In watching the film, Merchants of Cool, which was aired in 2001, it is quite concerning how our society is turning to consuming as a means of achieving a satisfying standard of living. The film brought to light how large media companies, especially conglomerates that own all production and distribution of media from start to finish, study and sell to teen youths because of their large quantity of “guilt money”, disposable income giving to youth by parents to keep them happy. They have become the most marketed group, which in turn turns the youth into adults that continue to seek happiness in consuming.
The fear in this standard of living is that we start losing touch with our true values, and instead of looking towards family, community, ethnicity and religion as the creator of cultural forms, we are now being oriented as a society by the world of commodities. And with the advancement of technology, so has marketing research advanced, where we are being specifically being catered to with ads to continue this cycle of finding meaning and happiness through the purchase of goods and services.
Advertisers know that they cannot sell meaning and happiness, but they can illicit those feelings by advertising visions of what a “good life” should be through the selling of products, known as **image-based advertising**. Sut Jhally’s article, Image-Based Culture: Advertising and Popular Culture, explains how image-based advertising has been so integrated into our way of thought and consumption that it is difficult to pinpoint when our most cherished values became tied into consumer culture (p 201).
Advertisements have taken up so much of our public space and discourse, and now even our private with the advancement of technology, that we are constantly being shown what the vision of happiness is, and what we must buy to achieve a satisfying standard of living. Juliet Schor’s article, The New Politics of Consumption: Why Americans Want So Much More Than They Need, breaks down the idea that Americans live in a constant state of **dis-ease**: worrying about the preoccupation with getting and spending (p 205).
Not only is this disconcerting because it takes away from living in the moment, but it pushes us to live beyond our means. We aren’t happy because we do not emulate what we see as the “good life” because of the growing aspirational gap because of upscale emulation. We are never at ease where we stand economically and socially, and feel the pressures to keep up. And although this is a problem with the upper and middle class, it is a more dangerous problem for the lower class. The trickle effect of status symbol goods, such as state of the art phones, flat screen televisions, etc.
, sets up those with limited resources and aspirations of living the “good life” by buying those goods for continual financial failure through consumption of expensive goods that is beyond their means. The film, The Merchants of Cool, aired in 2001, and the way that companies acquired information from the consumer was with “cool hunters”, marketing researchers who would research and interview to see what trends could be capitalized on. The analyzing was apparent, as opposed to now where consumers are being researched and targeted in ways that are more subtle, and now advertisers have the tools to more conspicuously sell us the “good life”.
On the radio interview “How Companies are ‘Defining Your Worth’ Online”, Joseph Turrow discussed how marketers don’t even have to do much to gather information from us, they can now track our online movements using digital tracking like cookies. This information is gathered and sold to advertisers by data marketers, unbeknownst to us. Market research has evolved so much because of the growing digital world we live in. And advertisers are now able to subtly sell to us in a personally targeted way, instead of the blatant in your face banner ads that we would automatically close without even reading them.
Although this is perfectly legal, the downfall falls on the consumer that is being researched and targeted. Our sense of consumption is insatiable when we are constantly being targeted, we lose a sense of privacy when we are constantly being watched, and, as Joseph Turrow also discussed, and we can also be targets of **digital social discrimination**. Digital social discrimination, which is the idea that companies can take digital information and make inferences of what kind of ads are suitable for the individual consumer, they target only certain ads, discounts, and such (2012).
Advertisers then think of that individual only in a certain way, and may even target ads that may have negative connotations, such as getting out of debt ads, weight loss, and such. Consumers are being categorized, and because of the categories they are being targeted by certain ads, which perhaps sell a good that is not appropriate, and denied others because of assumptions being made by the online information gathered on that individual. This is why it is important to have some sort of regulatory system overseeing the structure and ownership of media. U. S.
government plays only a small role in determining who owns the media, and only regulates it minimally, and the power of the U. S. media that uses the market research to produce products reaches us not just here in the United States, but also has a global impact. Because of the United States’ **cultural imperialism**, where American styles in fashion and food, as well as media far, dominate the global market, our versions of the “good life” are influenced on parts of the world, as discussed in Richard Campbell’s “Media Economics and the Global Marketplace”, (p 411).
Our ‘cultural dumping’ of exporting U. S. media can influence other countries societal value systems, development of original local products, and abandon their own rituals to adopt American tastes. In reality, the power behind these large media researchers, marketers, producers, and distributors, who are often the owned by the same company, is astounding and influences not only our lives as an individual, but also has the potential to influence on a global level.
They are able to gather information about individuals, sell it, and categorize as they see fit, leaving us with no sense of privacy, with the goal of selling us as many goods and services as possible until we reach the unattainable “good life”, which is a vision that they have carefully created. Until we, as consumers, are more aware of how much consumption has taken over our sense of self-worth and satisfaction and how little privacy we have in the new digital age, we will keep trying to buy the “good life”. ?