Does capitalism answer our innate desires or subconsciously create desires that we didn't originally have?

In answer to Quora question "Does capitalism answer our innate desires or subconsciously create desires that we didn't originally have?"

Thank you for the A2A Karl.

A central challenge of a growth-dependent, commercialistic system like the form of capitalism widely employed today is that many "basic physical needs" (food, shelter, clothing, etc.) were widely met a long, long time ago in any advanced society - and are in fact quite easy to satisfy. So, in marketing terms, there is "market saturation" with respect to these needs. Which means that producers and advertisers must increasingly emphasize certain approaches in order to keep selling stuff to people, and we might summarize these approaches as follows:

1. Amplifying product differentiation. This is usually a matter of either adding value or lowering price - or both. The idea is to increase appeal and convince consumers that the product is more appealing or more satisfying in some way.

2. Creating an "externalizing" substitution dynamic. This simply means to convince people that needs that aren't actually getting met by the product are being met my it; it's s deliberate deception. For example, X product will make you happy, Y service will help you find love, Z subscription will keep you informed. These products and services won't actually fulfill those needs, but if a consumer is convinced to pay for them out of a belief that they will, then there can be a placebo effect that induces ongoing dependency. It's a bit like playing the lottery: perhaps, someday, if I just keep buying X, Y or Z, then all those advertising promises will come true...

3. Creating an addiction. Simply engineering a product that is highly addictive. Sometimes this is a physical addiction (nicotine), and sometimes this is an emotional addiction (reality TV shows), but the idea is to provide zero actual nourishment at very low cost, while keeping consumers "hooked."

4. Engineering social cachet and relying on the lemming effect. Veblen goods often fall into this category, but so do most products marketed to children, or that rely on current social trends. In rare cases, such as with Apple products, a company is able to create the social cachet rather than rely on an existing fad.

5. Capitalizing on fear and insecurity. This often entails creating a "bogeyman in the closet" that is imaginary, but amplifies some widely held suspicion or fearful tendency. This is used very effectively in marketing everything from pharmaceuticals to guns.

6. Sex. And of course anything that hints at sexuality can be "interesting" enough to purchase or pay attention to. Sometimes this is just another substitution dynamic...but sometimes it really is just about sex.

Now what's perhaps most interesting here is that the objective of this flavor of commercialism is to infantilize consumers or toddlerize them - that is, to make them unquestioningly dependent on the product or service being sold, so that they avoid considering other options, never realize they are being duped, and, most importantly, never begin to self-actualize so that they are less dependent and more self-sufficient (i.e more grown up). In order to accomplish this and to maximize marketing reach, the marketing emphasis will tend to hover around the lowest common denominators of human desire and impulse (whether those are being "met" or being "created"). What are infants concerned with? Pleasure, sustenance, safety, etc. What additional things are toddlers interested in? Testing limits, getting their way, being liked, etc. And if commercialized consumerism can barrage people with messaging and products that keep them anchored and fixated on those immature foci, then consumers will be less likely to search for more sophisticated nourishment or more mature stages of personal development. They will be less likely to "grow up."

In essence, if producers can keep people from growing up, it is a lot easier to sell them stuff.

My 2 cents.


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