The world we live in is dominated by capitalism. While economics is considered as an important pillar of modern-day nation-states and the global order alike, at the heart of it lie a number of corporations, firms, brands and conglomerates that reap huge profits by selling different goods and providing services across the globe. But, as it is an economic fact that in order to supply a good or provide a service, there needs to be a demand for it; It is at this point that marketing comes into the equation.
These entities spend billions of dollars collectively on advertisement in order to generate a demand for their goods and services, thus people are conditioned and a demand is generated in the society, more and more people buy these goods and avail these services and consequently billions of dollars are earned in profits.
While there’s no harm in the generation of economic activity, the constructs that are fed into the minds of potential consumers, using the means of modern-day marketing, are problematic at both individual and social levels. This very phenomenon is the matter of inquiry for this article. The article will employ the lens of constructivism to explain why ideas matter and how the construction and propagation of certain ideas can have consequences on individual and collective levels. The theory of post-structuralism will also be utilized to explain how subjective ideas and concepts that many people come to accept as objective reality need to be viewed not as a part of reality but rather the product of certain structures and their agents.
Capitalism and Marketing:
Capitalism is the economic model that is dominant across the globe. It envisions a free market system in which different firms compete with each other to sell goods, and the primary driver of their activity is the quest of generating as much profit as possible. Therefore, the two main factors that they consider as a) Creating a product on the lowest comparative cost, and b) selling it in as many numbers as possible. In the former factor, the firms look for raw material and human workforce at the cheapest rates and different countries welcome them with open arms because it eventually contributes in their economies. Regarding the latter point, the phenomenon of advertising steps in.
We live in a world where we are constantly being bombarded with infinite variants of advertisements. Let it be while watching the television, while listening to the radio and seeing billboards while travelling in our cars, while scrolling across social media or simply browsing the internet; Advertisements are everywhere! We take it all as a part of our normal and do not tend to realize the massive amount of information and call-to-actions that our mind keeps absorbing subconsciously.
Advertisements are employed as the primary tool to attract consumers. While it is beneficial for generating economic activity and healthy competition among various firms, the impacts that it has on individual and collective thought processes is problematic.
The importance of Ideas:
Advertisement is considered as an entire science in which ideas and concepts from psychology, mind sciences, data analytics and so many other fields converge. This is the reason why it is primarily concerned with the realm of ideas, specifically undertaking well-calculated, educated efforts to influence the lens through which people perceive the world around them; and the choices they make.
Behavior Psychology is used to study and influence how people make decisions.
Color Psychology is utilized in logo designing and branding to subconsciously register a specific feeling with a specific brand hence influencing consumer perceptions and buying patterns.
Other techniques that are utilized include, but are not limited to; Bandwagon theory, Affective conditioning and Subliminal messaging.
In the Bandwagon effect, the choices made by others overrides one’s own convictions and pushes the consumers towards buying. Positive online reviews, the number of online followers, product deals; all drive new customers towards a product or service based on the peer pressure.
In Affective conditioning, certain feelings are associated with certain products and then consumers buy those products in the pursuit of those very feelings, such as the association of energy drinks with feeling energized, the association of happiness with particular soft drinks etc.
Furthermore, subliminal messaging is employed in which some particular messages are hidden in advertisements and media in such a way as the conscious mind is not able to pick them up but the subconscious is impacted by them.
Thus, advertisements impact our ideas and shape our perceptual world, thus influencing the choices we make when it comes to buying stuff.
Implications on Individual and Societal levels:
The reliance on materialistic products for the attainment of innate satisfaction and happiness flourishes this mindset that somehow you need to buy things in order to be happy. This phenomenon impacts different segments differently, for a handful it translates to huge profits, for the majority it leads to a constant spending cycle and for the economy it leads to the generation of economic activity.
However, this displaced thought process that has its focus on materialism proliferates from individual levels to a collective societal level. Over time, people start to accept this conditioning as a part of objective reality, thus having far reaching consequences. It hinders the process of personal development as people start to resort to buying new things instead of working on the root causes of their problems. It plunges the population into a cycle of buying new things over and over again in the pursuit of satisfaction and happiness. It redefines personal relationships as they are consequently built upon the material possessions and social status that someone holds, not on the basis of human values themselves. It subsequently impacts all age groups at their own levels, in different ways.
The approach of post-structuralism is the most critical one due to its skepticism of universal narratives. It considers the view that truth and knowledge are subjective in nature and are produced by the elites rather than discovered naturally. This theory can be used to challenge the very assumption that many people come to accept as reality, that “Capitalism is in human nature”. It can be used to critically dissect the universal narratives of materialism that are dominant in the current capitalist era, instigated by marketing and advertisement. It can also help in understanding how the multi-billion dollar conglomerates and companies act as elites in this regard that manipulate the discourse for their own gains.
However, apart from the critique, this theory doesn’t have any mechanism to provide a way forward and for that we can resort to Constructivism.
This phenomenon can be explained using the lens of constructivism as this theory is concerned with the importance of ideas, their associated values and how they come to construct our reality. The process of marketing is basically the association of certain values with certain products, which consequently shapes social constructs that condition the people into believing them as an objective reality. The discourse that is spread shapes the way people perceive reality and marketing manipulates this very discourse for capitalist gains.
Moreover, apart from explaining the phenomenon, constructivism can also provide a way forward as it considers the view that reality is always under construction. Thus, meanings can change over time if we are able to alter the associated beliefs and ideas. Spreading awareness and understanding about social conditioning, the importance of discourse and associated values, and the subjectivity of reality can thus change our individual and collective understanding about this social phenomenon.
It is hence importance to understand these dynamics as components of a social phenomenon. There is an acute need to raise awareness regarding it so that people can broaden their perceptual worldviews and identify the distinction between objective reality and social conditioning. Only by undertaking these efforts in the realm of ideas, will we be able to move towards a world that puts emphasis on innate happiness rather than materialism.
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