Does consumerism deceive us into believing we are empowered decision-makers?

“If our ancestors were first and foremost producers, we are increasingly shaped and trained as consumers first and all else after” is how 20th century Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman describes our relationship to products. 

An image taken by Flickr user MK Feeney

Our quest to satiate a never-ending hunger for more doesn’t stop at just numbers. We want the most updated, the most differentiated and the “best” version of everything. In the age of impulsive purchases, the instrumentality of advertising is paramount. From handmade posters promoting global giants like Coca-Cola early after the industrial revolution to indie bands using digital networking platforms like Myspace to promote the launch of their new albums, we can clearly see that advertising has evolved.

Transcending the realms of paper-based promotional tactics, our modern day modern day advertising industry has massive reach and is extremely efficient. The dependency of people on social media platforms like Facebook, which has over 800 million daily users across the globe, fosters great potential for multinational companies like Starbucks to reach massive audiences. Unlike the millions of dollars that soft-drink giants like Pepsi Co spend to showcase their products for 5 seconds at the Super-Bowl, social media platforms provide a convenient and inexpensive platform for the sharing of a new product launch. Word-of-mouth promotion on these websites acts as the engine fueling the spread of information as one person shares a link in their friends circle, which another person proceeds to share in their friends circle and so on. 

With over 2.5 billion items of data shared everyday on Facebook, the recurring question that companies face is whether their advertisement is even noticeable amidst the endless sea of information.  From a personal perspective, I know that I have the habit of sometimes scrolling through my newsfeed without diverting my full attention to a majority of these items. Unless an advertisement is extremely eye-catching or thought provoking, the chances that it is missed or even forgotten by Facebook users is very high. 

In the age of social media advertising, consumers cannot escape the world of goods. In the sanctuary of our own homes, these intangible platforms bombard us with deals and promotions from a never-ending stream of brands. Buy this to get the most value for money. Buy that to benefit from durability and assurance. We are presented with a hundred justifications for the superiority of certain goods and the inferiority of others. When all we are looking for is an outlet to de-stress, is it fair for social networks to be used as brainwashing tools?

An image courtesy of Flickr user Sean MacEntee

An image courtesy of Flickr user Sean MacEntee

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