Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Does Your Identity Come From Advertising?

The Rebel Consumer is about getting free of the advertising-marketing-consumer culture. Yet critics say that to be rebellious is simply another choice in today's market place. In short there is nothing you can do.

This is undiluted hog-wash.

If you derive your identity from the products you own, then yes, you are stuck. If instead you get your identity from your mate or family or close friends or your dog or the hobby or art that you create or all of the above, then brand image is unimportant.

Yet critics keep insisting we are stuck.

As noted in the excellent Frontline report (PBS), advertising does not want to fill our environment, it wants *TO BE* the environment. This means that there is no escape. It also means that as a culture we have let advertising define who we are and what we want. Yet, quite simply, if we do not accept that definition, we are free.

Nevertheless critics keep painting people as helpless consumers at the mercy of marketing. In this article called The Rebel Sell the author emphatically makes this point:
"Many people who are, in their own minds, opposed to consumerism nevertheless actively participate in the sort of behaviour that drives it.
"What we need to see is that consumption is not about conformity, it’s about distinction. People consume in order to set themselves apart from others. To show that they are cooler (Nike shoes), better connected (the latest nightclub), better informed (single-malt Scotch), morally superior (Guatemalan handcrafts), or just plain richer (bmw)."

I can only have pity on a person who would care about this list of products and think that they are important to his or her identity and who would work and go into debt and worry over such things.

If you really like Nike shoes and they fit and wear well, great, buy them. Yet anyone who presented me a full list like this, is saying that he/she has no real identity. She/he is instead trying to choose her/his identity from the marketplace. They are doomed to failure and also disappointment.

The things that you care passionately about like the person you love, the relationships you have, the quiet moments when you are at peace -- these are where your identity comes from. Yet as a culture we are vulnerable. In a mobile society like ours, people may feel rootless and look for their identity in products. Marketing takes advantage of such people.

Advertising and brands give us a false choice. Buying a product can make you comfortable for a time but as Jean Kilbourne as said, "We can never be satisfied, because the products we love cannot love us back."

If your primary identity comes from the marketplace, you have made an empty choice.


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