Buy Stuff

I like free stuff. A lot. So I have a total of zero complaints against Intervarsity Press for sending me free books to review on my blog. The latest is "Popcultured," by Steve Turner. In it, Turner attempts to outline a Christian mindset in everything from Fashion to Media to Entertainment.

If you don't care about Christian mindsets or pop culture, you won't care about the book.

I do, and since Turner's a good writer and a professional who is actually involved in the worlds he's describing, I'm finding some of his thoughts interesting. I'm going to do a full review when I finish the book, but for now I thought I'd just copy out a passage from his section on advertising that grabbed my attention:

"Advertisers in the late 1940s and early 1950s were faced with two apparently conflicting facts. The first was that people weren't buying enough goods to keep the economy expanding. There was not enough discontent. Men, for example, were perfectly happy with shoes and suits that they had been wearing for years. What advertisers had to create was 'psychological obsolescence.' They had to make consumers embarrassed at using clothes or products that were not the 'latest thing.' One American advertising executive of the period said, 'What makes this country great is the creation of wants and desires, the creation of dissatisfaction with the old and outmoded.'

"The second fact discovered is that consumers didn't buy in a rational way. They seem to be controlled more by irrational fears and desires than reasoning. For example, if questioned about what would constitute a perfect car, they would describe something small, compact and economical, and yet when it came to making a purchase they would buy something large, flashy and expensive. In other words, what people said wasn't always reliable, or, at least, it wasn't reliable unless interpreted by experts in psychology and social sciences.

"In order to create the dissatisfaction needed to stimulate the economy and play on the vulnerabilities of consumers, the advertisers started to employ motivational researchers to study the sub-surface desires that controlled people--their needs, drives, guilts and fears. They introduced in-depth interviews, hidden cameras in supermarkets, focus groups, attitude tests, sociodramas, word association tests and a whole battery of psychological tools, many of which are now commonplace in the industry.

"The motivational researchers also discovered that what held a lot of Americans back from consuming in ever greater volume was guilt. The Puritan inheritance was stronger than imagined. The advertisers wanted people to indulge and be reckless, but the residual Puritan conscience urged moderation, sacrifice, and consideration for the poor. Ernest Dichter, president of the Institute for Motivational Research, declared that 'One of the main jobs of the advertiser... is not so much to sell the product as to give moral permission to have fun without guilt.' "


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