Monday, April 1, 2013

Commercial Consciousness

GREED NEVER FELT SO GOOD!  POWER never felt so good!  THE BACK-STAB never felt so good!
Sound like an honest admission from an individual visiting their therapist or maybe a visit to the confession chamber for the occasional cleansing of sinful thoughts?  Perhaps.  But these eye-catching and very blatant statements were featured in a print ad promoting the premiere of a new TV series.  Each statement was accompanied by alluring images of the television show’s actors.
When I first laid eyes on this explicit and outlandish ad nestled within the pages of a popular magazine, I asked myself – how low could they go?  But rather the real question becomes, who are they trying to make the masses into?
It has become increasingly known that the powerful world of advertising has long sought out extreme measures to coerce the public into buying products from hairspray to alcohol to processed foods to medicine.  The goal seems obvious – to generate massive revenue and capture the lion’s share of the market.  But what more and more of the public are discovering is that this goal may be just the tip of the iceberg or a lucrative bi-product of an endeavor whose aim goes far deeper.
Shape Shifting the Consumer
A former major product brand manager had this to say about how roles and responsibilities have changed in the world of marketing products – “When I was a brand manager, my job was basically to make sure product was good; develop new advertising copy, design the pack.  Now a brand manager has an entirely different kind of responsibility.  Their job now is to create and maintain a whole meaning system for people for which they get identity and understanding of the world.”
This is a telling statement for sure.  It gives insight into the prime modus operandi of many major advertisers today – to shape identity and influence behavior.
Having been trained as a journalist and spending a fair amount of years working in advertising and broadcasting in the mid 80’s and into the 90’s, I had an internal purview of seeing this very subtle and yet profound shift in motive take place.  Initially, advertising campaigns seemed relatively benign (I stress relatively)  but eventually persuasion techniques in advertising morphed into an outright dumbing-down of consumers, using pithy one-liners, clever play on words and larger than life imagery to “inform” the consumer as to what they need and moreover who they should be!  In fact, I will never forget that it was when my then general sales manager at a major market radio station in Boston said to me, “we must use theatre of the mind,” referring to some commercial copy I had written which apparently didn’t pass muster in the “convince the consumer at all costs” mantra he had recently adopted.  It was then that I began to realize that integrity was no longer a priority in mainstream media and thus my choice to exit from the industry would be imminent!
This was quite a few years ago.  And although my journalistic focus has taken a 180 degree turn in the past decade or more, I have been keen to eye the trends of socialization in media and what I have discovered is nothing short of alarming.
The following “tag-lines” are associated with some recent ads running on television…and often!  What might they be saying (or shaping) behind the product they are trying to sell?
“Life is a fajita (or a pulled pork sandwich).”
“I Robot – Do You?”
“There IS no mass produced human.”
“Live the regular life.” (Note: actor is wearing a t-shirt that says Regular and Proud of It!)
“The new American is arriving.”
Some of you, especially if you live in the U.S., might be familiar with these lines and what brands they are associated with.  I’m not going to get into the brand names, as I don’t think that matters as much as the power of persuasion techniques they are enlisting to ensure the masses follow suit.
For me, it was quite clear that these statements all fall into the category of persuasion not of the quality or superiority of the product that’s being sold but of the mantra that’s being sold through suggestion: Life (or you) is nothing more than a piece of meat.  I am a robot – are you?  Be regular, average, common – don’t even think about trying to be special or exceptional! I particularly find this line: “There is no mass produced human” curious as the emphasis on “is” implies they are responding to a statement that says, you guessed it: humans are mass produced!  And as for the “New American” – I’ll leave that up to you to decide what they might be referring to (hmm).
The point of the matter at hand is that when one peaks behind the curtain of commercialism and takes notice of the patterns of language, image and redundancy, one may find that these little 1 minute or less spots are posing potential repercussions that can last for many years to come and to society, en masse. As yet another popular brand (for aspirin) says in its ad, “Life isn’t about to stop messing with our heads anytime soon!” (And that’s why you of course need the aspirin!)
Notice the myriad references to “life” in the aforementioned tag lines.
And The Real Consumer is…The Unconscious
Best-selling author and psychologist, Eldon Taylor’s groundbreaking book, Mind Programming gives the reader a deep dive into the psychological intricacies of persuasion and brainwashing, chiefly through our media.  In it he says, “…humans are socialized in ways that produce limited thinking – or rather, trained thinking.  Indeed, this is done so well that a certain blindness exists in most of us.  This unawareness is sometimes well illustrated by what cognitive theorists refer to as context-bound thinking.”  He goes on to say, “If a product is placed in a context that by definition is desirable, then we’re typically blind to seeing the alternative context.”  Although Taylor is speaking primarily of putting something that would otherwise be undesirable to you in a context that you will in turn find desirable, I am suggesting that context-bound thinking is also being used to cover up the alternative context which is being delivered via the unconscious mind.
It was psychologist Carl Gustav Jung who said, “The psyche is the world’s pivot: not only is it the one great condition for the existence of a world at all, it is also an intervention in the existing natural order, and no one can say with certainty where this intervention will finally end.” (On the Nature of the PsycheC.G. Jung)
Jung was a proponent of the power of both the individual and collective unconscious, referring to its mysterious mechanisms as a directive to how we live our lives.  He said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it (the unconscious) will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
It is my surmise that many advertisers across multiple product sectors have realized this effective mechanism and no doubt use this as a process for shaping culture as we know it.
Enter the Conscious Consumer
Interestingly,  as advertisers have become more flagrant about their messages (e.g. “the greed, power, back-stab tag line), consumers are becoming, slowly but surely more aware of their M.O. and opting to not buy into the messages or in some cases, their products.  We are indeed on the precipice of an awakening on many levels, whether cognizant of the five sense psychological mapping techniques that have been used for years, or the purely spiritual and esoteric underpinnings of reality itself, it is refreshing to see a natural curiosity and yearning to understand the nature of the psyche and of the spirit with all its intricate layers in order to gain greater access to a state of being that is free of coercion from anyone or anything.  The promulgation of free and independent thought and expression is an integral step and the collective realization that we are not beholding to any one mantra for what we think we need or want.  Choice is always at the heart of it.  When we learn to make our choices from the internal advertiser (the intuition that’s nudging us toward what is truly best for us), we will become a conscious consumer – of knowledge, insight and love!
Post Script:
The above summation in my opinion is by no means applicable to all advertisers.  There are indeed some in the media space whose intent is to inform the public of something of value and for the good of humanity.  My aim is to simply illustrate a disturbing trend, primarily within the mainstream.  For all of those whose messages are driven from a place of altruism…carry on!
Alexis Brooks is the best-selling author of Conscious Musings - Contemplations to Transform Life and Realize Potential and the host of Conscious Inquiry Radio on  Read more about Alexis' candid insights and criticisms of mainstream media in Conscious Musings.