Rise of Consumerism

In this post,  I discussed some of the key things that Americans spend their money on. A couple of readers brought up the concept of consumerism and how it’s made some people with a good income still live on the edge.

This resonated with me as I actually know some of these people. They have solid middle class earnings, yet, they still live paycheck to paycheck. The three categories I talked about before definitely come into play here. Buying more house than you can afford. Having new cars all the time. Eating out a lot.

This was definitely true for one person I knew who’d bought a massive four bedroom home, then his wife quit working when their first child was born. Suddenly, making the mortgage was really hard.

finance2

I decided to do some investigating. Things usually happen for a reason, and I discovered that while the the drive to overspend is huge, it wasn’t always. Consumerism came into play at the same time the cosmetics industry has. I believe for the same reasons.

The rise in consumerism, whether buying a bigger house, new car, or just having stuff is a manufactured need. And it was manufactured on purpose. Consumerism has risen along with advertising and the ability for advertisers to reach large sections of the population. Advertising makes us want things. That’s what it’s designed to do, and it’s no coincidence that consumerism has grown along with increasingly sophisticated ads that target humans’ deepest needs.

 

A little history.

After WWI, corporations were making more stuff than people needed. Paul Mazur of Lehman Brothers (yes, that Lehman Brothers) wrote, “We must shift America from a needs, to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old had been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”

Rather than rejecting this premise, the US government openly supported it.

Advertising was key, and Mazur knew this, so he recruited Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud. Bernays began to figure out how to make people want things they didn’t need by linking mass-produced goods to unconscious desires.

  •  He was the first to work with car companies on selling cars as a symbol of masculine sexuality than as a means of getting from point A to point B.
auto-424119_640
Seems to work to this day.
  • He helped break the taboo of women smoking so cigarettes companies could sell cigarettes to women. He persuaded a group of debutantes to smoke in public at a parade. He then told the media ahead of time that this was happening, and called the cigarettes “Torches Of Freedom” and linked women smoking with challenging male authority.
  • He pioneered product placement and celebrity endorsements

 

Bernays would continue his work, with future generations further refining their understanding of human desire and preying on/satisfying it. Presidents starting with Herbert Hoover embraced consumerism, and after WWII, the National Association of Manufacturers and other groups launched PR campaigns that linked consumerism with capitalism and glorified both.

Advertising got increasingly sophisticated, and with the advent of social media, people were no longer comparing themselves to the Joneses. They were now comparing themselves to the Kardashians.

It’s been a win all around for businesses, and in some ways, for the consumer as we’ve never had such choice.

food-2179178_640

And, companies have had to cater to consumer demand and preferences, pushing froward innovation on computers, social media, and even cars. Remember when there weren’t SUVs or crossovers? Or the focus American car companies have had to put on quality or lose their consumers to Japanese companies.

 

Where Does It Leave Us

Does this mean consumerism is the new normal? That there is no escape from it?

I’m going to argue “no”.

For all the bad rap Millennials regularly get, they are driving some industries to worry. They are more focused on experiences than stuff, and this has the diamond industry very concerned. A Millennial is more likely to skimp on the ring and splash out on a huge honeymoon. They want memories, or as some cynics might say, lots of stuff to post on social media.

woman-1446557_640

Still, millennials are harder for advertisers to reach, and advertisers are fighting to find ways to get to them.

This inability to reach people is part of the reason why advertisers are terrified of “cord cutting” and consumers moving to Netflix or Amazon Prime for their viewing needs. Why? Because they can’t easily reach large numbers people. They can’t influence us to want their product by making us think it makes us sexier, more worthy of love, of whatever other needs they’re now trying to appeal to.

Advertisers are scrambling to find other ways to reach us. Many of us don’t want to be reached. Amazing how many people pay for an ad-blocking service.

In the advent of the internet, it also makes it more difficult for advertisers as there is no longer a mass market. The internet makes it much easier for niche markets to take hold, and for very personalized preferences to be met.

 

My Experience

I can say I’ve seen a significant change in my home when we “cut the cord” (got rid of all cable and even regular TV) in 2009. It was the Great Recession, and we had to trim expenses. Cable was an easy one for us. (So was our gym membership, but that’s another story!).

plug-672231_640

We’ve never looked back. After seven years of being close to commercial free, you find yourself a little outside the “cutting edge” of pop culture, but we’ve learned to accept that, too. And if there’s a show you really want to watch, you can usually purchase the individual episodes or find them for free a few days later.

When we’ve gone to a friend’s house and they happened to have a football game on, we were astounded at how many commercials there were.

Afterward, we looked at the average kids’ show our daughters watch. They range between 20 and 22 minutes for a 30 minute time slot. That means a full 1/3 of a child’s show is advertising!

There’s a reason our kids’ Christmas lists are small (other than them being a little spoiled), and why we can walk down the cereal aisle and walk out with only Cheerios and no tears.

 

 

What do you think? Do you see the side-effects of consumerism? Maybe you’ve experienced them? Know someone who has? Do you think advertisers create desire? Do you think they’re part of consumerism?

