“Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels that he is ‘finding his place in it’, while really it is finding it’s place in him. ” - Lewis. C. S (1946) In this essay, the topic of consumer culture will be discussed through referring to various different discourses, which examine how present society has been formed into today’s consumer culture. Consumer’s are overexposed to seductive advertising and barraged by modern day media, which can be seen to have potentially persuasive capabilities, luring consumers into excessive purchasing.
Exploring ideals of modernism, which gave consumer culture the grounds to grow, along with theories such as eighteenth century Romanticism and social emulation, will be considered as notions to the birth of consumer culture. Examining two case studies, the first, an editorial advertisement for Louis Vuitton, analysing the effects that the romanticised, glamorous high- fashion lifestyles of the celebrity culture can have on consumer’s personal identities.
Secondly, a broadcasted commercial for Reebok shown at the 2011 Superbowl, is an example of today’s advertising techniques and their potential to act as catalysts for spurring on consumer’s spending habits. This essay will effectively demonstrate how consumers could find it difficult to exert any kind of individual power in today’s consumer culture or whether they instead follow exactly what the fashion industry tell them to do so. Through industrialisation, with mass production, increased availability and reduced prices, consumer culture was born on a basis to flourish.
Consumer culture and it’s behavioural choices are considered practices of social and cultural phenomena – as apposed to psychological or purely economical phenomena. Writers such as Celia Lury, discuss that consumerism is very closely concurrent with cultural values and our identities, as it is our economy and explains that we are able to display our identities to others along with our position in the world, through consumption. “Consumption is always a cultural as well as an economic phenomenom. It is to do with meaning, value and communication, as much as it is to do with exchange, rice and economic relations. ” (Lury, 1999:10) It refers to a family of theoretical perspectives that address the dynamic relationship between consumer actions, the market place and cultural meaning. The question being asked, however, is whether consumer culture and the finality of consumption is based around self-enjoyment and pleasure or whether it is something that is forced upon people, a responsibility that society feels necessary to participate in. “Consumerist man…regards enjoyment as an obligation; he sees himself as an enjoyment and satisfaction business.
He sees it as his duty to be happy, loving, adulating / adulated, charming / charmed, participative, euphoric and dynamic. ” (Baudrillard, 1998:80) Theorists, such as Karl Marx argue that culture functions silently and insidiously to keep people ignorant of their true situation and claim that pop-culture serves to reinforce and justify prevailing political ideology and power structure, that consumer culture is an empty experience designed to control people and make members of the consumer society more manageable whilst providing a mirage of happiness.
Ordinary people were powerless to fight against the kind of consumer society created by modernity and therefore have become passive and submissive. “The Stronger the positions of the culture industry become, the more summarily it can deal with consumer’s needs, producing them, controlling them. ” (Adorno and Horkeimer, 1944:15) Post-industrial society in the late eighteenth century saw the intellectual and artistic movement of Romanticism, characterized by a heightened interest in creativity, imagination and focus of self-expression, became the most prized personal quality.
Having the capacity to divulge in the works of art and also the ability to engage into those created by others. Creativity and imagination led to the possibility that any world you so wished to imagine, could be your own. It was by ways of romanticism that the idea of obtaining happiness was an activity and made pleasure appear to be an entitlement for all people. Through romanticism, people could reach a greater understanding of themselves, the meaning of life and the world. It was a new way of thinking whilst redefining the individual through exposure to new experiences, in a sense improving one’s self. “Consumption is sold to us as he process by which we can achieve our dreams and experience real pleasure. ” (Campbell 1987:73-74 quoted in Storey 1999:11) It is at this point that the consumption ethic truly began to develop. Consumers were stuck in a cycle of anticipation, consuming though desires and self-improvement. Fashion is arguably the platform where in the wares of consumerism are mostly visibly expressed and where by consumers can constitute a valid and legitimate way of life. Fashion as an issue, is important in that it encapsulates many characteristics of modern life experiences and in particular highlights the role that consumerism plays in that experience.
The fashion industry appears to be constantly striving to be new with the aim to eternalise the system of “newness” that relies on the aspiration to attain fresh modes of fashion. Macdonald (1995) and Miles (1998) both highlight, that while seemingly providing society with a multitude of choice, the fashion industry is commercially driven, creating trend concepts at one moment and then abolishing them to obsolescence in order to maintain sales. “The industries with an investment in image and appearance now promote themselves as responding to women’s own worrying self concepts and desires. (MacDonald 1995:) Simmel suggests that, through the consuming and wearing of fashionable clothing, individuals can signal their knowledge of social trends as well as display their ability to participate within social acceptability, whilst concurrently creating an individual identity in order to distinguish themselves from the mass.
