The culture of consumption is a cornerstone of the modern Western economy. The rise and continuation of this culture is justified as follows: a factory produces a certain product, and employs a certain number of workers. If we can increase sales, the owner of the factory makes more profit, and as profit accumulates, a new factory will be built, providing jobs to more workers. These workers will earn an income, in turn becoming consumers, buying this and other products, increasing the profits of the factory-owner and others like him; a third factory is built, giving jobs to another batch of workers, and so on. This is a model with proven success, if we ignore that it threatens to destroy the planet, but that is a matter for another book. Many praise its positive results. However, for the purposes of this book, a question arises: how does this model affect the ego? Indirectly, but powerfully.
Consumption’s brigadier-general is marketing; this depends on the most influential power in modern history, the media, and its stepchild, advertising. “We must learn what products are on offer so as to have free choice,” an apparently innocent statement that may lead to the destruction of the planet. The beginnings were humble: we needed a way to alert potential consumers that we had some product they needed, and might not know was available. It then developed into the right to find out about every product to make comparisons and buy the most suitable; means of communication proliferated, until the fatal blow: the invention of television.
Television, in and of itself, is a wonderful invention, but its misuse can lead to disaster. Its profound effects on our consciousness demonstrated almost unbelievable success in marketing products—commercial products, ideas, and ideologies. It was the marketing tool that marketers had never dreamed of.
The tools of marketing – media and advertising – rely on the subconscious as well as the conscious mind. A TV commercial, for instance, may urge you to buy a house or car, and tell you to “Call Now” the number on the screen for a visit or a test-drive. This is an example of addressing your conscious mind, the aim of which is to make you get up, go to the phone, and make a call to make an appointment to investigate the product. Here, the role of marketing ends; once you have made the call to their sales department, their job is done. The next step is for the sales department to close the sale; if they do, the salesperson disappears, giving way to a third party, the customer service agent. This is all addressed to the conscious mind of the consumer, a group effort of marketing, sales, and after-sales service; the effort, and the labor, is divided among the team members, each in their job.
There is another means, dealing with the subconscious. This is harder. Advertising a brand of coffee, liquor or clothing does not presuppose you jumping up from your screen and heading to the supermarket. The goal here is to stick in your head, so that when you find yourself in the supermarket to pick up a few necessities, and catch sight of the product in the commercial, the attractive commercial springs to mind, replete with the benefits of the product, making you buy it. Marketers discovered that memorable commercials make an impression on the subconscious, and mobilize an array of sounds and images that make it cling.
Let us say that a certain drink is endorsed by a beloved celebrity: the subconscious associates the image of this celebrity (in the case of an actor or athlete) or their voice (in the case of a singer) with the drink, reminding us of the drink whenever we see or hear that celebrity. This is the work of the subconscious. Well, what has that to do with the ego? What happens is that with the global growth of production, an urgent need for marketing channels has sprung up, to spur a consumption explosion to keep pace with this production explosion. This explosion has, I must admit, been created with admirable efficiency, despite its tragic consequences.