10 Steps to Younger Skin

I came across an advertisement like this, and I’m not really sure how this is even allowed. I mean, no matter what I do, I am going to have the skin of a woman who needs yearly mammograms. I could do 10 steps, 20 steps, 100 steps, and my skin will not go back in time.

cosmetic1

And frankly, why should I want it to? Why does my skin need to look younger than it is?

To be attractive. To be beautiful. To be desired.

To be loved.

There is the reason. The real reason I’m supposed to want younger skin. I feel like I’m inundated with messages constantly telling me I’m not “good enough” to be loved. I’m not pretty enough, thin enough, rich enough. I’m just not enough.  So I must buy their product to look better, to be thin, or to appear rich. Their product will help make me enough.

Of course, that’s complete crap.

But if they can convince us to believe it, they have a market for life. A market that won’t be terribly sensitive to price.

Makes me wonder if this is part of what feeds the escapism some of us find in romance novels. In these stories, however old you are, whatever you look like, it’s always enough.

Outside of our fiction, advertisers are doing whatever they can to make us feel we need their product. Most likely because what they’re selling isn’t chocolate cake. Rather, their wares are something we don’t want or need intrinsically so they must create a market for it.

cosmetic3

And create a market they did. While there was almost no cosmetics industry in the early 1900s, the global cosmetics market was worth $460 billion in 2014   Let me show you that with the zeros:  $460,000,000,000. A year.   By 2020, it’s estimated to be a $675,000,000,000 market.

I want you to think about that for a moment.

California’s state budget is $171 Billion.

Okay, so bigger than the entire state of California’s budget. Not just bigger. More than twice as big.

I did some looking, and the cosmetics industry is scheduled to surpass US military spending of $598 Billion.

Could you even imagine if we spent that much money on anything else? What would the budget be to colonize Mars? To end global hunger?

Perhaps I see it this was because I have nothing vested in cosmetics. I don’t “put” on my face every day. You see, I have a strong allergy to most cosmetics. You don’t really want to know what’s in most of them. Even Web MD has warnings.

I can only use dye-free, scent-free products. The dye is an issue, but the scent in most products causes me huge issues. Given what cosmetics are made of, the makers have to use scent to cover it or no woman would put it on her skin.

cosmetic2

I used a bunch of different products, desperately trying to find eye make-up that didn’t make my eyes swell. Or foundation that didn’t make my skin red and itchy. Or lipstick that didn’t my lips hurt and make them swell. It didn’t matter if it was L’Oréal, Clinique, or Channel. Nothing played nice with my skin.

One afternoon many years ago, my soon-to-be-husband asked me if I needed to wear it at all. He told me I looked exactly the same with it as I did without, and besides, he hated wearing my lipstick if he kissed me.

That was the last day I ever wore make-up. I threw it all away, bought some dye-free, scent-free lotion that my dermatologist had recommended, and I never looked back. Do I sometimes miss making my long but fair lashes look dark? Yes. Do I miss my eyes swelling, or getting red and angry? Nope.

elephant-266791_640
About what my eye and the skin around it looked like after a bad reaction. 

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve changed the lotion I use, but it’s still dye and scent free. And my skin never reacts poorly to it. This says a lot because my skin reacts poorly to a lot of things, including the soap in public bathrooms. I have to carry hand-sanitizer in my purse or risk soap getting caught in my wedding ring and making my finger swell too large for the ring.

Abstaining from cosmetics hasn’t meant perfect skin, and I do get a bit of redness or an occasional breakout, but I stick with a gentle cleansing routine and lotion and it clears up pretty quickly.

I’ve seen other women who struggle with their skin and use cosmetics to combat it. I’ve often wondered if wearing makeup has actually made the skin issues worse for them, forcing them to buy yet more products.

Interestingly, science says my inner skeptic is in on to something . Yes, there is evidence that cosmetics are not good for your skin, which can lead to needing more products. Of course, there is no cosmetic company willing to fund such a study. Or, if they have, they haven’t released the results. So there’s only a handful of research out there.

But, there is also a such a thing as withdrawal from makeup. Because of course there is. You get customers to buy something they don’t need, and it has addictive side effects that include the release of testosterone when you quit using their products. This testosterone spike causes more skin issues, so you go back to using their products.

This isn’t growing into a $675 billion dollar a year industry because people need lipstick. They’ve made us want their product,  but it isn’t an innate want.It’s a manufactured one, and they’re going to make it hard to quit them if you ever choose that route.

Not condemning wearing make-up. You do you. Heck, I was so into the stuff at one point that I suffered elephant eyes to wear it. I miss mascara the most. I’ve got long lashes, but they’re fair. Really miss the mascara.

We all make choices and get to decide how to spend our hard earned money, but perhaps it’s something to think about before buying your next tube of lipstick or bottle of mascara. Remember, even in the early 1900s, make-up wasn’t popular and was mostly used by prostitutes. War paint indeed.

The rise of make-up came right along with the rise of advertising so they could make us want it.

Whatever you choose, it’s never unwise to take a moment to think about why we do what we do. To make sure it’s our choice, and we’re really doing what we think is best for us rather than what an advertiser may think is best.

Looking at you, commercials.

 

How about you? Ever get sucked into a product because of an advertisement? Do you regret it? Or maybe you came to love the product?