Steadfast FinancesThings You Can't Unlearn: Advertising at the Edge of the Apocalypse

Things You Can’t Unlearn: Advertising at the Edge of the Apocalypse

Filed in Advertising , Consumer Education , Economy 7 comments

I purposely saved this gem by Sut Jhally as a post-Christmas article fearing I might upset the herd during the apex of our consumer culture celebration(s) now that spending money is our patriotic duty.

However, being something of an anticonsumer, I find articles such as these highly illuminating in the “big picture” geopolitical sense as they shine a cultural light into places few want to see: a place where marketing, advertising, and behavioral/social psychology professionals deploy a vast array of “neural trickery” to persuade us to buy sh*t we don’t need.

(Note: this article hits a nerve more severely if you’re staring at a pile of gifts (as I am) that you don’t need, didn’t want, or were purchased by those who would have felt guilty had they failed to buy you “a little” something.)

Here’s a brief snippet…

Advertising at the Edge of the Apocalypse

20th century advertising is the most powerful and sustained system of propaganda in human history and its cumulative cultural effects, unless quickly checked, will be responsible for destroying the world as we know it.

So central is consumption to its [capitalism’s] survival and growth that at the end of the 19th century industrial capitalism invented a unique new institution — the advertising industry — to ensure that the “immense accumulation of commodities” are converted back into a money form.

The function of this new industry would be to recruit the best creative talent of the society and to create a culture in which desire and identity would be fused with commodities to make the dead world of things come alive with human and social possibilities.

And indeed there has never been a propaganda effort to match the effort of advertising in the 20th century. More thought, effort, creativity, time, and attention to detail has gone into the selling of the immense collection of commodities than any other campaign in human history to change public consciousness.

One indication of this is simple: the amount of money that has been exponentially expended on this effort. Today, in the United States alone, over $175 billion a year is spent to sell us things.

The downside of reading things like this: once you understand how the advertising and persuasion game of consumerism is played… you can’t unlearn it.

Indeed, ignorance is bliss.

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Posted by CJ   @   26 December 2010 7 comments
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Dec 26, 2010
5:27 pm
#1 Dan B. :

$175 billion a year huh?……. So, in other words only $568 a year is spent on each of us in an attempt to lure us to buy things? That’s it? Forgive me for being underwhelmed.

Dec 26, 2010
8:50 pm
#2 Matt SF :

Considering Federal, State and Local governments collectively paid ~$187 Billion in debt related interest payments or ~$91 Billion on education during 2009, I’d consider $175 Billion a little more than chump change.

Dec 27, 2010
12:12 am
#3 Dan B. :

Ah, but the difference is that the $$ the government spends on education or on the debt comes directly out of our pockets without our consent………& therefore I do care about it. Whereas the $175 billion that “companies” spend on advertising only comes out of our pockets if & when we spend to buy products. The less you spend, the less you ultimately are paying on that %175 billion for the advertising.

For an anticonsumer like yourself, you don’t have to let yourself succumb to the temptation you know, so why do you care how much companies spend to lure me??

On the other hand, all government expenditures are essentially collective goods. I don’t have kids, yet I have to pay for your children’s education. So therefore I am concerned, & have the right to be underwhelmed or appalled as to how much or how little is spent on education………..Same thing with the interest on the debt or the debt for that matter.

So you are comparing apples & oranges here.

Dec 27, 2010
9:14 am
#4 Matt SF :

Disagree. When you consider how many of our commodities experience a price explosion based on mindless consumption or have a perceived value far beyond intrinsic value, the price humanity (over)pays is simply mind blowing.

Thinking about it from a different angle: consider how many work hours in exchange for compensation that has been spent to convince males to buy a shiny piece of polished carbon (i.e. a diamond ring).

Most of us in western culture gets married at least once during our lives, and yet we’re forced to pay several thousand (sometimes tens of thousands) of dollars for a shiny rock that marks our territory. Why? Because decades of marketing tells us to do it, or we’re not doing our implied cultural duty.

If we refuse, prearranged peer pressure (e.g. not fitting in via social psychology engineering) will condemn the male as a cheapskate and women will chide and jest the woman for marrying such a man.

Dec 27, 2010
12:24 pm
#5 Dan B. :

On the ropes & in deep trouble, Matt desperately tries to go for the KO with the De Beers argument. But instead of getting the KO, he’s just swinging wildly through the air………….

No one denies that De Beers is a monopoly that has spent God only knows how much money to entice people to spend more. But your argument isn’t based on that. What you, the “anti-consumer” is really saying is that
you’re just too weak to resist their marketing. I mean you’re perfectly capable of resisting the tv ad for the “kia plant”, but once the “diamonds are forever” ad comes on you become a mindless drone? I mean please!

Despite your theatrics, no one is really forcing you to spend say 10k or 15k on a 1 carat ring as opposed to say 5k. And I’d challenge 99% of the population to give me4 an accurate value on a diamond with their naked eye. So what’s your problem? And if you’re so fearful of peer pressure………..then lie about how much you’ve spent. Or are we to believe that you’ve never lied before?

Dec 27, 2010
1:39 pm
#6 Matt SF :

Being that you have a love of the young ladies rather than settling down… I’ll ignore your bravado. Would be nice if you would dial back the confrontational rhetoric though.

But perhaps my misanthropic views of the sheeple are too much for ya. Most people can’t (or won’t) see it until they begin to see the agnotology and misology.

Dec 27, 2010
2:19 pm
#7 Dan B. :

In fact I too believe that most people are sheep & not that difficult to manipulate………but that’s not my problem. Some people beg to be manipulated. Those of us who think have the option to look above & beyond the fray & the noise.

And frankly, if overcoming the pressures of advertising &/or of ones peers on something as ridiculous as an engagement ring are challenging,………. then I really do wish the best of luck to any such individuals in their attempts to “settle down”. God forbid that they might have to face some real challenges down the road.

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