Consumer capitalism is a theoretical economic and social political condition in which consumer demand is manipulated, in a deliberate and coordinated way, on a very large scale, through mass-marketing techniques, to the advantage of sellers.
The theory is controversial. It suggests manipulation of consumer demand so potent that it has a coercive effect, amounts to a departure from free-market capitalism, and has an adverse effect on society in general. Some use the phrase as shorthand for the broader idea that the interests of other non-business entities (governments, religions, the military, educational institutions) are intertwined with corporate business interests, and that those entities also participate in the management of social expectations through mass media.
Its Orgin :
The origins of consumer capitalism are found in the development of American department stores in the 1850s, notably the advertising and marketing innovations at Wanamaker’s in Philadelphia. Leach argues there was indeed a deliberate and coordinated effort among American ‘captains of industry’ to detach consumer demand from ‘needs’ (which can be satisfied) to ‘wants’ (which may remain unsatisfied). This cultural shift represented by the department store is also explored in Émile Zola’s 1883 novel Au Bonheur des Dames, which describes the workings and the appeal of a fictionalized version of Le Bon Marché.
In 1919 Edward Bernays began his career as the ‘father of public relations’ and successfully applied the developing principles of psychology, sociology and motivational research to manipulate public opinion in favor of products like cigarettes, soap, and Calvin Coolidge. (Bernays was later dismayed to find his work Crystallizing Public Opinion was a direct inspiration for Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda campaigns.) New techniques of mechanical reproduction developed in these decades improved the channels of mass-market communication and its manipulative power. This development was described as early as the 1920s by Walter Benjamin and related members of the Frankfurt School, who foresaw the commercial, societal and political implications.
Its Criticism :
Critics of consumer capitalism hold that advertising is neither coercive nor probably effective, that the 1958 Edsel catastrophe is proof that even the powerful automobile industry cannot successfully manipulate public opinion, and that allegations of a coordinated effort to manipulate public opinion are nothing more than a conspiracy theory.
An important contribution to the critique of consumer capitalism has been made by the French philosopher Bernard Stiegler, but very little of this has been translated into English. Stiegler argues that capitalism today is governed not by production but by consumption, and that the techniques used to create consumer behavior amount to the destruction of psychic and collective individuation. The diversion of libidinal energy toward the consumption of consumer products, he argues, results in an addictive cycle, leading to hyperconsumption, the exhaustion of desire, and the reign of symbolic misery.
What is real is the fact that companies are making efforts to change our behavior beyond simply highlighting the benefits of a product and differentiating a brand. In the following paragraphs I will introduce several methodological concepts that marketers and advertisers sometimes use to try to manipulate consumer behavior using psychology. You will learn about how we develop “cults” around the brands that influence us. You will learn about a French psychologist that feels there is a code behind every concept that can be tapped into to drive people against their free will. You will learn about covert hypnosis tactics that many brands, including Macy’s use to change your behavior. You will also learn that it is possible that the concept of free will may just be in our heads. If you are unfamiliar with these concepts, this is a lot to take in – enjoy. I do need to make a disclaimer- just because some companies use these techniques does not mean that they are valid. Many of these are heavily critiqued in the academic environment – be it the methodologies or the lack of empirical evidence supporting these theories. The purpose of this blog is not to say that you, the consumer, is being controlled – but instead that there are efforts in place to try to manipulate you in these ways.