We are a culture of consumers and over the years have progressed this need for consuming more and more. This progression relies on the growth of our culture and the stylization of consumption. The commercialisation of products that are available in vast quantities and variations prevent society from purchasing products without the need to choose. The availability of methods of consumption are fast growing and sales for services and leisures provide more characterization of consumer culture.
All of these characteristics are fuelled by the efficient media – the art of advertising. Promotions and aesthetically appealing packaging persuade society to consume by linking products with images and ideals that relate and speak to the consumer’s subconscious needs, thus increasing the want for the product more than the need.
The idea of the subconscious comes from Freud’s model of the Human Self. It is our Id; our subconscious (Id) is based on our pleasure principle, the Ego however is the stronger part of our personality and has the job of meeting the desires of the Id whilst staying in touch with the reality of the surroundings.
Ferdinand de Saussure developes this theory with the notion of the linguistic sign (signifier and signified). The sign, being for example a brand or product gives off a signifier – a reference to the product – however the signified message received from the signifier represents the values and the image of that said sign.
Edward Bernays took this theory and realised that the signifier could speak to the subconscious desires of the consumers. This knowledge allowed him to promote certain commodities , indirectly, to the consumer rising the sales of diverse goods such as cigarettes. An example of this is the “Torches of Freedom” promotion 1929, Bernays was hired to expand the number of female consumers purchasing cigarettes. This however was difficult as at that time as it was taboo for women to smoke, it was seen as a primarily masculine habit so women tended not to smoke. Bernays looked at the psychology of the situation and discovered the desires of the female audience; he set up a demonstration like situation where he informed press that there would be a women’s rights protest taking place in New York. These desires turned out to be the want for equality, to stand for women’s rights and remove the taboo of women being a lesser sex. This demonstration consisted of a group of female models walking through the Easter Sunday parade in New York and lighting up their “Torches of Freedom” (as the cigarettes were then refered to), this caused a flurry of discussion and ultimately empowered women into thinking that they would buy cigarettes and smoke in order to support women rights and equality.
Edward Bernays was known as the Father of Public relations within the domain of propaganda however many speculate on the manipulation of the public through corporate control and how these orignal findings now affect our growing culture of consuming more and more for our inner desires.
Lury.C.,1996.Consumer Culture. Cambridge:Polity Press