The function of advertising “is to increase people’s dissatisfaction with any current state of affairs, to create wants, and to exploit the dissatisfactions of the present. Advertising must use dissatisfaction to achieve its purpose,” wrote Robert E. Lane in The Loss of Happiness in Market Democracies.
Sure, not all advertising is inherently bad. However, many brands adopt manipulative tactics that influence in ways we don’t even realise. Even when we think we’re being conscious fashion shoppers. You think you’re ignoring them, yet they somehow slip into your subconscious and thus, no longer becomes a form of conscious consumption.
It can perhaps best be understood as a combination of advances in psychology, neuroscience and behavioural economics, with the outcome being that apparently we as consumers often shop on autopilot. According to adman-turned-academic Robert Heath’s new book, Seducing The Subconscious, we (consumers) have better things to do than rationally weigh up each of our purchase decisions. We don’t always know why we buy what we buy.
Advertising exists because there’s a product a company wants to sell and they want people to know about it so they can buy it. This much, we know, is obvious. Sometimes that product is a gadget or another dinner out, but often it’s yet another piece of clothing, or something else you don’t necessarily need.
Image courtesy: Nasty Gal
Many of us have difficulty even accepting the idea that ads are manipulative because we want to believe we’re in complete control of our choices. But what if we’re not?
Could it be that you don’t actually need to replace your jacket or update your jumper collection? What if what you have is sufficient or better, perfectly curated to a capsule collection of classic, timeless pieces? That doesn’t stop big brands projecting the notion that to stay happy you need to stay on trend and wear the latest.
And when it comes to online advertising, the targeting becomes even more pronounced. Only 9% of adults in the United States say “they feel they have ‘a lot’ of control over how much information is collected about them and how it is used,” according to the Pew Research Center. With online tracking technology, this allows the delivery of ads targeted specifically to individuals based on their behaviour online. This type of personalised advertising is much more effective. And thus raises real concerns over the levels of control we actually yield in our online purchases.
Image courtesy: citoyenne.co.uk
Preying on our insecurities and fears, by using search engines advertisers are able to exploit our emotional weaknesses even further by tracking what we search for and then presenting related advertising back to us. While most people are clued up to this tactic by now, it doesn’t mean we’re numb to their efforts. But if we don’t want to be subconsciously sucked in, we should take some simple steps to avoid this slippery slope into overconsumption.
Firstly, try taking the time to mull over your purchase decision to consider whether you really need/want that particular item. Second, think about who you’re buying it from and whether it’s from a brand you trust and value. So, while we currently can’t control what ads are targeted to us online, we can be proud of ourselves that we’ve made a concerted effort to shop more consciously, and not literally buy into the never-ending consumption train.