“The whole history of society is reflected in the striking of conflicts, the compromises slowly won and lost, between socialistic adaption to society and individual departure from its demands. (Simmel 1957:294) Personal consumption is based on the private desires and the satisfaction of individual wishes and theorist Rene Girard, argued we desire what other’s desire and all too often we don’t think about what we have, but only concern ourselves with what we don’t have. Shopping becomes a method of becoming a newer, more improved person. “The state of being envied is what constitutes glamour” (Berger, 1977). Semiotician’s explain that everything we do in society is read as a message. These messages are onstantly being sent to other people whilst simultaneously they are sending messages back. These messages are sent by our lifestyle decisions, material goods and the clothes we wear. It is here we can suggest that social emulation plays a part in the reasons of consumption. “In imitation of the rich, the middle ranks of society spent more frenziedly than ever before, and in imitation of them the rest of society joined in as best they might – and that best was unprecedented in the importance of it’s impact on aggregate demand.
Spurred on by social emulation and class competition, men and women surrendered eagerly to the pursuit of novelty, and the enticements of persuasive commercial propaganda. ” (McKendrick 1982b:11) Arthur Berger (2011) explains that, as the quintessential consumer culture, what you can afford becomes the means on determining who you are and that people become too caught up consuming things as a means of validating themselves and providing their worth through conspicuous consumption. Invidious consumption and rivalry is a fundamental force in our behavior as consumers.
It is this form of, what Rene Gerard called mimic desire (that helps us explain our consumer lust, we desire what others have desired and purchased, especially those we look up to – such as celebrities, movie stars and sports heroes. Our desire imitates their desire, which takes the form in consumers purchasing various products that they have desired and purchased. “Young people often identify with heroes and heroines and try to emulate their behavior, their style or their images – if not in the real word, then in the world of consumption.
Identification and imitation are powerful forces that can shape our behavior’s in ways of which we are generally unaware. ” (Berger 1993:177) The point here is not only that we identify with and want to imitate these celebrities, who endorse and advertise products or who’s lifestyles we admire; by imitating their lifestyles and product choices, we are imitating there desires. The notion that we buy what we aspire to be is of great relevance in post-modern society, where celebrities replace aristocracy and society can, through consumerism, adopt any fantasy appearance.
Celebrity endorsement is one of the most popular advertising techniques of luxury fashion brands today. Reasons that we become attached to brands are that they help us form an identity. We in a sense can market ourselves to the rest of society. Much of this marketing is done by using products to announce who we are, and by implication, what our socioeconomic level is and what kind of taste we have. Gundle and Castelli, consider the features of “glamorous” post-modern lifestyles and the driving aspects that make such lifestyles desirable to the mass market. The qualities of wealth, style, leisure and beauty, that were the monopoly of the nobility…became in bourgeois society, desirable attributes that could be earned, copied or manufactured. Glamour therefore was not an intrinsic allure, but a commodified aura that was conferred in a variety of people, places and objects. ” (Gundle and Castelli, 2006: ) In today’s society, “Hollywood” is seen by the mass market as the most idealistic, paramount lifestyle. This is due to the vast media coverage of the people and products that are associated with the scene.
Pringle considers that the influential role that celebrities have in the marketing of products and the well-regarded formula that choosing the right celebrity, can make a brand or product become instantly desirable to the masses. In post-modern society, celebrities are depicted to epitomise status, power and wealth. These values are generally expressed through material adornment, which in turn are emulated by the wider society, in a “trickle-down” effect.
Gundle and Costelli argue that, in an ever changing perspective set today by a combination of high-fashion brands, celebrities and media, the eminence of glamour, can at any time be set upon an individual product, communicating a form of luxurious social identity. Such purchases are generally made by today’s bourgeoisie, a mass market with significant capital to buy into diffusion of a high-society lifestyle without actually achieving the real thing. French fashion house Louis Vuitton is marketed to people with a high level of income, although different age groups can be targeted through sleek designs or the older, more refined groups and then the more conventional Murakumi / Stephen Sprouse style for the younger groups. Louis Vuitton commonly uses editorial advertisements and has more recently moved into the world of television and cinema with a commercial exploring the theme “where will life take you? ”, being relative of previous discussions of the notions of romanticism. Louis Vuitton relies on selected press coverage for it’s campaigns, it carefully cultivates a celebrity following and is renowned for using celebrities to front advertising campaigns.
Steering away from the more conventional traditions of celebrity use, Louis Vuitton not only uses famous models, actors and actresses but is notorious for involving prestigious stars from various different genres of celebrity status, such a sportsmen and music artists, notably, rapper Kanye West, who has also promoted the brand by mentioning Louis Vuitton in certain songs and famously referred to himself as the “Louis Vuitton Don”, consolidating his connection, in a ‘im with the brand! manner. Celebrities from the music industry play a strong part in endorsement due to creating their own style and aura to control how they are perceived by the public. Their style and look is part of what they are ‘selling’. Fashion and music have visibly influenced one another for decades, for example Run DMC’s love of sportswear brand Adidas.
