would have a talk at a nursing home, or go and visit people who were interested in the company.  Sometimes they would advertise in newspapers, but only specific ones such as religious newspapers.  They tell me how funeral companies advertised like this, and how it was better.

    The 'new' mass and public methods are quite different to the older individual methods.  Now funeral companies are talking more to the public and less to the individual.  We see this with billboards, TV ads and so on.  The methods are broad and speak to many people at once.  A very different mindset to the previous one-on-one style.  The people who criticise this new style say it is losing the personal touch.  It is just mass-marketing and has no substance, and has no concern for the individual.  That this is doing the industry harm, turning it from a personal style into a mass-industry.

    To this I disagree for the most part and would argue instead that these mass-market and public funeral advertisements have an overall positive impact.  Most obviously these advertisements bring the funeral industry back to the public sphere.  Take InvoCare for example, this company is constantly producing mass-market advertisements.  They have the money, skill and mindset to make TV and radio ads regularly.  In doing so they are bringing funerals to the TV, radio and so on.  Rather than just targeting specific groups in subtle ways InvoCare is also talking to the general public.  Slowly encouraging this topic of funerals to return to a public sphere.  Basically InvoCare is openly discussing funerals in a public place, which is helping to make it a public topic again.  We are discussing the ads on TV, even those who criticise them are talking about them in a public way.

    InvoCare is not the only company doing this, just the most obvious due to bigger budgets.  Other companies are doing things like holding public events or also advertising to the general public.  In either case many funeral companies are now discussing funerals with the general public in a direct manner.  Not just quietly talking to specific people or groups.

    So the topic of funerals is becoming more publicly palatable.  An argument could be made that this is helping with grieving.  For a while we have discouraged public emotional displays, ever since the early 1900s that is.  Grief was something one did in the private of their own home, not in public.  This privatisation of grief had negative impacts on people.  Most found they had few if anybody to talk with and could not express themselves.  As a result they internalised their grief.  However in the 1970s to 1980s this began to change, people began to be able to express themselves openly.  It is around this time that funeral advertisements started to become more public.  I can see a correlation between public funeral ads and public display of emotions.  As funeral advertisements became more public so did displays of emotions.  Things like grief councillors and bereavement services arose as the funeral advertisements were aimed more at the general public.

    Another side effect of public advertisements is bringing the funeral industry to the public.  We can now discuss openly what goes on at a funeral.  While incredibly few actually know the process, and there is still taboo attached to it, we can discuss it publicly and freely.  As funeral become more publicly acceptable so does the funeral industry itself.  Many older undertakers have told me how they would be looked at oddly for working in a funeral home by others.  That others considered it an odd or dirty job.  This does remain to an extent, but it is certainly less common than it use to be.  I see much more acceptance of the undertaker and the job in current society.

    Of course this is a simplistic view, and correlation does not mean causation.  Funeral ads did not make emotional displays more acceptable, nor did they bring the funeral industry back to the public.  Things are rarely this simple or one-directional.  While we like to look for simple causation agency is rarely tied to just one thing.  Society has changed, has moved and for a large number of reasons.  As society has changed the topic of funerals have become more publicly acceptable again.  Companies like InvoCare then take this opportunity to advertise publicly.  Which in turn gets us talking about the topic publicly and helps to allow us to talk about things like grief.

    However, there is a down side to these mass-market advertisements.  The funeral industry is losing the personal touch in some regards.  Take InvoCare for example, it is a company which would like to be personal and do a good job.  But due to a mass-market appeal and style it struggles to do so.  It employs systems and procedures, which let it keep control and do a good job.  Unfortunately this prevents it from being able to fully personalise and individualise the process to each customer.  But this is an issue many mass-market and modern industries face.  It is not just the funeral industry, supermarkets don't offer the same personal service as the corner store.

    So, while there are some negative impacts from mass-market public ads there are also many positives.  These ads are helping to bring funerals back to the public, as such they make grief and the funeral industry more acceptable.  We should also remember that these ads are not forcing themselves on society.  That society is also making space for them, allowing them.  Funeral companies are taking advantage of social changes and helping them along, not creating these changes.


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