“Hello! Do you have all the material goods you need to show how successful you are? No oh well keep working. Work harder. Oh now you’re all tired and miserable. You deserve a treat! Have it your way. Eat this and this, go on you’re lovin’ it. Oh no you look nothing like how you should look do you? Here buy this DVD, join this gym, apply this cream, it doesn’t work? OK buy this instead. No? buy this, and this. Cut that off, stretch that out, whiten these a little bit. Buy this watch, this car, this house – it will show everyone what a winner you are. Oh look now you’re in debt and you still aren’t perfect! At least you’ve got friends. How many? Is that all? How about followers? Oh dear. Do you feel a bit worthless? A bit anxious, nervous, stressed? Thought so. We understand. You need to comfort yourself, treat yourself, eat this, buy this, pop these pills go on…. you’re worth it…”
Apologies for that. The 21st century has a way of barging in. In fact a lot of the time we invite it in – tailored news feeds, twitter, pinterest, niche magazines, personal tv, prompts, alerts. Thanks to amazing developments in technology and marketing we can now shape our environments to specifically exploit our very own neuroses. Some of the time of course we don’t invite it in. Some of the time we’d like to watch a film or read a book without product placements or or get on a bus that doesn’t have a picture of a super model lying between the windows.
We are bombarded from every side with people trying to get us to believe something, do something, buy something, be something. There are industries within industries that are geared to changing our behaviour. I have spent my working life in the persuasion, communications and marketing industries. I’ve seen at first hand and played a microscopic part in the enormous, expert machine that exists to influence and seduce.
These industries are only doing what they exist to do. Their job is to make money. The pressure from shareholders on these companies to bring us into the fold is intense. Each quarter, every half year and full year the CEOs are expected to show how they have attracted more consumers and persuaded existing consumers to buy more. And when these businesses succeed they create employment, generate income, keep our economy buoyant. Many of us are employed in business in some way. If you agree with the idea of business, of goods being manufactured and sold, it is hard to argue against these companies doing what they can, within the law, in order to get us to buy more. They know what will change our minds and our behaviour, why shouldn’t they use it?
The best psychologists and behavioural scientists aren’t in clinics and universities, they are running advertising agencies and marketing departments. Their aim is to burrow inside our minds and once there to get us to do or buy or think whatever will help the company succeed. They search for ‘insights’ ie our deepest desires and needs then they show us how the brand will satisfy that desire. We are not people we are ‘demographics’ and target consumers. The companies compete for share of mind, in the drinks industry they even use the phrase ‘share of throat’. We are defined by what we buy and do – the pink pound, the silver surfer, the yummy mummy. They use tv, cinema and on-line advertising, word of mouth, guerilla campaigns, digital and viral media, bus stops, brand champions, mentors, posters, product placement, events, parties, festivals, hot air balloons and even urinals… Unless you live in a cave, it is impossible to avoid 21st century marketing.
To get us to change our behaviour, we are continually told that there is something we need outside ourselves to be complete. Even those advertising campaigns that on the surface validate us eg. ‘You’re worth it’ from L’Oreal are of course saying ‘you are worth spending some money to put right what is currently ‘wrong’ with you.’
No wonder so many people are in debt, anxious, depressed, confused, unsatisfied. No wonder so many people feel inadequate, wake up stressed, hate their bodies. No wonder they try to suppress the noises through comfort eating, binge drinking, drugs, shopping. And of course it is not just influences from consumer goods companies that are filling our minds with chatter, making us think we aren’t perfect exactly as we are. Ever since we were born, people have been wanting us to do something – sometimes for our own good, sometimes for theirs. The important point is that we are not blank sheets for the industry to act on. No, we give them a head-start. Their messages work in tandem with our own desires, egos, insecurities and fear of not being enough.
There is so much noise that we are losing touch with who we are fundamentally. The battle is so engrained into every strand of our lives that it has become our lives. It is not something we even try to escape from because we see it as us, as who we are and we see it as how the world is. There are so many influences from outside and inside ourselves that can create a particular path for us, that limit our opinions and our flexibility, in many cases restricting our ability to further our own health, fulfilment and happiness. No wonder the correlation between anxiety and heavy consumption of media is so high. The fight for our money and our beliefs is only going to intensify. And the more caught up we are in this cycle of desire, consumption, regret and debt, the less clearly we see it, the further away we are from ‘being’ what we want.
In this relentless battle for our mind we can do two things. Firstly we can be very watchful of when any communication, from anyone, crosses the line – false claims, deception, misrepresentation, sexism, racism, agism etc – it is our duty to protest loudly when we see any of this. Secondly we can strengthen our inner resources so that we do not follow instructions like Mogli in the Jungle Book, blank-eyed and mindless transfixed by Kaa the hypnotic snake.
We gain strength when we realise that the battle in our minds is not us. Our true essence is the peace, beauty and bliss that we see in the eyes of a baby. It is the gentle rhythm of sunrise and sunset. It is the deepest connection between people. It is the understanding that we have everything we need. The battle is won by by seeing it for what it is – small, meaningless and contained – compared to the magnitude of our lives and the love and creativity of which we are capable.