Beating the Drum on Consumerism

Beating the Drum

The Age of Consumer Manipulation

Sigmund Freud's nephew gave birth to the press release

By Beverly Blanchard
True North Perspective
Beverly Blanchard is an Ojibway First Nation from Northern Ontario.  She holds a degree in Economics. During the last twenty-two years, she has worked as a consultant to First Nation and Inuit organizations in a variety of disciplines including: homelessness, suicide prevention, violence prevention, childcare, HIV/AIDS, women’s issues, business planning, and economic development. She has also designed and delivered Aboriginal awareness and stress management workshops to Federal government employees. Currently, Ms Blanchard is a life strategy coach, author and energy healer in Ottawa.

I have been watching HGTV lately. As individuals look around the various houses, one of the major issues that affect their purchase of a house is not necessarily the kitchen or the bedroom; it is the size of the walk-in closet. Yes that walk-in closet is an important determinant in the decision to purchase a house.

As the couple scrutinizes each of the rooms, the first comment upon entering the bedroom is the size of the closet. Usually the woman jokingly makes a remark to the man about whether or not the closet will be big enough for all her clothes. I sometimes sit there somewhat stunned as I look at the size of the walk-in closet. It is the size of my bedroom.

Now there are some that would say, I am a wee bit jealous. I live in an apartment in an old house. I have two small closets. One closet located at the entrance for all my coats and the other in my hallway. The lack of space has meant that I don’t have any room to accumulate anything. I have also learned that the more clothes I have the less I have to wear.

Why has our society become addicted to shopping? Why is it that with each additional purchase we are only momentarily happy? Where did we get the idea that the more we have the happier we will be? And if all of this consuming was supposed to bring us happiness, why are so many people taking anti-depressants?

Enter Edward Bernays. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Edward Bernays, he was the father of public relations.  Bernays (1891-1995) took the concepts of his uncle Sigmund Freud and a few other psychologists and developed techniques that would make it easy to manipulate the masses. It was through these techniques that the age of consumerism was born or perhaps I should say the age of manipulation.

Bernays referred to the masses as happiness machines and through various techniques taught us that happiness and success was equated to purchasing products and services. The more you had the happier you were supposed to be.

He shaped not only how we obtain information in our society today but demonstrated how we can be easily manipulated to make purchases of commodities we don’t necessarily need or want.

Bernays was a spin doctor and deliberately taught his corporate clients how to mold the consumer’s thinking. It was he that came up with the idea to use models, socialites and celebrities to endorse products. The rationale behind this move was simple. If these popular and sexy individuals used these products then if you used them you too could become popular and sexy. It has become a very successful formula.

Another successful invention was the concept of third party endorsements to lend credibility to product and services. It didn’t matter whether or not that these individuals actually used the product, supported a political candidate or conducted the research; all that mattered was the endorsement and people would be gullible enough to believe and buy. Bernays proved fabricated little lies work.

Ever wonder why our news sometimes seem to be like advertisements for products and services? Well Bernays had a successful hand in refining and popularizing the use of press releases. He proved that creating news items was much more powerful than advertising.

A famous example of his use of press releases and the use of models was in the 1920s when women were only allowed to smoke cigarettes in designated areas. If they were caught smoking in other areas they faced arrest. Bernays worked with the cigarette industry to stage an event at the 1929 Easter Parade that saw models lighting up Lucky Strike cigarettes. Press releases were issued and it became news. After this event a social taboo was changed and women began lighting up everywhere.

So next time you are looking at purchasing that product or service because you think you will be happier, ask yourself:  ‘How am I being manipulated to purchase this? Will this really bring me happiness?’ I think you may come out of the store empty handed.

Add new comment