About how consumerism came to be!

Response to: Century of the Self.

Century of the self, documents the story of how the theories of consumerism came to be. Before the 1920’s people generally only purchased new items for the purpose of need, but by the early 1930’s people began to purchase cigarettes, cars, clothes and other products not because they needed them but because they wanted them.

People wanted new things because of advertisements aimed at their unconscious desires and urges. The person responsible for this new process of selling to the masses was Edward Louis Bernays.

Bernays was the nephew of Sigmund Freud, and used Freud’s theories about people’s selfish nature to show the big corporations how to sell products to people that they didn’t necessarily need. Bernays showed that if people saw other people either on TV or in magazines using and/or enjoying a particular product, that this would trigger a sub-conscious desire in the viewer to also want that same product. This theory was first put in to practice by Bernays in 1929 in New York where he staged the “Torches of Freedom” publicity stunt for a tobacco company in which he organized a group of women to light up cigarettes in public (which was somewhat of a taboo at the time). The aim of the “Torches of Freedom” was to make women take up smoking to literally double the companies revenue, it worked after being heavily publicized in the media.

From that day forth the way in which all consumer products are advertised and ultimately sold is because of the theories that Bernays had implemented and in the way he embedded the need to buy mass produced products in all of us to this day.


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