When stars such as Kanye West mention brand’s such a Louis Vuitton, he reinforces the brand’s status to a younger audience who may have previously over looked such high-fashion brands. The music artist alliance works to reinforce the brand’s luxury cachet and ensure their relevance in the present day through pop-culture. Kanye West generates huge media coverage not only for his music, but also known for being outspoken on anything from pop-culture to politics and for having an evident adoration for fashion.
In an editorial print advertisement for Louis Vuitton, Kanye West, resonate with the aspirational values of the consumer, shows denotations of stereotypical ostentatious attire that one would associate with a successful rap star, gold, “blingy” material and corresponding “showy” accessories, standing in a somewhat statuesque pose. The connotations suggest that he is successful, wealthy and confident, all things we, as the wider society aspire to. (see figure 1) Referring back to the theories of Gundle and Costelli, this advertisement illustrates that it’s possible that glamour and the experience of being glamorous can be bought as a commodity through Louis Vuitton as a brand. Although the consumer culture in the fashion industry primarily relies of sartorial interest, it also thrives on aspirational fantasies of society and the lifestyles that today’s consumer culture dream of. The close relationship between fashion and celebrity culture is a prominent feature of the media world and in the new climate of celebrity obsession many brands are using this to their advantage.
In 2011, Kim Kardashian, who reached international stardom through reality television was at the centre of Sketcher’s advertising strategy for a new “toning” sports shoe that included a broadcasted commercial at the 2011 Superbowl, social media and traditional public relations. Kim Kardashian’s ubiquity as a reality star, tabloid staple and frequent Tweeter made her an ideal spokesperson for the brand. The off-the-wall and lascivious commercial directed viewers to Facebook for additional content, challenging people to “shape up”, whilst playing on the watcher’s insecurities.
The female star can be identified by both females who may admire and emulate her and Kim Kardashian also has a strong following of male admirers, thus the commercial was able to grab the attention of male viewers whilst playing on the insecurities of the female viewers. The sexually suggestive thirty second commercial, which had a two minute warning in the fourth quarter of the Superbowl, could also be seen to make female viewer envious of the female celebrity if watching with their male partner’s, which effectively could spur on female viewers to aspire to be more like the overtly attractive female star featured in the commercial.
The 2011 Superbowl attracted 106. 5 million viewer’s in the United States and hundreds of million of people in more that 200 other countries and because of the number of 18-45 year old viewer’s who watched the game, advertisers found this extremely valuable. The reason that American brand Sketchers advertised at the Superbowl was not just a case of the huge amount of viewer’s who tuned in, or the huge media coverage connected with the Superbowl; the commercials shown at the Superbowl are “showcase” commercials, specially designed for their entertainment value and dvertiser’s realise there is a good deal of prestige connected with having a commercial shown during the game, therefore the viewer’s mind’s are more relaxed.
Carl Jung wrote, “ Many people mistakenly overestimate the role of will power and think that nothing can happen to their minds that they do not decide or intend. But we must learn carefully to differentiate between intentional and unintentional contents of the mind. (Jung 1968:22) Furthermore, the Superbowl is an important site for commercials because the media world is fragmented and advertisers know that a large number of Americans, especially males who are generally harder to reach, will be watching the game, thus it is an extremely useful way of getting across to the whole spectrum of target audiences. In a sea of billboards, newspapers and magazine ads, television commercials and internet advertisements, it is very difficult to avoid being affected by all these messages.
We have the illusion that we can shield ourselves from advertising and that we are not affected by it. Although, if Sigmund Freud’s theory is correct, something can be in our minds without us being aware of it, we can make preconscious though conscious by paying attention to it and, conversely, something we are conscious of is no longer so when we stop paying attention to it. The important thing about unconscious is that it determines our actions, even though we are unaware of doing so.
Advertising in itself, can be seen as propaganda for commodities, playing on consumer’s insecurities in order to manipulate their feelings towards buying a product. Desires and aspirations born out of negative emotions such as anxiety and insecurity are often the catalyst for capturing our attention in today’s advertising. Attempting social control in form of an ideology to dominate us, the use of very thin models in the 1990’s lead us to believe that thin was beautiful.
It is examples such as this that are seen as forms of mind control used in today’s advertising techniques. Paco Underhill explains that what advertising does, among other things, is manufacture desire and shape it, thus creating people who are insatiable and have been conditioned to continually lust for more things. And the more we have, the more we want. Consumers are manipulated by the advertising industry, but they are unaware that it has happened. Except that advertising is not all-powerful, just very powerful, and part of it stems from the fact we don’t recognise how dvertising shapes our conscious and helps determine how we act. Our personalities, then to a considerable degree, focus on the material culture that we make part of our lives. And so, in the fashion industry, we are doomed to constant change. This is part of our post-modern world, in which we sample different styles and identities to suit our whims. The problem is that identity suggests some kind of coherence, and constantly changing identity is a contradiction of terms. Consumption is indispensable in our society.